A Feast for Body and Soul


Hillel hosted Groennfell Meadery’s Ricky ’07 and Kelly Patton Klein ’09 at Middlebury this past spring. They gave a talk at Weybridge House, the local foods theme house, about the art and business of making mead. Kelly is Groenfell’s CEO, and Ricky is the head mead maker at the Colchester, Vermont, meadery. Ricky shared his thoughts on the connections between food, ritual, and religion.


When you and Kelly came to Middlebury to talk about the art of making mead, you spoke of being in the business of feasting. What is your theory of “feasting”?

I believe the majority of the Western world has forgotten how to feast. Feasting is a matter of ritual. The rules, the dishes, the symbolism all give the feast its meaning. One of the last vestiges [of ritual] I experienced is the Passover seder. There’s a great comfort in knowing exactly what to expect and, rather than the rules rendering the feast boring, the seder continues to fill me with joy year after year.

I try to bring that feeling to events at the Mead Hall. We hold four annual feasts that folks travel hours to attend. The food is good, and the mead is lovely, but I think it’s the ritual that brings them back, year after year.

You combine meadmaking, Vikings, and Jewish holidays—three things I never thought I would see in the same place. How do they all come together for you?

It really came about in the way these things have happened throughout history: We made do with what we had to celebrate our faith. The Jews of Poland and Sweden still managed to celebrate Sukkot without a single Levant fruit available. Our restaurant serves Viking fare, and that started as a bit of a joke to see if we could manage to recreate all of the Jewish feasts with only Viking-era ingredients. Just because something is fun and a little silly doesn’t mean it can’t also be deeply moving and serious.

Can you explain the connection between mead and Passover? In other words, is meadmaking Jewish?

During Passover in the 19th century, kosher wine was practically unavailable in many parts of the United States, so the easiest beverage for Jewish families to make at home was mead. Simply buy honey, a little baker’s yeast, and maybe some spices to throw in and you have a kosher-for-Passover homemade wine that is guaranteed safe to drink.

“Just because something
is fun and a little silly
doesn’t mean it can’t also
be deeply moving and serious.”

You didn’t come to Middlebury College with the intent to become a meadmaker. How has your Middlebury education contributed to your vision of Groennfell?

I studied religion and philosophy at Middlebury before pursuing an MDiv to become a Unitarian Universalist minister. Many of my thoughts surrounding the importance and place of feasting come from that line of study.

That said, first and foremost I’m a small business owner, and that means that every day the tasks that lie before me are as varied as any liberal arts semester. This week I have written an op-ed, given guidance to the state legislature on wastewater, brewed two batches of mead, met with two brewers to plan a collaboration, run expansion numbers for two dfferent parts of our facility, and started a tour of Massachusetts celebrating our product release.

Any liberal arts education, especially one from Middlebury, teaches one to approach the world with an expectation of the unexpected. Nothing could have served me better.

Charles P. Scott Center for Spiritual and Religious Life
46 South Street
Middlebury, VT 05753