Monday, July 9, 2012

Cheese Tour Part 4 of 4: Last Stop -- Uplands

We made our way from Mineral Point to Dodgeville to visit Uplands Cheese Company, which is only eight years old. Uplands was quite a bit different from the other two creameries we stopped at in that while the others produce many types of cheeses, Uplands really only produces one (although it has one other variety in the winter) and all the milk comes from cows that graze right on the creamy property.
Andy Hatch, cheesemaker and general manager, explained to us that the farm follows more of a European style of cheesemaking and it’s not a typical format for a Wisconsin creamery. He explained that the more complexity in the milk supply, the more of a possibility for flavor complexity. These old techniques the creamery follows generate a great flavor.
Uplands makes Pleasant Ridge Reserve, a raw-milk artisan cheese that tastes similar to a French Gruyรจre. The cheese wheels are aged in ripening rooms built into the creamery where they are washed several times a week in a brine solution, encouraging the development of specific (good) bacteria on the cheese rinds.
In the fall, Uplands produces Rush Creek Reserve. At this time, the cows’ diet changes because of the seasonal changes. The cheese is super soft and has a slightly sweet flavor. While we didn’t get to try it at the creamery, we have sampled it before and it’s delicious.
I thought it was interesting that Andy explained the Uplands cows take part in rotational grazing. Each day, the cows are moved to different fields. This ensures the milk they produce gets the best flavors and keeps the grass in the best stages for optimal growth. If the farmers have to feed the cows hay, rather than grass, they don’t use the milk for cheese, but rather ship the raw milk for drinking. Having the cows right on the property gives the cheesemakers an intimate relationship with the animals. 

Like at the other creameries, we got an in-depth tour at Uplands, checking out where the milk is turned into cheese and big wheels are ripened. And of course, we got to sample! Andy cut us chunks of cheese from a large wheel of Pleasant Ridge Reserve. So good!

Cheese Tour Part 3 of 4: Hooked on Hook's Cheese

After our stop in Monroe, we boarded the big, fancy tour bus (did I mention the bus is something like rock stars take on tour?!) and headed to Mineral Point.

We stopped at Hook’s Cheese Company, which is fairly compact creamy that actually has caves, cut into the side of the hill, where some of the cheese is cooled.

Hook’s has been around since 1952 and produces a world-champion Colby variety. The creamery gets its milk from the same farmers it has for 36 years, all of whom run small dairy farms. Other varieties Hook’s is known for include a Blue Paradise and 10- and 12-year-old cheddars (watch for a 20-year-old cheddar in 2015!). We got to feast our eyes on a peculiar cheese called Stinky Fottene, which translates to stinky feet in Norwegian. It is, as you might imagine, stinky.
Tony Hook gave us a tour of the creamery, even giving us a peek into the 16-foot underground cave. We also got to tour a huge cooler with a vast amount of cheese. And then, of course, we got to taste. They had so many types of cheese out for us to taste, it was fantastic.  

They were all great, but I particularly liked the Blue Paradise, Little Boy Blue and 15-year-old cheddar. Of course, we got to try the cheese curds, too, which were fantastic and super squeaky.
While we didn’t pick up any cheese to take with us from the creamery, we did visit the Hook’s booth at the Dane County Farmer’s Market and picked up some pesto curds.

Cheese Tour Part 2 of 4: Chalet Cheese Co-op

We took off early on a beautiful June morning and headed to our first stop: Chalet Cheese Co-op in Monroe. Chalet is owned by farmers of 21 farms all from Green County and dates back to 1885. The creamery has 24 employees and eight master cheese makers.

Chalet is highly unique in that it is the only U.S. producer of Limburger cheese. Once upon a time, Limburger was a top 10 cheese. Roughly 3 to 4 million pounds were produced throughout the country annually. Today, only about 500,000 pounds are produced, and it seems to get a bad rep for being a stinky cheese.
There is no denying that it’s pungent, but have you tasted it? It’s quite good! We had the opportunity to try four different types, each aged a different amount of time. My favorite was the mildest, or youngest, of the bunch. We tried one of the more aged varieties with some strawberry jam on top. So good! 

Chalet is also known for its Swiss cheese varieties: baby Swiss, which is rich and creamy, and regular Swiss, which has more of a nutty flavor. Both were incredibly good. We also got to sample German-style brick cheese. Mmm …
But before the sampling, we got a thorough tour from Myron Olson, master cheese maker. He gave us the low-down on the creamery, what it takes to be a master cheese maker and the varieties of cheese Chalet produces. It was a great introduction to creameries and a great first stop.

Cheese Tour Part 1 of 4: Tour Introduction

If there is one thing everyone knows about Wisconsin it’s that there is a lot of cheese in this state and that we eat a lot of cheese. So as a Wisconsinite through and through, I am, of course, mildly obsessed with cheese. I love just about all types, and there is always something new to try.

So when Nate and I were invited to be part of a creamery tour, sponsored by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, to check out three creameries and stay the night in Madison and sample delicious food, we said, “Sign us up!”
And so we begin.

