A simple yet decadent mac & cheese from Chef Tory Miller.
Chef Tory Miller is the executive chef and co-proprietor of L’Etoile, Graze, and Sujeo restaurants in Madison, Wis. A James Beard Award winner, chef Miller uses old world cooking methods and international influences to take local farm-raised ingredients to “the next level.”
Read the accompanying article to find out how this culinary star rose so rapidly in the industry, why he loves working in Madison and what makes Wisconsin cheeses so spectacular. Or you can simply get a firsthand taste of the chef's cuisine by whipping up Hook's 10-Year Cheddar Mac & Cheese, straight from chef Miller's kitchen!
Additional Garnish Options: Sliced kielbasa saisage or BBQ pulled pork.
Chef Miller highly recommends Hook's 10-Year Cheddar but if it's unavailable, substitute a full-flavored, rich, sharp Cheddar.
For the cheese sauce:
- 3 Tablespoons butter
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Cups whole milk
- 4 Ounces Widmer's aged brick cheese spread
- 6 Ounces Hook's 10-year cheddar, grated
- 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
For the pasta and breadcrumbs:
- 12 Ounces macaroni noodles
- 4 Ounces panko breadcrumbs
- 1 Tablespoon butter
- 2 Tablespoons chopped chives
- 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
Wisconsin&rsquos 10 Best Places to Eat Local Cheese
All across the Dairy State, cheese lovers can visit creameries, boutiques, delis, and restaurants serving the crème de la crème of artisanal cheeses.
As the fromage war between California and Wisconsin wages on—you know, whose cows are happiest?𠅌onsider a trip to the Dairy State this autumn, when foliage bursts into a riot of colors. The state’s creameries are just as spirited, too, with tours, retail boutiques, and events. Dairy lovers can enjoy a cheese-centric itinerary that ranges from an urban creamery in Milwaukee to a farm full of Holsteins, or a a deli serving slices of Wisconsin artisanal cheese. One thing&aposs for certain: you won&apost leave hungry.
- 2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups milk
- ¼ onion, minced
- salt and pepper to taste
- ¼ pound processed cheese food
- ¼ pound shredded Cheddar cheese
- ¼ pound shredded Swiss cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Prepare the elbow macaroni according to package directions.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Stir in the flour until a cream colored paste forms. Then pour in the milk and stir constantly until this comes to a hard boil, then stir for 1 more minute. Remove from heat and set aside.
When the macaroni is cooked, spread 1/2 of it into the bottom of a lightly greased 9x13-inch baking dish. Then layer 1/2 of the grated onion, 1/2 of the salt and pepper and 1/2 of each of the cheeses. Repeat this one more time: macaroni, onion, salt and pepper and cheeses, and then pour the reserved white sauce over all. Top off with small pats of butter to taste.
Chalet Cheese Cooperative: The Stinky Cheesemakers
All I knew about Limburger cheese before my visit to the Chalet Cheese Coop in Green County revolved around the antics of the Stinky Cheese Man in the children’s book by Jon Scieszka.
Turns out that’s only a part of the story behind this mysterious (to my generation) cheese.
Chalet Cheese is a farmer-owned coop that was founded in 1885. They are the only U.S. producer of Limburger cheese, made with the same culture they used 120 years ago. To make a long story short, Limburger has always been a sort of “poor man’s” cheese, and its pungent aroma and snappy flavor fell out of favor over the years as its customer base aged.
The WI Cheese Tour was the first time I was ever in the presence of Limburger, and I found it to be surprisingly tasty, especially in spreadable form.
The traditional way of eating Limburger is on rye bread, and some fans add a dollop of sweet jam while others add a squirt of spicy brown mustard. I tried the jam and found the sweetness a good complement to the slight bite of the cheese. In truth, I’m not a big fan of rye and I may have enjoyed a nice French bread crostini more.
My favorite cheese of Chalet’s was their Swiss, which had the most intriguing texture, or, “mouthfeel,” if you’re speaking in wino terms. They also make Baby Swiss, Smoked Swiss, and Brick cheeses, all using milk from farms in the Green County area.
I didn’t take as many notes during this tour, but I did take more pictures. Here are the snapshots of Chalet’s cheese making process:
"Washing" the cheese with a salty brine
Taking a core sample to test the holes in the Swiss
Tasty, tasty cheese tasting
The Best Airport Restaurants in the US
Don't take off without grabbing food from these chef-driven locales at airports across the country. From sushi to freshly baked cookies, shrimp cocktail to tortas, here are the restaurants that are worth a sprint to the gate.
