Linda Falkenstein of Isthmus has some great news, Madison lovers of Pelmeni (aka Pel”meni):
Pel’meni, the Russian dumpling shop that operated out of 505 State Street in the mid-’00s, is coming back to downtown in mid-June at 201 W. Gorham St., a space next to AJ Bombers.
After the State Street storefront closed, Paul Schwoerer started serving his handmade pelmeni out of the Oasis Café, his coffee shop in at 2690 Research Park Dr. in Fitchburg. In the in-between time when the dumplings were not available at all, what might reasonably be called a cult following only deepened. And after the re-appearance, not all devotees could make the trek out to Fitchburg.
My earlier post about rediscovering the delicious dumplings (now featuring local produce) in Fitchburg has garnered hundreds and hundreds of hits, so I think Schwoerer will find continued success when he makes his triumphant return to the State Street neighborhood. Check out Falkenstein’s full piece for all the details.
77 Square, the Wisconsin State Journal’s weekly entertainment supplement, recently ran an interesting article about how the specific conditions under which honey is produced yield very different tasting products. Gena Kittner’s piece begins this way:
Like wine and olive oil, experts say honey produced and harvested in a specific region has a “terroir,” meaning its color, aroma and taste reflects where it was made.
And increasingly, single-source honey — gathered from bees that take nectar from primarily one type of flower, such as blossoms from apple or black locust trees — are becoming more popular and sought after locally and nationally.
People “can afford to pay a little more for honey that has a nice flavor,” said Jeanne Hansen, secretary and past president of the Dane County Beekeepers Association.
Once when tacos were on the menu at our house, I encountered big, crunchy crystals in a bit of Hook’s two-year cheddar we were using up. (Lacking a better comparison, the biggest ones were about the size of a Nerd candy.) I did a little poking around online, and it seems that crystals in cheddar are calcium lactate that results as the cheese loses moisture and lactic acid crystallizes. It’s apparently more common in longer-aged cheddars. It was bit unexpected when I first encountered it and — horrifying as it sounds — sort of felt like coming across a chipped piece of my own tooth in my taco!
In my online digging, I rediscovered this piece by Kyle Nabilcy that I had read in the Isthmus (Madison’s weekly alternative newspaper) when it first appeared. I’ve never tasted the Hook’s 15-year cheddar, but inspired by Kyle and other aficionados, I’ll try to take a positive view of those odd crunches in my cheese.
For more info about cheddar crystal formation that is technical but not wholly (!) inaccessible to a non-cheesemaker, head to the lead story in this PDF from the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research. As reported by Mark Johnson, senior scientist with the WCDR, their research
confirmed observations that packaging (gas flush vs vacuum), temperature cycling and temperature of storage play a role in the appearance of crystals. Many researchers have found a correlation between crystals and higher levels of lactic acid in cheese. Despite these helpful leads, we knew the puzzle wasn’t solved because we also saw that not all cheese with high acid developed crystals and not all gas flushed cheddar cheese with high acid developed crystals. Although vacuum sealed packages greatly limited calcium lactate crystal production, they did not stop it completely. Now, in the last several years we are seeing crystals forming in young cheese.
Like I said, it’s a technical piece, but it definitely makes for a fascinating read, so I encourage you to check out the full article for yourself.
The Conscientious Omnivore is away this week. This is an encore presentation of a post that originally appeared in slightly edited form on September 12, 2011.
Around Wisconsin, it’s the time of the year when maple syrup festivals take place and media outlets (like Wisconsin Public Radio) run features celebrating maple syrup. Last month’s newsletter of the Willy Street Co-op featured the favorite maple syrup at my house: Kickapoo Gold. As Lynn Olson describes,
Phillip and Sarah Gudgeon, makers of certified organic Kickapoo Gold maple syrup and maple cream, share a long family tradition of syrup-making in Wisconsin’s Kickapoo Valley region. Surrounded by some of the most beautiful land in the United States, maple tree stands, or sugar bush, are prolific in the area and have been the source of the sweet sap for hundreds of years there.
A long way from the days when their families would use all manner of containers to collect sap, even a fishbowl, the modern equipment used by the Gudgeons not only meets organic standards (Midwest Organic Standards Association) but their updated process provides a more energy-efficient process overall.