First, some fun cheese facts courtesy of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing board:

·         Wisconsin makes about 26% of cheese in the United States, making it the No. 1 producer nationwide.

·         Wisconsin leads the nation in specialty cheeses, including Asiago, Provolone, Aged Cheddar and Gouda.

·         As you’ll find out in other posts, Wisconsin is the only producer of Limburger in the country.

·         Wisconsin has more than 12,000 dairy farms.

·         Did you know it takes 10 pounds of milk to make just 1 pound of cheese? Incredible!

·         Colby cheese comes from … wait for it … Colby, Wisconsin.

·         Since the 1930s, Wisconsin has officially been known as “America’s Dairyland.”

In subsequent posts, you’ll learn more about the three creameries we visited and see some of the many photos I took. Do yourself a favor and check look for the cheeses we tried at area stores.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Spinach Recipe No. 2: Enchiladas

As you may have just read in the blog post titled "Spinach Recipe No. 1: Strata," I recently had an abundance of spinach from our CSA box. The first recipe I made from about half the spinach and arugula was a strata. Here is the second.

Spinach, Pork and Swiss Cheese Enchiladas

Like with the strata recipe, I just made up this recipe as I went, so please forgive the lack of true measurements!

  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1/2-1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, diced
  • 2 cups spinach and arugula, chopped
  • 1 cup or so shredded Swiss cheese
  • 1 can enchilada sauce, any time (I used a mild red sauce)
  • 8 small corn tortillas 
  • Spices: salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, coriander
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 9x13 pan with cooking spray.

In a skillet, saute pork, onion, jalapeno and a shakes of each of the spices (to taste) until pork is cooked through. In another skillet, saute spinach and arugula in a skillet with a bit of water (you could probably cook the spinach withe pork, but for some reason I didn't). Mix the spinach in with pork.

Lay out all tortillas and scoop a hefty amount of pork mixture onto each tortilla. Top with cheese. Roll each one tightly (easier said than done) and lay in pan with seam side down. After all tortillas are rolled, pour can of sauce on top and top with additional cheese, if there is any left.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until sauce is bubbly. Broil on high for about 5 minutes. Enjoy with some black beans on the side!

Spinach Recipe No. 1: Strata

If you follow my blog on Facebook, you know I recently received a ton of spinach from the last two CSA boxes. I went back and forth with recipes and ideas, trying to figure out what to do with all of it. I finally settled on separate dishes. Here's the first of the two.

Spinach, Mushroom and Green Onion Strata with Swiss Cheese

I originally thought of doing a quiche, then wanted to go with a lighter dish with a frittata. But then, remembering to the leftover Italian bread from Sciortino's bakery. So I settled on a strata, which is similar to a frittata, but on top of and soaked into bread. What's great about a strata is that you can pretty much put in it whatever you want and make it up as you go -- which is exactly what I did.

I apologize for my lack of exact measurements, but it'd be hard to screw up this dish, no matter what you do!
  • Enough slices of French or Italian bread to cover the bottom of your baking dish (I used a 9x9 dish)
  • about 2 cups packed spinach and arugula, chopped 
  • about 1.5 cups mushrooms, chopped
  • bunch of green onions, sliced
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 cup milk (I used 2% to make it a little creamier) 
  • about 2 Tbs. sundried tomato spread (not all that necessary, but if you have a bit in the fridge like I did, it's a good way to use it up!)
  • about 1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
  • about 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • spices: salt, pepper, seasoned salt, garlic powder, smoked paprika
  • a dollop of olive oil
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Coat bottom of 9x9 pan with cooking spray. Line bottom of dish with bread and top bread with sundried tomato spread.

Saute spinach and arugula until it wilts with a bit of water and a few shakes of salt, pepper and garlic powder. Add mushrooms and green onions with a bit of olive oil, cooking until soft.

In a large bowl, beat eggs, milk and a few shakes of all spices.

Spread the vegetable mixture on top of the bread. Cover with Swiss cheese. Pour egg mixture on top. Finally, top with Parmesan cheese.

Bake uncovered for about 45 minutes, or until knife inserted into middle comes out clean.

Like most of the food we eat, we topped the strata with a bit of hot sauce. Delicious! 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Pad Puk Gai

Otherwise known as chicken with bok choy. We got an abundance of bok choy with our CSA box late last week and wanted to use it sooner than later.

Using an app on his phone, Nate found a recipe, which was easy enough and sounded tasty. The Thai-inspired recipe used up all of our bok choy and included lots of other fresh veggies. We paired it with some leftover soba noodles we had in the freezer.

We followed the recipe pretty closely, but made a few substitutions including making a sauce because other than 1/4 teaspoon of fish sauce, there wasn't anything saucey about it. And we like sauce!

I definitely recommend this recipe and it's easy enough to make it to your taste.
Pad Puk Gai (Chicken with Bok Choy)
  • 4 cups (or one huge bunch) bok choy, chopped
  • 1 large chicken breast, cut into cubes
  • 4 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teas. fish sauce
  • 1 small container mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, cute into big cubes
  • 2-3 green onions, sliced
  • (we omitted the celery and MSG the recipe calls for)
  • For the sauce: a couple shakes (to taste) of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, hoisin sauce, Sriracha)
In wok, heat oil until hot. Cook chicken and garlic until done (about 5-6 minutes)

Add onions and fish sauce and cook about another five minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients and cook until veggies are tender.