Photo By: Juan Carlos Briceno
Photo By: Anthony Morrow of Pulp Detroit
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport: One Flew South
Although this is an airport-only locale, it&rsquos one worth a visit. Consistently rated as a top pick in all of Atlanta, the restaurant&rsquos Japanese-inspired decor will transport you out of the terminal to a place of Zen with intricately crafted cocktails and a menu full of Southern-international finds. Here you can find pork belly sliders, soy-glazed grouper, a full sushi menu and delectable desserts like a Southern banana pudding.
Los Angeles International Airport: Ink Sack
Tom Bradley International Terminal, Great Hall
Well-known LA chef Michael Voltaggio may have closed his other sandwich locations of the same name to focus on his other projects, but LAX commuters can still stop here to grab a creative sandwich to go. Choices like pork butt banh mi or gravlax with pickled onions and everything spread show that this isn't your typical airport sandwich shop.
Chicago O'Hare International Airport: Publican Tavern
If there isn't time to head to Chicago's bustling Fulton Market district to taste the food from the original restaurant, The Publican, and nearby restaurant and butcher shop Publican Quality Meats, this airport locale will do the trick. Taking highlights from both menus, it features the same seasonal, flavor-packed, expertly sourced ingredients as well as signature dishes like the Spicy Pork Rinds and the Farm Chicken.
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport: Whitetail Bistro
Popular restaurant group Abacus Jaspers has been known on the Texas scene for quite some time with restaurants in and around Dallas. This airport venture brings the best of Texas to the takeoff area, with a bistro twist serving up meals like cornmeal-crusted Texas catfish fish and chips and a grilled cheese with fire-charred tomato jam, smoked cheddar and Swiss cheese.
John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City: Blue Smoke
Terminal 4, near Gate B34
Union Square Hospitality (Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Café) is known for producing some of New York&rsquos favorite restaurants, so this Southern-inspired barbecue joint is a nice addition to busy JFK airport (you can also find locations in the city, and at the Mets&rsquo Citi Field). Don&rsquot be afraid to get messy with their smoked barbecue wings doused in Alabama white barbecue sauce, or pulled pork piled high with coleslaw and vinegar sauce.
Boston Logan International Airport: Shojo
Consistently rated one of the best places to get ramen in Boston, Shojo brings its beloved Asian gastropub cuisine to the airport for those who can&rsquot make it to &mdash or can&rsquot get enough of &mdash their Chinatown location. This location serves breakfast, including a bacon, egg and cheese bao and egg-puff waffles, along with an all-day congee menu. Sip on Japanese whiskey and chomp on the Shojonator burger, with bacon, kimcheese, pickles, scallions and spicy aioli on a bao bun, or grab to-go items like a bahn mi sandwich with soy-marinated tofu and mushroom aioli.
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport: The Peached Tortilla
East Food Court, Near Gates 7 and 8
It&rsquos hard to visit Austin and not hear about the Peached Tortilla in some capacity between their food trucks, restaurant, bar, catering and event spaces. Building on the taco culture of Austin, this hip restaurant group offers Texas food with an Asian twist. The airport location serves their first foray into breakfast tacos, filled with brisket and eggs or Japanese sweet potato and avocado. Lunch and dinner hit more of their classics, like a bahn mi taco and Korean steak, along with a few rice and noodle bowls.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport: Skillet
Neighborhood diner go-to (and popular food truck) Skillet has landed at SeaTac airport, bringing its comforting Pacific Northwest cuisine to frequent fliers. Find portable items from the original menu, including the housemade doughnut holes &mdash with powdered sugar or raspberry jam &mdash their kale Caesar salad and breakfast chilaquiles.
San Francisco International Airport: Manufactory Food Hall
When chefs from some of the best restaurants in the Bay Area &mdash Tartine, Cala and Kin Khao &mdash team up to create a food hall in the airport, it's worth checking out. The newest addition to SFO, the food hall features ingredients from the same farmers and purveyors they use in their restaurants. A full-service concept from the folks behind Tartine features sandwiches, salads, soups and their famous baked goods and coffee. Tacos Cala will feature tortas and tacos inspired by their civic center restaurant, and Kamin focuses on Thailand with rice bowls, noodles and grilled meats. The restaurants also have a selection of goods for sale, perfect for those last-minute gifts.
McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas: Metro Pizza
This may not be the fanciest feast, but Metro Pizza has been serving the Vegas area since the early 1980s, and it&rsquos a local favorite. Although the menu is more limited at the airport, travelers can still grab a hand-stretched, freshly made giant pie from pizza makers who&rsquove been at it for generations.
San Diego International Airport: The Prado
Dining at this airport spot may not feel the quite the same as breathing in the fresh air on the patio of the original Prado in Balboa Park, but you can still dive into favorites like the vibrant red-and-gold beet salad and the hearty Kobe cheeseburger before you hop a flight.
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport: Christopher's
James Beard Award-winning chef Christopher Gross lends his talents to the Phoenix airport with a version of his former restaurant, Christopher's (in the city, he is now at the helm of Geordie's in the Wrigley Mansion). Although he is known for his exquisite French cooking, he brings a more casual, yet elevated, approach to the airport with a selection of travel-friendly dishes like chicken wings in red wine sauce, margherita pizza and house-smoked salmon. Wine selections are curated by the wine director of Christopher's.
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport: Good Stuff Eatery
Spike Mendelsohn and family originally opened Good Stuff Eatery on Capitol Hill, as a destination for burgers, fries and handspun shakes (eventually opening additional locations around D.C. and in Chicago and Cairo). The airport menu has breakfast for early risers and a slightly smaller selection of their burgers and shakes but the same local and organic ingredients.
Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport: Obrycki's
Concourse B between gates B-7 and B-9 Concourse A next to gate A-10
Since 1944 Obrycki's has thrilled Baltimore seafood fans, especially with its crab cakes. Though the last city location closed in 2011, this family-owned business still pours its heart and soul into its two locations in BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport. The crab cakes are still a real draw, made with tons of crab and little filler. A secret spice blend sets them apart from other Baltimore crab cakes. If you like what you taste, you can buy some frozen to travel home with, or just enjoy a second helping at the bar along with the signature Crabby Mary made with Absolut Peppar vodka, the house spice blend around the rim and a crab claw garnish.
Miami International Airport: Spring Chicken
Concourse D, Near Gate D22
Keep the easy-going beach-bite dreams alive on your return from Miami with a fried chicken sandwich from one of the city&rsquos best spots. The same restaurant group behind uber-popular South Florida Southern-scratch cooking restaurant Yardbird brings some of their more casual fare to Spring Chicken, serving up chicken many ways including in the Country Club, with chicken (fried or grilled) Swiss cheese, bacon, tomato, pickles, and ranch (with a choice to add avocado) on a potato bun.
Philadelphia International Airport: Bud and Marilyn’s
Between Terminal B and Terminal C
A Philly stalwart, this Midwestern-style supper club from the well-established restaurant group Safran Turney hospitality has landed at the airport. The PHL location of Bud and Marilyn&rsquos serves some of the restaurant&rsquos most-beloved dishes, along with some grab-and-go selections. Don&rsquot miss the Nashville hot buns filled with hot fried chicken, pickles, pickle brine slaw and a burnt scallion ranch.
Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport: LoLo
Terminal 1, Concourse E
This locally owned and locally operated business (that's what "LoLo" stands for) can be found dishing out creative American food across Minneapolis, including at the airport. Grab a seat by the bar or at a surrounding high-top table to indulge in mixed-berry and Brie crostini drizzled with orange blossom honey or Korean BBQ hanger steak tacos with pickled cucumber, napa slaw and lemongrass aioli. A craft cocktail will help ease any weather delays.
Detroit Metro Airport: Bigalora
Chef Luciano Del Signore has been serving up Italian food in the Detroit area for decades, notably at his fine-dining Italian restaurant Bacco. He started Bigalora, with locations across Michigan, as a more casual concept with a menu full of wood-fired pizzas, pastas and market vegetables. The airport was the natural next step to provide those flying through the Motor City with the same signature wood-fired oven, a full bar and a section to grab and go for those in a hurry.
