Cheese Tasting – Fall 2016

The Dane County Farmers’ Market in Madison, WI, is a treasure trove of culinary delights. Madison may just be the perfect place for a farmers’ market – centrally located for local farmers, a populous which appreciates locally harvested, organic foods, and a setting on the Capitol Square. For those of you who have not had the pleasure to visit Madison, the Wisconsin state capitol building is a classically beautiful, white granite clad structure, topped by the largest granite dome in the world, located in the center of an isthmus created by two pristine lakes, surrounded by lawns, walkways, and sculptures. The greater area around Madison includes the Driftless region, an area untouched by glacial flows, which boasts many farms and more than a dozen artisan cheesemakers. The setting helps explain why the Dane County Farmers’ Market is the largest producer-only farmers’ market in the country. The farmers, bakers, cheese-makers are likely to be the one behind the table, handing you your new favorite culinary discovery.

capitol_exterior
Photo credit: Wisconsin.Gov

A recent trip produced more than the usual number of treats, but the highlight was a few offerings from Bleu Mont Dairy. Willi Lehner has received many national accolades for his bandaged cheddar, made from locally produced milk, wrapped and smeared with lard, then aged on cedar shelves in a cave he built into the hillside. This is old-school cheese making folks. And he can also yodel like a boss.

Willi Lehner Yodels at American Cheese Society from Colleen | GlassBottle on Vimeo.

We selected the sheep milk Tomme and Alpine Renegade. The Tomme is an Alpine style, but with sheep milk in this variety rather than the more traditional cow milk. According to Steve Jenkins’ Cheese Primer, the term is an ancient word which meant “chunk” or “round”. Basically, the washed rind makes the Tomme look like a small boulder as it ages. Alpine Renegade won top honors in the American originals open-category at the 2013 American Cheese Society awards and is classic alpine-style, washed rind, cow’s milk cheese. Take a look at the beautiful color and texture of this offering –

cheese-plate-fall-2016a

Our cheese plate also included a hearty Five Grain Sourdough bread from Madison Sourdough, slices of apple, and a quick apple chutney. The apple, a golden russet variety from the market called Ashmead Kernel, has a texture which veers toward Asian Pear and a tartness which mellows out to a honey sweetness. The apple chutney was prepared with onions caramelized with thyme, unsweetened cranberries from Honestly Cranberry, several varieties of apple and a dash of cinnamon and cloves.

 

cheese-plate-fall-2016

The Tomme starts with a toasted bread aroma and blends into the grassy/herbaceous/dry straw nuances of sheep milk but a more caramelized finish than many sheep milk cheeses we’ve enjoyed. The texture of the Alpine Renegade is smooth with small holes rather than grainy and the flavor strikes me as starting with cooked milk solids (you know those bits of cheddar that ooze out of the grilled cheese and get crunchy in the pan? Like those smell) and then melts into a wonderfully funky and long lasting finish. This Renegade is no wilting flower, providing a lovely counter-point to the tart sweetness of the apple and the sour punch of the cranberry in the chutney. Some cheeses might get overpowered by the pronounced flavors of the chutney and fade into background notes – this cheese demands equal billing.

The lovely bandaged cheddar from Bleu Mont Dairy is often available for shipment from Fromagination in Madison and will also sing beautifully with this combination of flavors. But if you can find the time some fall Saturday morning, the drive to Madison to find Bleu Mont Dairy on the square is well worth the trip. Who knows, maybe you’ll get a chance to hear Willi yodel.

Advertisements

Apple Cranberry Crumble

The find of our autumn trip to the apple orchard was a bountiful crop of Pippins. As one of the varietals in an apple pie it has the advantages of enormous size (which cuts down significantly on peeling and coring!), a tart flavor, and a surprising ability to hold shape through the cooking process. If you can’t find Pippins, Honey Crisps will work as well which were in abundance for our next trip.

apple-crumble1

Our end goal was to recreate the amazing hand pies we stumbled upon in an early morning trip to the farmers market in Sheboygan, WI. These beauties were made by an Amish baker and I suspect the flaky crust may have been from the use of lard rather than just butter. I swear to you, the crust was as good as the filling. My daughter and I sat looking out on Lake Michigan in the warming glow of the early autumn sun and ate them as breakfast.

apple-handpies

Our own attempt to recreate the hand pies was good, not great. I regret not going with the lard and instead using vegetable shortening. The crust did not have the flaky, golden texture we were craving (and that you can see in the picture above). But by happy accident, we had prepared twice as much filling as we needed. To the two-thirds Pippin, we added one-third Gala, which breakdown in cooking and add sweetness. The apples were tossed in sugar and cinnamon and the left to marinate for a few hours in the refrigerator. A quick, throw-together crumble seemed like any easy way to use what we had left over and the result was surprisingly great. The addition of sweetened dried cranberries added a very nice textural addition and a dash of sour to the sweetness of the apples. Thought we’d share:

Apple Cranberry Crumble

2 cups cored, peeled, diced Pippin apples (Honey Crisp or Granny Smith can be used)
1 cup cored, peeled, diced Gala apples (Red or Golden Delicious can be used)
½ cup refined sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

1 cup quick-cooking oatmeal
½ cup butter,
¾ cup sweetened dried cranberries
¾ cup brown sugar
½ tsp grated or ground nutmeg

Mix the diced apples with the sugar and cinnamon and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for a few hours.