Starting with certified organic maple trees, Phillip says, “We now have over 5,000 taps that we cook from, though not all of them [are] on our home property. Most of these maple stands are on the hillsides with valleys between. This is very conducive to the use of tubing to collect the sap. The smallest tubing begins at the tapped maple tree, and runs pretty much straight downhill to secondary lines, which are angled across the hillside at a 4% slope. They connect to the largest main line, which runs in the valley and to a collection tank.” From there the sap is piped directly to the farm’s on-site sugarhouse.
Finally, a recent Associated Press report notes that
Last year’s unseasonably warm weather took a toll on the Chippewa Valley’s maple syrup output, but local producers say the cooler conditions this year have improved the 2013 outlook significantly.
Syrup flows best in conditions where daytime highs hit the low 40s and overnight lows are in the 20s. Last year, temperatures got into the high 60s in March, which caused sap to stop flowing. But producers say this year’s temperatures are just right, and they’re hoping production will return to normal levels….
Madison Craft Beer Week is approaching, and local breweries are getting ready to toast its arrival. Over the [St. Patrick's Day] weekend, 10 brewmasters, along with a few assistants and ingredient suppliers, joined together at Capital Brewery to create Common Thread — a beer made collaboratively for release during the May festivities.
The “week” actually spans 10 days, running from May 3-12. So far, about 75 different venues — restaurants, bars, breweries and brewpubs — are hosting more than 300 events. These include special tastings, releases of one-time-only brews, dinners pairing local brewers with some of the city’s finest chefs, and educational programs.
Common Thread is at the center of Madison Craft Beer Week. It was first brewed last year, with the inaugural style a “Wisconsin Common,” inspired by the California Common (Steam) beer made popular by Anchor Brewing of San Francisco. The 2012 Common Thread was a balanced session beer that was versatile with food.
For the details on this year’s collaborative brew, along with lots of handy links and a photo gallery, head to Shepard’s full article.
Finally, as we count down the days until Craft Beer Week 2013, check out two of my posts from last year’s events:
I recently discovered a great new source of delicious Wisconsin produce. I was looking for some potatoes to oven roast and serve as a side with a strata I was making (from a recipe at Epicurious) when I came across organic baby reds from Igl Farms of Antigo at the Willy Street Co-op. The potatoes were delicious, so I thought I’d try to learn a bit more about the farm—especially since the bag label sported the encouraging motto, “know your food, know your farmer.”
As their Savor Wisconsin profile describes,
Igl Farms is a truly family-owned and -operated certified organic biological farm. We have been in business since the 1930′s and certified organic since 1997. We grow and sell certified organic red, gold and russet potatoes, oats and field pea seed. We also direct market beef from our small beef herd.
As detailed in their producer bio at the Willy Street Co-op website,
They farm biologically following the program and biological farming principles of Midwestern Bio-Ag of Blue Mounds, WI. This consists mainly of balancing the soil minerals, increasing soil biology and improving soil tilth and structure to create healthier soil, plants and food for animals and people.
“We are not a large or fancy operation, but we do the best we can to grow and sell the best quality food products we can. We face constant challenges from weather, pests, equipment problems and industrial agriculture. Although we have learned a lot since we have been farming organically, we still have a long way to go in our journey of trying to understand how this whole system works. We hope you are satisfied with the fruits of our labors, and we greatly appreciate the support you give us by purchasing our products….“
The website of Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks provides more background on the family’s transition from conventional to organic farming:
Brad [Igl] says the decision to switch to organic farming was both a personal and professional decision. After watching numerous family members and friends struggle with serious health problems, the Igls realized the importance of raising their crops free of harmful chemicals such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Brad notes that better prices in the organic market were also a major factor. He credits an environmentalist uncle with convincing them of the importance of sustainable farming practices to ensure healthy soil which in turn produces healthier food….
The switch to organic farming has come with its fair share of challenges. Brad points out that while the farm is one of the largest organic potato farms in the Midwest, it is also one of the smallest producers of potatoes in the region, as conventional farming practices allow for greater yields with less labor. The Igl brothers also face stiff competition from larger organic farms out west, where the land is more favorable for growing potatoes. But they have found their niche in the market as a local family farm that serves its valued customers here in the Midwest.