Dane County Regional Airport, Madison, Wisconsin: Mad Town Gastropub
Chef Tory Miller is the chef to know in Madison, but if you can't make it into Badger country, you can still experience his food at the airport. Cheese curds are a must-try in Wisconsin (as is local Wisconsin beer New Glarus Spotted Cow). The menu is full of regional fare, featuring local bratwurst, Hook's cheddar and plenty of housemade creations. The Tomato Ball Soup is a fun riff on matzo ball soup, with a tomato-based soup and a crispy risotto ball.
Portland International Airport: Blue Star Donuts
Pre-security Main Terminal
People travel far and wide to Oregon for a taste of Blue Star&rsquos doughnuts &mdash they&rsquore some of the most-inventive in the country. If ever there was a reason to get to the airport early, it&rsquos for a horchata-glazed brioche doughnut or a blueberry-basil cake doughnut, available at the stand before the TSA checkpoint, and especially great to dull the pain of a morning flight.
Newark Liberty International Airport: Daily
Seeing a true farm-to-table restaurant in the middle of an airport may be unexpected, but EWR&rsquos Daily is definitely worth a visit. The menu changes daily, as the name suggests, yielding dishes based on the bounty of local and seasonal ingredients available that day. Dishes could include Peking duck lettuce wraps or a grilled broccoli rabe sandwich with pepper jack cheese, chipotle ranch, pickled red onions and cherry peppers. Entrees are often cooked on their wood burning grill.
LaGuardia Airport, New York City: Osteria Fusco
Scott Conant is as beloved for his handmade pastas and other Italian specialties as he is for his insights on Chopped. Track down the former at LGA&rsquos Osteria Fusco. Expect a streamlined menu with favorites like burrata-topped arugula salad, rigatoni with Nonna&rsquos Neapolitan meat ragu, and a classic pasta al pomodoro.
Tampa International Airport: Ulele Bar
A favorite on the Tampa waterfront for its native Floridian food has made its way to the airport via a counter-service restaurant. Ingredients from the Gulf Coast, such as oysters and blue crab, are used whenever possible, and even the microbrews are made from local spring water. Many of the dishes pay homage to the native Timucua and Tocobaga Indians, early settlers of Florida. Save room for dessert &mdash the ice cream is made on-site.
Raleigh-Durham International Airport: 42nd Street Oyster Bar and Seafood Grill
A stalwart in the Raleigh dining community, this oyster bar holds a lot of history. And although the downtown Raleigh location has a ton of character, with live music and a storied past, the RDU location still offers up the same fresh seafood, like East Coast oysters, shrimp cocktail and bacon-wrapped scallops. There's plenty of beer and wine on hand to wash it down, and breakfast is served for the early flightgoers.
Indianapolis International Airport: Harry and Izzy's
People flock to the center of Naptown just to grab a taste of the famous St. Elmo Shrimp Cocktail found at St. Elmo Steak House or sister restaurant Harry and Izzy's. Luckily for those just passing through, the sinus-clearing, horseradish-laced cocktail sauce and jumbo shrimp are available gateside, along with some of other favorites, like the Izzy-style New York strip steak (rolled in cracked pepper and sauced with orange brandy butter) and the St. Elmo prime rib sandwich.
Charlotte Douglas International Airport: 1897 Market
Todd English had a hand in creating this gourmet market &ndash a perfect place to kill time while waiting for a delayed flight. It's an experience for the senses, with the smells of a wood-burning pizza oven, the sight of a carving station, the texture of the raw bar and the tastes of Carolina favorites like Dirty Mac and Cheese, and shrimp with local stone-ground grits.
Denver International Airport: Root Down
If visiting the LoHi neighborhood of Denver isn't quite within reach this trip, it's still possible to indulge in one of its best restaurants. Tons of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options make up the menu (rare to find at the airport), with choices like a vegetarian shoyu ramen and gluten-free banh mi. Check out the decor &ndash elements like a self-watering green wall, recycled cockpit instruments and 70 recycled lighted globes make this a cool place to hang out while waiting out a delay.
Salt Lake City International Airport: High West Distillery
Pre-security Main Terminal
Park City&rsquos favorite distillery has an airport location with many of the spirits you can find at the original locale. And although you can&rsquot ski up to this version, you can still sip a whisky flight or a handcrafted cocktail made with local spirits, like the smoky Campfire whiskey. Hungry? Chow down on saloon bites like sourdough pretzel sticks with whiskey beer cheese or a bison pastrami Reuben with Swiss cheese, jalapeno sauerkraut and house thousand island.
