Northern Waters Smokehaus

Tom in Minneapolis turned me on to an excellent source for cured meats located on Lake Superior in Duluth, Northern Waters Smokehaus. As they describe themselves:

“Eric and company are just as committed to using local, sustainably raised meats and fish as they are to hosting plenty of friendly food conversation. Our eclectic little shop is filled with smoked fish, handcrafted smoked meats, artisan salumi, unique deli sandwiches, and other gourmet sundries.” 

For me the real find is this beautiful Polish sausage. Of course the Bison pastrami sounds pretty fantastic as well.  Worth checking out!


In praise of Hoppel Poppel

One of my favorite comfort food dishes is Hoppel Poppel, available in a handful of diners across the Midwest. A solid recipe and write-up on this dish is available from food writers Jane and Michael Stern, former columnist for Gourmet magazine and the authors of Roadfood and Two for the Road: Our Love Affair with American Food available here. They found Hoppel Poppel on the menu in Iowa and again at Benji’s, one of my favorite delicatessens  in Milwaukee. Jo’s Cafe in Milwaukee has the same dish, calling it Hoffel Poffel. It seems that the origination is likely a dish served for breakfast made of the prior evening’s leftover meat and potatoes that is traditional in Germany.  Hoppeln is apparently a German word for hop as in the skittering hop of a bunny. It is not far removed from the New England tradition of Red Flannel Hash.

Regardless of etymology, the dish consists of four essential parts: potatoes, meat, eggs, and cheese. Onions and herbs are frequent additions.  In the German origination, the potatoes are the leftover boiled potatoes and the meat is the diced meat from the previous evening’s meal.  In the Great Lakes tradition, the potatoes are par-boiled then diced, the diced meat is some form of preserved meat (salami is the most prevalent), diced onions are often added as the ingredients crisp up in the skillet and then eggs are scrabbled into the pan and topped with cheese. In most versions the dice is fairly large and the cheese is cheddar.

The variations on this theme are usually driven by the fare of the previous evening, but some of my favorite variations are custom-made from scratch.  The variation at Hinterland in Milwaukee on a recent visit included sweet potatoes, bacon, and tiny, spring-fresh brussel sprouts topped with a soft fried egg. The salty smoke of the bacon, the sweetness of the potatoes, the slight bitter crunch of the greens, all topped with the runny yolk of a perfectly prepared fried egg was truly delightful. Most often I prepare this dish with leftover baked Yukon Golds, Nueske’s bacon, shallots, fresh thyme, fresh oregano, sea salt, fried egg, topped with an aged cheddar, such as Widmer’s. After an epic feast including leg of lamb that I once prepared with my good friend Tom from Minneapolis, the next morning featured a hash with leftover roasted lamb as a starting point. Amazing. We joked later that to write the recipe it would have to start with – “First, roast a well-seasoned, whole leg of lamb for three hours. Allow it to cool over night. Carve off the bone and dice…”. Won’t see that recipe on the Food Channel.

As a representative of Great Lakes Cuisine, this dish has origins in the Germanic tradition, has been adapted to local ingredients, utilizes preserved meats, and is a great value as it often is a way to utilize the best parts of the previous evening’s meal. These are the dishes that provide both comfort and inspiration.

Great Lakes Cheese

Cheese production is one of the great traditions of Great Lakes Cuisine. The immense amount of factory produced cheese from the “Dairy State” is merely an outgrowth of a much older tradition of farmer produced cheeses. Cheese at the most basic level is a method to preserve milk and this preservation tradition is very much at the heart of Great Lakes Cuisine. There is large and growing number of excellent farm-based and artisan producers through out the Great Lakes region that deserve attention and praise. Today I’ll highlight just two: Holland’s Family Cheese and the McCluskey Brothers, each highlighting the tradition of cheese production in different ways.

Holland’s Family Cheese recently was recognized as the 2013 Grand Champion of the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest.  Not simply the best in their category, but the best overall cheese, period.  I’ve long been a fan of the European-style Gouda that is produced by Marieke Penterman, with a pronounced nutty flavor and great mouth feel. As I understand their family story, they immigrated to the U.S. and specifically to Wisconsin in order to establish a family farm, as land was not as readily available in the The Netherlands. Marieke brought the old-world cheese making tradition to her new home.  All the cheese they produce is from the milk of their own cows, and as a farmstead cheese, it retains all the uniqueness of their location.  It is the ongoing food tradition of the Great Lakes in full, glorious flavor. Immigrant produced from local resources to meet local demand.

Food Pictures 007

Featured here (clockwise from right edge) are Mareieke super-aged, semi-soft, and honey clover infused Gouda. We enjoyed them with Zuber’s landjaeger sausage from Monroe, WI.





McCluskey Brothers is a more recent discovery for me, but the longer of the two traditions.  Their great-grandfather began the farm in 1886 and they have been producing and selling the bounty from that farm since then. Their grass-fed cheddar purchased this spring is the perfect example of what cheddar once was and should always be.  The color is slightly off-white, tending towards a golden tan.  The flavor is full, complex, grassy, and wonderful.  All their items are organic and farmstead produced. The color requires a quick history of Wisconsin cheddar for those unfamiliar. Producers in the 1800’s shipped nearly all their cheese to England, and the English buyers graded the cheeses by color.  The darker gold were more valuable.  There is some debate if this pricing was to reflect a preference for naturally grass raised milk (as that naturally produces a more golden color, particularly as it ages) or driven by local preference for cheddar from Cheshire, which reportedly had grass with a higher iron content that reflected in a mildly orange tint to the cheese.  Regardless, the producers began to add annatto to game the system.  I would love to see all cheddar return to the naturally colored, and grass-fed, product as the orange color now obscures the true color of the cheese.  The golden yellow of McCluskey Brothers’ cheddar hints at the origin of the milk, the grassy flavors, and the transformation of sunshine into food. This tradition represents the same immigrant driven production but adds the generational layers that allow cuisine to develop a unique identity attached to place.

These are both part of the tradition that make Great Lakes Cuisine what it is: farmers committed to producing good food at a good value for people who like to eat.  Seek out their cheese, maybe add a Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese (another incredible, award-winning, artisan, farmstead cheese) to make a really compelling cow’s-milk cheese plate.  I’d recommend adding a nice dried sausage, some dried cranberries, and a selection of malty, amber craft brews and making a tasting out of it.  Enjoy.