Whisk together sauce ingredients and pour over veggies. Add noodles, stir and cook until warm.

Serve with more Sriracha!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My CSA Pick for 2012

As you've been reading for the past few months, you know I'm participating as one of three local bloggers who are writing about CSA experiences this year. Nate and I attended the Local Farmer Open House back in March, which helped us choose our pick for a CSA this year.

After talking with numerous CSA farmers about their programs, we decided to go with the CSA farm we had two years ago: Tipi Produce. We went with Tipi because we knew what we were getting into, and we knew we liked everything they offered!

We like that it's a long share -- 26 weeks -- it's a good price, it's organic and the pick-up location is a mere two or so miles from our house. The food was always fresh and each box seemed to include something we weren't familiar with, which was exciting. Also, the weekly emails from Beth, who runs Tipi with her husband Steve, were always a pleasure to read. Each issue includes farm news, items that are coming up in the next box and recipes using items in the box.

We'll again be splitting it with another couple, and it will be fun to see what recipes and meals they come up with, using the same ingredients.

We pick up our first share this week, so stay tuned for more posts about the CSA share, the produce we receive and the meals we make!

In the mean time, check out some meals we made from our 2010 share:

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Local Farmer Open House: What I Learned

Last Saturday, I attended the Local Farmer Open House at Milwaukee's Urban Ecology Center. As I mentioned in my post from March 11, I'm one of three bloggers writing about my experience in choosing a community supported agriculture (CSA) share and also about what the open house had to offer.

If you didn't make it to the event, I definitely recommend it for next year. It's a great way to connect with farmers to learn about their offerings, including CSA programs for fresh produce, flower CSAs, online farm stores and workshops (more on all that later). It's also a great way to check out the Urban Ecology Center if you've never been.

In total, there were 27 farms, companies, cooperatives, etc. featured at the event. They were spread all throughout the building, each displaying lots of information about their offerings. Each stand has a few people available to answer questions and, if you desired, to sign you up for a CSA share.

Here is a smattering of what I learned at the event:
  • The definition of a CSA. Just to recap, in a CSA program, the consumer buys produce directly from a farmer and receives fresh, seasonal produce on a regular basis throughout the growing or harvesting season. The consumer signs an agreement to purchase a season's worth of produce shares. Each week (or every other week) he or she will receive a box of produce that's appropriate to the growing season. CSAs encourage healthy eating and help support local farmers -- a win-win!
  • There are so many options for a CSA! You can get weekly shares that are either a full share or a half share, every-other-week shares or just a fall/winter share if you'd like. There are also many payment options available, including payment plans and worker shares.  
  • Be sure to ask a lot of questions when selecting a CSA program. The informational sheet all attendees received offered some great questions you should ask a CSA farmer. These include:
    • Where and when are your pick-up sites? Oone farmer mentioned this was THE most important question and that an easy pick-up location was one of the most important things to consider when selecting a CSA share.
    • What is the length of the season?
    • Describe the size and cost of your share.
    • What, if anything, is offered besides vegetables? Some farms offer meat, eggs or bulk-buying options, such as tomatoes at the height of tomato season,
    • What are your production and growing practices?
  • Some farms have online farm stores. This was a really cool thing to learn. Some farms offer online stores in which you, even if you don't sign up for a CSA share, can go online and buy whatever is fresh that week at the farm, which can include meat and eggs, and pick up the order at locations throughout Milwaukee. 
  • There is such a thing as a flower share. Instead of getting fresh veggies and fruit each week, you can get fresh-cut stems. What a great idea! One farm offered a 20-week program in which members receive 12-15 stems (cut that morning) of whatever is in season at the time.

Quinoa Cups

You all know how much I love the food blog Iowa Girl Eats. I always enjoy her take on making not-so-healthy food healthier and using ingredients in ways I never thought possible.

Take her recipe for mini ham and cheese quinoa cups as an example. Using quinoa as a crunchy and nutty-tasting alternative to a quiche crust? Genius! And healthy! 

I've always enjoyed quinoa, but sometimes I don't know what to do with it, other than a simple side dish. This recipe is a perfect way to incorporate quinoa, a great source of fiber and protein.  

I followed Iowa Girl's recipe closely, except that I omitted the parsley just because I knew I wouldn't be able to use up an entire bunch. My cups didn't turn out nearly as nice looking as hers did, but they were still delicious and even tasted great heated up for lunch the following day.

We had way more mini cups than would fit in our mini muffin tins, so I put the rest in a shallow baking dish and baked it alongside the mini cups.

The nice thing about this recipe, too, is that it provides a good base and then you can do anything you want with it -- you make Mexican or Greek-inspired quinoa cups, vegetarian ones or super meaty ones. The possibilities are endless!