Louisville International Airport: Book and Bourbon Southern Kitchen
Pre-security Main Terminal
Even if traveling the Kentucky Bourbon Trail isn't in the cards, a stop at one of the official spots on it may be possible &mdash right in the airport! In true Louisville style, this restaurant offers up over 85 different types of local bourbons and a chance to learn about the tasting notes and history of each. Southern cuisine like fried green tomato Benedict and crispy buttermilk fried chicken rounds out the menu, and vintage "library cards" offer up bourbon cocktail recipes that can be replicated at home.
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport: Four Peaks Brewery
If there isn't time to head to Scottsdale or Tempe to pair this desert-favorite beer brand with pub food, look no further than the airport to get your fix. This airport locale serves up signature brews like the caramel-noted Double Knot and the peach golden ale alongside grub like chicken enchiladas, green-chile pork poutine, and fish and chips made with the brewery's Kilt Lifter beer.
Dulles International Airport, Washington, D.C.: Chef Geoff's
Chef Geoff Tracy has locations across Virginia and Maryland, so it only made sense for him to have an outpost where travelers could experience his food upon landing (or pre-takeoff). The menu is classic American with a twist, with snacks like Caesar fries with Parmesan and Caesar dressing, and honey sriracha cauliflower. Salads, burgers and sandwiches round out the meal, with a smattering of larger entrees like wasabi-crusted salmon or a crispy shrimp rice bowl.
Chicago O'Hare International Airport: Tortas Frontera
Terminal 1, B11, Terminal 3, K4, Terminal 5, M12
Ask any Chicagoan what their first stop is after landing at O'Hare and they're likely to name this Rick Bayless torta shop. For those passing through, it's a worthy detour for breakfast options like an egg-and-chorizo torta or lunch picks like the pepito with braised short rib or the mushroom and goat cheese option. As is typical of Bayless operations, all the meats and produce come from local farms &mdash a fact proudly displayed on the menu.
George Bush Intercontinental Airport: Hugo's Cocina
Chef Hugo Ortega's restaurant Hugo's has been a staple in the Houston area since 2002, and his airport location serves some of the same authentic regional Mexican food on the fly. It's a great place to stop if you can't make it into the heart of the city, letting you sample the James Beard Award-winning chef's cooking with dishes like Tacos de Camarones filled with bacon-wrapped shrimp stuffed with cheese, and Enchiladas de Pollo filled with smoked chicken and smothered with tomatillo sauce.
Chicago Midway International Airport: Arami
Concourse A Food Hall
Chicago's smaller airport overhauled its offerings to better represent the culinary diversity of the city. One of the resulting additions was an outpost of a popular sushi joint located in the West Town neighborhood. Here you'll find freshly rolled sushi &ndash the signature maki and sashimi that the restaurant has become known for. It can all be washed down with a variety of sake, beer or wine.
John Wayne Airport, Orange County, California: Javi's
Terminal C International Gates
Southern California indulges in Mexican food at Javier's, so it was a no-brainer to bring a slightly more casual outpost of the restaurant to the Orange County airport. Sustainable seafood is a priority here and can be found in indulgent dishes like seafood enchiladas with tomatillo sauce. Cozy up in the oversized leather banquettes, enjoying a nice respite before the cramped confines of the airplane.
Sacramento International Airport: Esquire Grill
One of Sacramento&rsquos favorite downtown dining establishments brings a curated menu to the airport for those looking to get a little local Northern California flavor on their way out of town. The flavors skew fresh in dishes like grilled artichoke with a creamy lemon dipping sauce, and grilled salmon with a cherry tomato salsa and seasonal vegetables. The kitchen utilizes as many ingredients as possible from local farms.
Quark is a traditional, creamy, vegetarian, unripened cheese tracing its origin to German-speaking and eastern European countries. It is known by many names, chief among them being творог in Russian, tvaroh in Czech and Slovak, topfen in Austria, kwark in Dutch, kvark in Denmark and kvarg in Norway and Sweden. Quark is said to be a cross between yogurt and cottage cheese.
This fresh, soft, white cheese is prepared from pasteurised cow's milk with a small amount of rennet added to achieve a good, firm curd. However, traditional quark is a purely fresh dairy product and does not make use of rennet.