Remove apples from the refrigerator. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the apples into a 9 inch baking pan. In a separate bowl, mix all remaining ingredients and mix until just crumbled together, then spread over apple mixture. Bake for 50 minutes or until apples are tender and mixture bubbles at the edges. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving.

apple-crumble

We enjoyed this as dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and house-made caramel sauce. But with a nice cup of coffee, it would make a lovely breakfast as well. Particularly if you can enjoy it looking out over a lake as the autumn sun rises.

Check our our previous apple post here.

You say Celery, I say Celeriac

Celery and celeriac are not the same thing, despite what our attempt at a clever title might suggest. Actually distinct varieties in the same plant genus, Apium, developed from the same wild species. Celeriac is more widely appreciated in Europe than in the U.S., as a lovely replacement for potatoes, whether steamed, roasted, or mashed. Here we are using both celery and celeriac in a preparation of brook trout. See this post for a much longer appreciation of the trout itself. For this recipe, we’re playing with the flavor affinities and contrasts of celery.

We begin with a very bright, unconventional slaw including celery, rhubarb and fennel and then also offer a subtle highlight with grill-dried celery leaves as a garnish. The celeriac is peeled and boiled, then pureed with butter and heavy cream to provide a delicate hint of traditional roasted celery flavor beneath the grilled trout. Our trout here was plank-roasted over apple wood. Though a pan roasted approach would as well, the smoky, grilled preparation really allows the brightness of the slaw and the creaminess of the puree to play full, complementary roles.

celery2

We chose to peel a single bulb of celeriac, and then dice it into 1 inch cubes. We boiled it in just enough water to cover in a large pot, with a pinch of salt and an additional bay leaf. Once soft enough to easily crush a cube, we drained and then added 1/2 cup of heavy cream and 4 tablespoons of butter, then mashed the celeriac until fine. Options here would include pureeing the mixture until smooth. Yukon Gold potatoes could be added when boiling to create a less pronounced celeriac flavor, though celeriac is already fairly mild, with just a overtone of celery. A 1/2 cup of grated white cheddar or a fresh goat cheese would also be great.

The celery, rhubarb, fennel slaw is a variation on this apple, fennel salad, with thinly sliced rhubarb standing in for the granny smith apple. Either approach is excellent, but we had rhubarb on hand and enjoyed the “three stalk slaw”, a reference to the look of each of the ingredients. We made this a few hours in advance to allow the fennel to soften slightly.

The rainbow trout is simply gutted and cleaned, then sprinkled with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. We had applewood planks cut from an ancient apple tree in the backyard which were ideal for this grilling application. A few leafy stalks of celery were set off heat on the grill and allowed to dry the leaves to use as a garnish.

celery1

The rich, creamy flavors of the celeriac were a beautiful canvas for the smoky fish, with out three-stalk slaw providing a bright contrast, the different hits of celery flavor playing very different roles. Overall a very satisfying dish.

More Hoppel Poppel Variations

Frequent readers here know that we have an unhealthy obsession with this creation known as Hoppel Poppel (read more on our earlier post here). Quick synopsis of the required ingredients:

Basic Hoppel Poppel – Diced, par-boiled potatoes cooked until browned and crisping, sauteed with diced onion, and diced “salami” (see comment below), topped with egg, scrambled and then optionally topped with melted cheese.

Variations – Any root vegetables diced. Any member of the allium family. Any leftover meat, diced. Any egg, any style. Cheeses, many beautiful cheeses.

In some ways, the variations may be closer to the original than the Basic given above. The Basic is based on the dish as it appeared on a number of diner menus in the Great Lakes region over the last 50 years. Particularly in Milwaukee, the recipe always included “salami”, which is understandable in the home of Klements and Usingers. But what is called “salami” on these menus is really much closer in style and moisture content to beef summer sausage, rather than the much harder Italian-style true salami. The alleged origins of hoppel poppel was as a simple a way for the Germans settling in the Great Lakes region to use leftovers. The boiled potatoes from the previous evenings dinner were diced and fried in butter with onion and a bit of leftover meat.Mix in a few eggs and you have yourself a hearty and economical breakfast.

It is in this tradition that we have the most fun. Leftovers create some of the most memorable dishes. Bits left from a labor-intensive dinner preparation re-appear in the morning as effortless additions. One of my favorite all-time dishes was made by my good friend Tom after an epic roasting session with a whole leg of lamb went into the wee hours of the morning. The whole leg of lamb dinner was a labor. The lamb hash the next morning was all bonus; beautiful, effortless. We present two variations on Hoppel Poppel here – one  in the spirit of leftovers and and another which is a bit more fanciful.