As their profile at Family Farmed describes,
We try to work with natural systems as much as possible to establish the healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy animals and people chain, rather than using chemicals, harsh fertilizers, and unsustainable, soil-damaging practices to try to push for top yields by trying to control and manipulate nature to our exclusive benefit
Our philosophy is that healthful, nutritious food can only be grown on healthy, balanced soils that are biologically alive and have good structure. The best way to achieve this is under a well-managed organic farming system. This must work with natural systems, must be kept sustainable through conscientious production management and a strong sense of land stewardship, and it must be profitable for the farmer in order for him or her to continue to produce the kind of food people want. We do not use or promote the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), synthetic agricultural chemicals, harsh commercial fertilizers, synthetic growth hormones, or subtherapeutic antibiotics.
That same profile notes that “We sell our products directly at our farm, and they are at times available from CSAs. Most sales are wholesale, or retail can be found at Willy Street Co-op in Madison and some Twin Cities’ co-ops (supplied by Roots & Fruits).”
On the heels of Tuesday’s post about small-scale maltsters who are supplying microbreweries with an essential beer-making ingredient, I thought I’d share a fascinating piece [PDF] from Wisconsin Historical Magazine about a Wisconsin maltster who lived and worked a century ago.
In his look at a bygone age of industrial brewing, Jeff Haas details the experiences of his great-grandfather who heads to Japan as the U.S. is on the brink of Prohibition.
Although Haas touches on aspects of Wisconsin brewing history in his piece, he begins with a focus on his forebear:
On July 16, 1917, after a three-day train trip from Duluth to Seattle, thirty-nine year old August Groeschel found himself aboard the S. S. Sado Maru on his way to Yokohama, Japan. The Wisconsin native carried with him a one-year contract with the Kirin Brewing Company, which guaranteed him $125 per month plus living expenses. The generous salary (which Groeschel would re-negotiate to $225 shortly after his arrival) was for his expertise as a maltster and an engineer, a career he had begun more than two decades earlier in his hometown of Kewaskum in Washington County, just forty miles northwest of Milwaukee’s lakefront. The salary was significant for the time, but it was not the only incentive for Groeschel to leave the U.S. and his beloved family. He believed this international assignment would garner him a level of prestige that would ultimately allow him the higher management responsibilities that he desired, but that were out of reach at home. The contract with Kirin, however, was not the only thing that he carried with him. August Groeschel had tuberculosis, and his career ambitions would rest as much on his overall health as well as his two decades of expertise. In a series of letters home, he brought a Wisconsin perspective abroad, and he described the frustrations and the satisfactions of doing the most familiar work he knew in the most unfamiliar place he had ever been.
The full piece is an interesting look at an earlier era of domestic and international beer-making through the lens of one man’s life, so I encourage you to check it out [PDF].
Last week I posted about my renewed commitment to pasture-raised meat, eggs, and dairy after attending the open house for the University of Wisconsin’s Dairy Cattle Center.
Coincidentally, just an hour before visiting the UW cows whose lives I didn’t envy, I discovered the delicious, wonderful cheeses of Saxon Homestead Creamery. At the Willy Street Co-op where I did our weekly grocery shopping, a young woman from the Klessig and Heimerl families of dairy farmers was offering samples of their award-winning cheeses, which are made exclusively from the milk produced by their pasture-focused dairy farm. As their website describes,
Rotational Grazing is the cornerstone of our farm, and it is what makes our cheeses so rich and flavorful. We at Saxon Homestead have reduced our reliance on fossil fuels, energy and chemicals, thus drastically lowering our carbon footprint.
Our cows graze on harvest grass in a patch of pasture called a paddock. They are moved every 12 hours to a fresh paddock to graze. We move the cows not only to ensure the health of the paddock, but also the health of the cows. We have developed over 1000 acres of improved pasture, organized into various paddocks ranging in size from 2 to 6 acres. This is truly a “Sea of Grass.”
The family has a long tradition of dairy farming and cheese production. As Bob Galivan writes,
Saxon was founded by Fredrick and Elizabeth Klessig, who emigrated from Germany in , and purchased 160 acres of farmland for $500.00 in 1850. Their initial crops were small grains, like many of the farms in the area, but poor soil management practices depleted the soil and forced many farmers to shift to dairying operations. That move resulted in excess milk, which necessitated more formalized cheese production.