It is moist, snowy white in colour with a subtle taste and smooth & soft texture. Its texture is similar to that of cream cheese, pot cheese or ricotta with a fat content ranging from low to medium. Quark is usually sold in plastic tubs with most or all of the whey. The flavour is reminiscent of sour cream with the seasonings of herbs, spices or fruits. The cheese makes a great base for many recipes such as cheesecake, pastas, creamy sauces, sandwiches, salads and desserts. It pairs well with Champagne White sparkling, Pacherenc-du-vic-bilh White, Coteaux-du-layon White, Monbazillac White and Cadillac White.
Quark is also produced outside their respective native countries such as in Australia and United States.
A Peach . . . No, a Honey of a Farmers' Market
MADISON, Wis. - ON Saturday, Sept. 30, 1972, 11 produce vendors set up shop in a street near Wisconsin's majestic white granite capitol. Customers quickly exhausted their meager stocks. A week later 85 fruit and vegetable sellers turned up, their stalls filling much of Capitol Square, to be mobbed by several thousand eager consumers.
Such were the modest beginnings of the Dane County Farmers' Market, now recognized as the largest in the nation by the North American Farmers' Direct Marketing Association, and still growing. This year, as the harvest in this fertile state neared a climax on Sept. 18, more than 20,000 people made their way from stall to colorful stall, from tomatoes to bison to apples to cheese, in an almost uninterrupted river of humanity. Counterclockwise along the sidewalks beneath the imposing dome they walked, towing wagons, pushing baby carriages and lugging bulging canvas or paper bags.
This is a farmers' market for farmers, run by the farmers themselves.
Everything sold must be grown in Wisconsin, and the sellers must actually have participated in the production of the goods. On this glorious late-summer day, with the sky a soaring canopy of robin's-egg blue, more than 300 farmers from 30-odd counties came to town, many of them driving through the night to get here by 6 a.m. (By comparison the Union Square Greenmarket in New York has only about 70 farmers in peak season, but it is part of a network of 47 such markets in 33 locations in the city.)
The last of summer's bounty was mingled on the stands with fall fruits and the first tender root crops of winter. The growers said it had been a wet summer, bad for tomatoes, but you couldn't tell from those offered by Thomas M. Eugster of Old Stage Vegetable Gardens in Brooklyn, Wis., south of Madison. The tiny yellow Sungolds and the scarlet Goliaths, big as softballs, could not possibly have been sweeter.
"Look at them," said a shopper to his wife. "With those gigantic T's you could make a BLT without any B or L."
I walked around with my wife, Betsey, accompanied part of the time by Odessa Piper, the chef and proprietor of Lɾtoile, a prize-winning restaurant on the square. A Midwestern Alice Waters, she introduced us to some of the farmers whose produce she uses in her kitchen, like Anne Topham of Fantôme Farm in Ridgeway, who makes a delectably creamy fresh French-style goat cheese the Weston family, who grow more than 100 antique apple varieties on 16 acres near New Berlin, including hard-to-find English delights like Cox's Orange Pippin and Pitmaston Pineapple, as well as Esopus Spitzenberg, Thomas Jefferson's favorite and Chuck and Jenny Anderson of Artesian Trout Farm, whose fish, raised in pure, icy water, have a much firmer texture than those reared in warmer water, which tends to make the trout sluggish and flabby.
Much of the produce was organic, and nearly all the vendors, Wisconsin being Wisconsin, were friendly, obliging people, a pleasure to talk with.
On one stand onions were carefully labeled with their varietal names, like Burgermeister and Stuttgarter. On another, a photographer's Kodachrome dream, were piles of peppers hot and sweet, round and elongated, red, yellow, green and orange. At a third Ms. Piper lovingly rolled a spectacular purple cauliflower in her hand and pointed out a head of broccoli romanesco whose mass of pale-green spirals resembled coral. "Broccoli on acid," she called it.
Terry Romeo of Oxford had three enormous, fleshy, multilobed mushrooms on his table, each the size of a serving platter. He finds them growing on oak tree roots every two or three years, he said, always in the first three weeks of September. "We call them cauliflower mushrooms," he said, "$20 each." Ms. Piper bought one.
