TRUE BLUE Is your Maryland crab cake true blue? Only a small number of restaurants in Maryland reliably make their crab cakes from local crab meat, and the state does not require restaurants to identify the specific source of the meat in crab cakes.

True Blue, a new labeling and promotion initiative from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, hopes to give restaurants that do use Maryland crab meat a claw up on those that fill their crab cakes with inexpensive meat from Indonesia and Venezuela.

The state is signing up participating restaurants and caterers now, and the program should be in place by Memorial Day, according to DNR Fisheries Marketing Director Steve Vilnit.

"Diners and seafood shoppers have let us know that it's hard for them to tell if they are buying true Maryland blue crab meat or not when ordering from menus or at the market," Vilnit said. The True Blue program will outfit participating restaurants with authorized True Blue logos, signage and labeling.

"We're not saying that imported crab meat can't be delicious. We just happen to believe that fresh Maryland crabs are better," Vilnit said.

Participating restaurants must commit to use exclusively Maryland crab meat to qualify for the program.

The idea for True Blue orgininated in part at a crab meat taste comparison conducted at Woodberry Kitchen for a Baltimore Sun article about the widespread use of imported crabmeat on Maryland menus. Spike Gjerde, the chef and co-owner of Woodberry Kitchen, remembers being struck with what he thought was the marked superiority of Maryland crabmeat to the imports. "I told Steve [Vilnit] that there should be a labeling program," Gjerde said.

For Gjerde, True Blue will be another way to communicate with diners about his restaurant's devotion to Maryland crab meat, without diners having to ask about where their crab meat is coming from. "It can be an awkward question at the table," Gjerde said.

Woodberry Kitchen received its first shipment of Maryland crabmeat Friday.

richard.gorelick@baltsun.com

erik.maza@baltsun.com

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