More recently, the family ran a conventional dairy operation until the late 1980s. As described by Jeanne Carpenter (who blogs as the “Cheese Underground Lady”),
The Klessigs and Heimerls converted their conventional dairy to a rotational grazing operation in 1989. That experience became the family’s “a-ha moment” as they turned their herd of Holstein cows out of the barn onto pasture for the first time and said they witnessed “pure pleasure” on the faces of their cows.
After a long process of planning, a cheesemaking venture was established in 2008. As detailed [PDF] in The Cheese Reporter in April, 2008,
Wisconsin’s newest farmstead cheese company has developed two original raw milk, pasture-based specialty cheeses made with old-world character, yet not reminiscent of any cheese currently on the market. Saxon Homestead Creamery, headquartered [in Cleveland,Wisconsin], has been 20 years in the making. It was primarily established to add value to the milk of longtime dairy farmer and company partner Gerald Heimerl. We take considerable pride in our milk production, as most farmers do, Heimerl said. But it bothered him to see milk co-mingled, knowing that “your milk is only as good as the worst milk in the truck.”
For a wonderful recounting of a trip to the Saxon farm, check out dharmagirl’s blog post. As she describes at the end of her piece,
Jerry’s passion for pastured, grass-fed dairy is palpable, and his dedication to this particular farm and its bounty is deep. His message to us was to supprt farms such as his and to support our local communities. Education and knowledge about our food has the power to change all of our lives—producers and consumers.
I don’t feel virtuous or self-righteous as much as I feel committed to truly knowing this place where I now live. And I feel a deep gratitude to the farmers whose labor is invisible in the foods that grace my plate so many times each day. I want to really think about the lives that have contributed to my food—human and non-human alike—and to truly appreciate and support them through the power of my fork.
Amen to that!
So, how ’bout the cheese? As Rufina writes at My Saucy Life,
Saxon Homestead Creamery may be the next frontier for a unique understanding of the terroir of Wisconsin. The combination of location, geology of the soil, average humidity, rainfall, wind, and other climate conditions that can make a wine distinctive, also make the creamery’s namesake cheese, Saxony, distinctive.
“I never really believed it when people talked about the terroir of foods, or recognizing the region of origin of a cheese just by its taste, but now I know it’s true,” Jerry Heimerl admits.
Lyndsey Sharp at the Pastoral blog details just what that Wisconsin terroir tastes like:
Green Fields is the resident washed-rind cheese. Inspired by Trappist cheeses, Green Fields is a raw milk cheese made with cooked curds, and aged for at least 70 days. Green Fields is a solid choice for a full-bodied beer pairing, as it’s pungent aroma and grassy-earth flavor will add a superb but subtle contrast to a beer with deep tones of yeast or spice….
For a meatier choice, Pastures Bandaged-Aged Cheddar is a wonderful way to experience a cheddar. Wrapped in cloth and aged for upwards of 120 days, Pastures is an all-purpose cheddar; it grates well, holds its own as a cubed table cheese amongst toasted nuts, or—for a fantastic twist on an old standby—Pastures is amazing as the center of attention in a grilled cheese sandwich, especially once paired with a crisp and light cider….
Perhaps the most endearing of Saxon’s selection, Big Ed is a farm-style Gouda named after the patriarch of the fourth-generation of Klessig cheesemakers, Ed Klessig. Described as a cheese that “hugs you back,” just like its namesake, Big Ed presents notes of nuts and salt while maintaining a buttery sweetness. A raw milk cheese that is formed into pressed and cooked curds and aged 120 days, Big Ed is also a great companion for an evening spent with some fruity wines and your favorite movie.
If you were reading closely, you noticed that some of these cheeses are made with raw (unpasteurized) milk. But didn’t I just mention on Friday that raw milk sales are illegal in Wisconsin? Yes, but … there’s a loophole. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article I shared last week about raw milk legislation was accompanied by photos of none other than Saxon Creamery. As one photo’s caption explains,
Saxon Creamery in the village of Cleveland in Manitowoc County … makes artisan cheeses, including some from unpasteurized milk. The Food and Drug Administration permits the sale of such cheese if it has been aged at least 60 days.
The cheeses I sampled at the co-op were really lovely, and the family’s commitment to animal well-being, sustainable farming, and the craft of fine cheesemaking are to be admired, encouraged, and savored.
