Underground Food Collective

Just off the main street headed towards the impressive capitol building in Madison, WI is a small store tucked back on a fairly quiet street.  The tiny store front is the retail location for the Underground Food Collective that also operates Forequarter in Madison. The inventory is an eclectic mix of artisan products, both fresh and preserved, with a focus on the products available within the Great Lakes Region.

The undisputed star of store is the meats. Upon entering the store, immediately right of the cashier is a butcher case with a set of house-cured sausages and the back of the space is dominated by another beautiful case of fresh cuts.  A tiny temple to the art of preparing meat.  The opposite walls are selections of artisan products from jams, to pickled vegetables, to cheeses, to spiced nuts. If you are sensing the ultimate charcuterie plate coming together here, you have the right idea. There are non-local artisan offerings such as olives, oils, and wines as well to round out the offering.

The cured sausages were the particular treasure I was seeking on this trip and I went home with their Sausaucion Sec, Kabaonosy, and Spruce Goat (tasting notes follow). There were probably another ten cured offerings such as pancetta and bresola that I will have to experience on another trip. An alpine-style sheep’s milk cheese from Bleau Mont Dairy and dried olives were chosen as accompaniments. Finding The Brinery’s offering of Jupiter’s Orbit Kraut was an unexpected addition for the smoked pork chops intended for dinner. The Driftless goat’s milk cheese was destined for a dessert offering later in the evening atop a crumble with plums and ground cherries.

Though pleasantly surprised by the unique, local offerings, I might have been able to anticipate such offerings simply based on the review of Forequarter by Lindsay Christians at 77 Square, which brought this group of chefs to my attention.  A review of their past offerings lists representative Great Lakes dishes such as modern takes on Pork Schnitzel or Smorgasbord. Even the dish pictured in Christians review is another representative sample of Great Lakes Cuisine, with housemade pork sausage served with sauerkraut and baby potatoes; classic traditional German fare updated with a modern, upscale take.

forequarter

We are pleased to add Forequarter to our Restaurants section while Underground Meats has already been added to our sources section. below are the tasting notes from the house-made sausages.  A longer discussion of the smoked pork chop and sauerkraut meal created from the other items is forthcoming.

Tasting Notes:

Sausiccion Sec – literally meaning simply “dried sausage”, this offering is an excellent example of the tradition. Very firm, with nice fat marbling through-out, the flavor is akin to a high-quality, very fresh salami with a fairly rough grind.

Kabanosy – A traditional, all-pork sausage in the Polish tradition. This a smoked sausage, rather than cured, and retains all the fresh pork flavors.  A very simple, well-executed offering which was a nice addition to the plate sliced ¼ inch thick on the bias. Just as easily could be a sausage that you’d simply bite into as a Bloody Mary accompaniment.

Spruce Goat – This is the seasonal offering version of the Goat sausage typically on offer in store and online for Underground Meats. In addition to the stronger meaty/gamey flavors of the goat (I’d say meaty, others would say gamey), the curing process adds the traditional cured overtones.  Some tasting the sausage felt it had too powerful a flavor, verging of the ammonia-like aromatics that you can get in well-aged cheeses. The texture was dense and the dried fats reminded me of an imported prosciutto.

These offerings and more are available on-line, but the retail location is definitely worth the visit.

Note: We are pleased that Forequarter was also recognized by Bon Appetit as one of the 50 Best New Restaurants for 2013.

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