Drifting through Madison, WI

With some free time in the Madison, WI area you can discover all sorts of lovely surprises, including two new additions to our Purveyors page. On a recent business trip to the area, a walk around Capitol Square brought me to Fromagination, a specialty cheese shop featuring Wisconsin cheeses and other artisan and local products.  It is an absolute gem of a store, which my poor picture does not do justice.

FromaginationThe service was helpful, offering tastings of a number of different cheeses including a number of exclusive offerings. They clearly have an excellent relationship with their suppliers, as some the cheeses on offer here will not be found any where else (How about a curry-rubbed, Manchego-style cheese aged for 6 years?). A new offering from an old favorite eventually caught my eye, Golden from Holland’s Family Cheese. Their description: “This creamy, semi-soft, American Original boasts a flavor profile rich in nuttiness with hints of sweet fruit. Handcrafted by award-winning cheesemaker, Marieke Penterman and her team, this raw milk beauty is carefully aged on Dutch pine planks in our cellars.” The flavor profile is full and creamy, reminiscent of a young sheep cheese. We paired the Golden with the other end of the Holland Family Cheese spectrum, the “Super” aged Gouda, which has a Parmesan-like texture with a deep, caramel nuttiness.

A quick trip west of Madison will take you to the Fitchburg/Verona area, which is the edge of the Driftless Region, an area that has been left untouched by the glaciers which flowed over much of the Great Lakes region in the geologic past. Here is where Bavaria Sausage continues a 5o year tradition of making authentic German sausage. Smoked sausage, fresh sausage, frozen sausage, smoked meats, thick-sliced bacon, and nearly every German condiment you could ask for (How about seven varieties of curry ketchup?).  Amongst the variety of summer sausages, we selected the venison, and then grabbed a small beef summer sausage for comparison. Check out the bundles of landjaeger (upper left).

Bavaria sausage

The venison summer sausage is blended with beef which balances the flavor and adds moisture. Bavaria Sausage uses no fillers, no colorants, no artificial flavors. The flavors of the sausage are pure meat. In the picture below, the darker venison sausage is on the left, paired with the Super.  The beef summer sausage on the right was paired with Golden. But playing with combinations made this a simple, tasty, quickly consumed treat, enjoyed with summer cocktails.

Cheese Plate Summer 2014


So as you drift through the area, explore the old traditions, and the new producers. Enjoy the experience of ethnic traditions honored, and made new again. This is the exploration of Great lakes Cuisine.

In Praise of Cherries

The summer picking season has begun in the Great Lakes region for tart Montmorency cherries. Both Bing and Montmorency are grown extensively in Wisconsin and Michigan, thus the National Cherry Festival hosted in Traverse City, Michigan each year. On the festival website, they share this bit of history:

French colonists from Normandy brought pits that they planted along the Saint Lawrence River and on down into the Great Lakes area. Cherry trees were part of the gardens of French settlers as they established such cities as Detroit, Vincennes, and other midwestern settlements.

Modern day cherry production began in the mid-1800s. Peter Dougherty was a Presbyterian missionary living in northern Michigan. In 1852, he planted cherry trees on Old Mission Peninsula (near Traverse City, Michigan). Much to the surprise of the other farmers and Indians who lived in the area, Dougherty’s cherry trees flourished and soon other residents of the area planted trees. The area proved to be ideal for growing cherries because Lake Michigan tempers Arctic winds in winter and cools the orchards in summer.

We are quite fond of the combination of cherries with slow cooked meats. The tart, sweet flavors of the fruit offer both contrasting and complementary elements to a savory dish, and slow-roasted meats in particular. We once served an espresso-rubbed beef short rib was served on a dollop of lusciously rich pommes aligot with a ribbon of cherry sauce surrounding the plate. Decadent and beautiful (and a hat tip to my buddy Tom who co-created the dish).

Short rib with Cherries

A simple, summer dish in the same vein follows:

Pork Tenderloin with Cherry Pan Sauce

1 Pork tenderloin

1 Tbs Penzey’s BBQ 3001 Seasoning

1 sweet white onion, diced

1 tsp salt

1 cup pitted cherries

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 Tbs vegetable oil

1 Tbs butter

Hand rub seasoning into pork tenderloin 1 hour before preparing, allow to rest in refrigerator, uncovered. After one hour, remove pork. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Heat oil in cast iron skillet over high heat until shimmering hot. Sear pork on all sides, approximately 2 minutes per side. Set pork aside onto platter. Add onions to pan and sprinkle with salt and allow to wilt, stirring often to avoid burning. When caramelized, add wine and cherries and nestle pork back into pan and cover. Place in oven for 20 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 145 degrees. Remove pork to platter to rest. Remove half of cherry/onion mixture and process in food processor until smooth.  Return to pan with butter and mix together.  Slice the pork on a slight angle and serve on generous spoonful of sauce.

Pork tenderloin with cherries

We choose to serve it with pine nut couscous and oven roasted broccoli, but a wild rice dish here would be an even better pairing, bringing some of the roasted, nutty flavors to the dish. We have also prepared mashed potatoes with a very generous portion of blue cheese added which would have matched nicely here as well. Getting cheese into the dish is recommended. Sweet cherries have that deep, winey depth while the tart cherries bring the bright acidity. Try either or both. And any leftover cherries should be pitted and soaked in bourbon with a vanilla bean for a month. That’s not so much Great Lakes Cuisine, but it sure is awesome in a Manhattan.