Former Gov. Jim Doyle may have banned raw milk sales in 2010, but that didn’t end the debate over the controversial dairy product in Wisconsin.
Indeed, as the trial against defiant raw milk seller Vernon Hershberger is set to resume Monday in Sauk County Circuit Court, state Sen. Glenn Grothman has revived the issue on the legislative front with his announcement that he will try again to legalize the sale of raw milk.
Grothman, R-West Bend, has been an advocate of legalizing raw milk for years, including speaking out against Doyle after he abruptly vetoed its sale despite earlier signals that he would approve it….
About a month after Doyle’s veto, state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) officials raided Hershberger’s property in Loganville and shut down his on-farm store. The store sold raw dairy and other farm-fresh products.
He was subsequently charged by the state with four misdemeanors: distributing milk from a dairy farm without a milk producer’s license, operating a retail food establishment without a license, operating a dairy plant without a license and selling raw milk.
Find the full story here, which includes a number of informative links.
One of those links is to Rick Barrett’s recent article for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about Grothman’s efforts. As Barrett describes,
With little exception, state law prohibits the sale of raw milk to the public. Those who want the law changed say that fresh, unprocessed milk contains nutrients that are destroyed by pasteurization – and that consumers should be able to decide for themselves if they want it.
Public health and dairy industry officials say unpasteurized milk may carry pathogens that cause food-borne illnesses. They also worry that any illness outbreak associated with raw milk would tarnish the reputation of Wisconsin’s dairy industry….
Details of Grothman’s new bill aren’t yet available, but it’s expected to be similar to what he proposed in 2011.
Raw-milk advocates say they’re hopeful it will be passed by the Legislature despite opposition that’s likely to come from Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, the state’s largest farm association, and dairy producer organizations.
Check out Barrett’s full piece here.
On the heels of my post yesterday about spelt, I thought I’d share some information about a pilot project to bring an heirloom wheat variety to Wisconsin. The story, featured in the winter newsletter from REAP Food Group, focuses on the relationship between Madison Sourdough Company and Lonesome Stone Milling and their efforts around Turkey Red Wheat.
As Madison Sourdough co-owner David Lohrentz describes,
Turkey Red Wheat came to the US in 1874 when Mennonites immigrated from the Ukraine territory of Czarist Russia. I was aware of this because my great, great grandfather was part of that migration and grew Turkey Red wheat in rural Moundridge, Kansas. As a history major, I knew that Turkey Red Wheat had been the predominant wheat grown in the Midwest in the early 20th century, and that it was responsible for turning Kansas into the wheat capital of the US. We thought that it would be awesome to experiment with Turkey Red flour, but the only place that sold it was in Kansas, and shipping cost more than the flour itself. It just didn’t make economic sense, nor did it fit with our desire to use local sources….
I learned via internet research that Bryce Stevens of western Kansas is one of a handful of growers of Turkey Red Wheat seed…. I drove a cargo van 13 hours from Madison to Bryce Stevens home. Even though it was late, Bryce, his wife Linda, and I had a fascinating chat about Turkey Red Wheat and the role it could play as an alternative to the agribusiness food system.
For the full story, check out the REAP newsletter PDF here.
For more on heritage grains in general, head to Chris Martell’s article last year in the Wisconsin State Journal, which also features both Lohrentz and Lonesome Stone:
“I strongly suspect that all the problems with gluten intolerance we’ve been seeing is that big corporations and seed companies are producing high-protein hybrid wheat that’s grown with lots of chemicals to keep weeds down and kept in large grain elevators where fungicides are used,” he said.
Mass-produced wheat also lacks the distinctive flavors of ancient grains, Lohrentz said.
The [more limited] availability of ancient grains can be a problem, though. Another challenge for bakers is that the heritage grains grown in small quantities by a handful of farmers have different characteristics, especially protein content, making it more difficult to develop recipes.
“Once we get great local sources, bakers will be able to amp up consistency,” Lohrentz said. “That’s the challenge.”
Gilbert Williams, co-owner of Lonesome Stone Milling in Lone Rock, said he’s eager to work with any Wisconsin farmer who grows heritage grains.
“There’s a strong demand for low- or no-gluten crops, but they’re still pretty rare,” he said. “It’s hard to grow them in an economical way. Another hurdle is seed availability.”
Find Martell’s full article here.