Great tubs of cosmos and sunflowers stood behind the fruits and vegetables, and at the dozen or so stands run by Hmong families, members of mountain tribes who settled in Wisconsin (and neighboring Minnesota) after the Vietnam War, fruits and vegetables were so scrubbed, carefully trimmed and artistically displayed, they might have been taken for flowers.
The Hmong farmers displayed bitter melons, pea sprouts, squash leaves, holy basil, little Thai eggplants and gnarled purple eggplants shaped like a witch's hand. One Hmong woman showed me some sword-shaped leaves and asked me what they were she said a friend had given the seeds to her mother without identifying them.
Thanks to years covering Southeast Asian wars, I was able to identify them as convolvulus, or water spinach, a vegetable much appreciated in the region.
We started the day, not long after dawn, at the cafe that occupies the ground floor of Ms. Piper's restaurant. She bustled in a few minutes after 7, uncharacteristically late, shirtsleeves rolled, light-brown hair pulled back by a scarf serving as a headband. With my coffee I was eating one of the house's flaky, delectable breakfast rolls, flavored with vanilla, coriander, allspice, clove and plenty of cinnamon. Ms. Piper told us she called them spice girls rather than spice swirls because she often puts a song by the British pop group of that name on the stereo to fire herself up in the morning.
"I have to work hard to keep my concepts from getting too cluttered," she said, "especially this time of the year, when there is so much good produce."
Ms. Piper, who started Lɾtoile 28 years ago, comes naturally to her love of natural ingredients. She left high school in Hanover, N.H., a year early to live on a commune, gardening, cooking and preserving food starting at the age of 17, then moving to Wisconsin to live and work on an organic farm. Largely self-taught, she admits to harboring a certain suspicion of cooking schools, describing herself unconvincingly as "an idiot savant" in the kitchen.
Her culinary hero, she said as she pored over a list of items to buy at the market that morning, is Michel Bras, whose Michelin three-star restaurant outside Laguoile on the windswept Aubrac plateau in south-central France features spit-roasted local beef and "forgotten vegetables" on a glass plate decorated with herbs and flowers.
After checking the list, she slipped it onto a clipboard and handed it to Nina Camic, a wiry, Polish-born law professor at the University of Wisconsin who moonlights as the restaurant's "forager" or farmers' market purchasing agent, filling a little red wagon as she works the stalls.
The farmers are credited twice on the restaurant's menu, in the description of the dishes on the front and in an honor roll of producers on the back. Other local eating places have emulated Ms. Piper's farm-to-market-to-table style, including Lombardino's, for generations a straightforward red-sauce Italian restaurant, but now, under new ownership, a showcase for local produce like tomatoes, fennel and leeks.
A dazzling array of vegetables appear in Lɾtoile's first courses at this time of the year, in a "sampler" of burstingly ripe heirloom tomatoes, including red Ping-Pong, orange Flame, Green Zebra, yellow Mattina and brownish Black Prince, all from Rink Da Vee's Shooting Star Farm near Mineral Point, and a salad of mostly wild funghi, including shiitakes, trumpets, cremini, oyster mushrooms and lobster mushrooms.
The menu's vegetarian slot was filled by a crunchy, deep-fried polenta fritter, given a flavor supercharge by sweet corn from Heck's Market in Arena.
Betsey flipped over her chicken breast with Napa cabbage, both from JenEhr Family Farm in Sun Prairie, which puts its poultry out to pasture. "Great skin, delicious meat," she said. "Real chicken flavor, which is rare in the United States."
One of our dinner guests, Iowa-born Sam Brown, ordered a pork chop, cut from Berkshire hogs that had been raised on grass by Tony and Sue Renger near Loganville, then brined for three days by Lɾtoile's chef de cuisine, Tory Miller, a protégé of the New York chef Bill Telepan. The chop was served with potato pancakes, Gravenstein apple rings and spicy pork jus.
"The best pork I've ever tasted," Mr. Brown commented happily.
Me, I was too busy eating to talk, devouring a rib of grass-fed, dry-aged longhorn Highland beef from Fountain Prairie Farm in Fall River, which was edged by an incredibly flavorful (if dietetically dubious) ring of old-fashioned ivory-colored fat. I got through most of the mashed potatoes with blue cheese compound butter, too.