Sweet Potato Hoppel Poppel with Duck Egg

hoppel-poppel-duck-egg

We began with leftover potatoes and sweet potatoes which had been cooked over the campfire the previous evening, fried in butter with onions, and topped with a slow-fried duck egg and goat’s milk jack cheese from Caprine Supreme.

“Royal” Hoppel Poppel

The purple potatoes we used in this preparation were a local farmers market find and inspired a pairing with a Lavender Jack, also from Caprine Supreme.

hoppel-poppel-royal

 

So go forth and experiment. Please feel free to share your creations with us here or on Twitter at @greatlakesfood.

Of Fire, Water and the Ego of the Chef

Watching the third episode of the inaugural season of Chef’s Table on Netflix I was in awe, in love, and then a bit uncomfortable. The series by David Gelb, who created the sublime documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, uses stunning cinematography and slowly unfolding stories to create a tension between personalizing the chefs and venerating them. Each story seems to beg the question: Does ego drive them to celebrity status or does constant adulation lead to inflated self-importance? Francis Mallman, the subject of a beautifully filmed third episode, embodies that question. But it starts with a fire.

fire

A fire on the edge of a lake in Patagonia. Trout is prepared over open flames just a few steps from where it was caught. Vegetables are thrown directly into fires as side dishes to tremendous chunks of searing meat. The carcass of an entire lamb, stretched across wooden poles, are stuck into the snow surrounding a massive bonfire to roast slowly all day. These flame-licked treasures are all brought like offerings to a massive table covered with an ivory tablecloth, in the middle of the woods and served with magnums of wine. Then Mallman reads poetry in one of the three or four languages in which he is apparently fluent.

One can not help but wonder how all of this gets done, how it is all financed, and slowly all is revealed. Mallman ran a restaurant at a young age, spent two years in Paris under a number of prestigious chefs, then came back to Argentina and ran a highly successful French restaurant before walking away from it all and “living off the land”. There is much made about the simplicity of his lifestyle and how he is returning to his Argentinian country roots, but then the army of assistants starts to slowly emerge; young chefs who have come to train under this cult of personality. But for all the pomp and circumstance which ultimately surrounds Mallman, the lingering impact for me was a re-kindling of a romance for cooking over open fire. In that, there is something pure, something true.

The cabin at the lake in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan provides the perfect setting to let my romance for cooking over fire grow into a full-blown love affair. Though the process may take a bit longer, the cooking may be more uneven, and there is a pretty high potential for ash in your dinner, this was something I wanted to do. And being the cook, it’s still a bit about me, isn’t it? At some primal level, creating a dinner is fundamentally an act of the ego. And it just don’t get more primal than fire.

In order to provide adequate fuel for our affair, we made a stop at Waseda Farms Market on the way to pick-up a whole host of precious provisions including organic tri-tip steak, green beans, sweet potatoes, and duck eggs (more on those in a later post). We built the fire, sipped a few Michigan and Wisconsin beers, developed some lovely coals, then placed our set of well-seasoned cast iron pans on the grate to help to moderate heat. Potatoes and sweet potatoes were peeled and placed in foil with butter, salt, and fresh sage. The green beans went into a pan with diced bacon. The steak was lightly seasoned with garlic salt, pepper, and paprika and given a generous knob of butter as well. All very simple.

Initially, there was some concern the steak may be overdone and the potatoes might still be a bit hard, but thankfully the steak was beautifully smokey and medium rare upon being sliced and the potatoes were creamy and smooth. The sun setting on the lake and the warmth of the company undoubtedly added to the moment, but it was a truly lovely dinner. The fire did add a smokiness to the meal, but more powerfully, the fire added a very visceral connection to the process; watching the meal cook and then enjoying it outdoors, just a few feet away.After dinner, Michigan peaches were quartered, pitted and then placed on the fire with butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar. They were served over the morning’s remaining crumb cake.

fire3

As we explore these ideas of Great Lakes Cuisine, we’ve returned to the fire many times – the fire-brewed booyah, the infamous pig roast, our campfire exploits and countless smoked dishes. The process is not essential to the preparation of Great Lakes Cuisine, but it undeniably adds to the romance.

The Chef’s Table series focuses more on the chef than on the process, which may make for better story-telling, but can also distance the viewer from the food being created. We are being sold on the idea that each dish is a work of art, each dinner is a performance. But rather than place ourselves in the passive role of audience, to paraphrase the great bard, perhaps we are the actors and all the world’s the stage. My romance for food is not spectacle, but visceral, it is participatory. For all the great food coming out of the chef-led restaurants of the Great Lakes area, one of the hallmarks is a certain humility, a lack of showmanship. This connection to the food, connection to the land, connection to traditions generates a reverence and respect which is not a force of ego and an act of artifice, but more authentic and an act of true craft. This I would suggest is truly an essential component of Great Lakes Cuisine.