SO why Wisconsin? An early, well-developed environmental movement for one thing. A liberal political environment favoring economic cooperatives. And the soil itself, especially in the Driftless Area of southwestern Wisconsin. The glaciers that covered surrounding zones did not touch this one, which is blanketed with well-drained alluvial soil. Because it was an important lead-mining center, the federal government prohibited agriculture in the region until the 1840's, when it was settled by European immigrants with farming traditions.
New growers come into the market every year, and the 2004 rookie of the year, Ms. Piper told us, is one of her waitresses, Kristen Kordet, who grows tomatoes, Chioggia beets and rainbow chard with dazzlingly colored veins and stems.
Many stalls have been fixtures for years, however, like those that specialize in that most typical of Wisconsin products, cheese. Swimming upstream against the tides of mass production, dozens of Wisconsin farmers and farm wives produce superb artisan cheeses in the European tradition, such as Fantôme's chèvre, Hook's sharp 10-year-old cheddar and Bleu Mont Dairy's firm, tome-shaped wheels reminiscent of the cheeses of Switzerland, where the family of the proprietor, Willi Lehner, originated.
But the king of this particular mountain is Richard deWilde of the all-organic Harmony Valley Farms near the pretty town of Viroqua, who loads a 20-foot truck every Friday night and leaves for Madison at 2:30 Saturday morning, arriving about 5:30. On a beautiful day, he might sell $6,000 worth of vegetables or more, but cold, rainy weather cuts that in half, he said, "and the food pantry" -- a charity -- "loves us."
A bearded, keen-eyed, third-generation farmer whose grandfather was a buddy of J. I. Rodale, the pioneer organic farmer and publisher, Mr. deWilde grew up in South Dakota. He and his partner, Linda Halley, farm 90 acres planted in more than 60 kinds of vegetables with the help of their two sons and a number of hired hands. The farmers' market, he said, is his "show window," which has made the operation's name in the region and has enabled him to sell to restaurants in Madison, Chicago and Minneapolis, and also to run a Community Supported Agriculture plan, in which 450 local households pay for weekly delivery of three-quarter bushel boxes of assorted produce.
Harmony Valley Farms has even broken into big-time mainstream commerce. Mr. deWilde sells several cool-climate specialties -- burdock, celeriac, daikon and three kinds of turnips -- to Albert's Organics, a wholesaler in Bridgeport, N.J., and a broader range of vegetables to 18 Whole Food supermarkets in the Chicago area.
"Some of my friends at the farmers' market complain about that," he said, "but they help to keep me going. They pay on time, and above market price."
Push Comes to Chèvre
When I tell people that I’m from Racine, Wis., I tend to get two responses: either “Cheese heads!” or “Mars’ Cheese Castle!” The store just off Interstate 94 (technically in Kenosha) has always been popular with tourists craving cheese curds and waxy, cow-shaped cheddars. But a lot has happened to the cheese heads since I last visited 10 years ago. Wisconsin has joined the United States of Arugula, and its cheese producers, until recently outclassed by the offerings emerging from Vermont and California, have learned the magic word artisanal. Now more than 60 of the state’s 114 plants (there were 2,800 in 1925) are manufacturing at least one handmade or small-batch cheese. The state took home a third of the gold medals at the 2006 World Championship Cheese Contest. There’s even a blog, Cheese Underground, to follow award sweeps and other local news.
Wisconsin’s cheese renaissance reached a new high in September, when a former Lands’ End merchandise manager opened a shop called Fromagination in Madison, dedicated to showcasing the cheeses of the world (and the state). On its second weekend in business, the place was a hive of boho-foodies browsing and grabbing toasts topped with braised boar, chestnuts and local sheep’s milk cheese from a passing tray. The counter at the back of the shop was serving wine and craft-beer pairings among the accouterments up front were DVDs of the documentary “Living on the Wedge: Wisconsin’s Artisan Cheesemakers (the Uncut Version).”
Madison, the state capital and arguably the state’s most sophisticated city, has established itself as the center of Wisconsin’s artisanal and farmstead (that is, made from the farmer’s own milk) movement. The Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research is in Madison, and cheesemakers from the nearby Driftless region come to the Saturday Dane County Farmers’ Market, one of the biggest in the country, to sell their homemade cheeses.
The market is where the chef from L’Etoile shops for his 24-cheese Wisconsin tasting plate, buying fresh chèvres from Fantôme
Farm and Dreamfarm and aged cheddars from Bleu Mont Dairy and Hook’s Cheese Company. The Chez Panisse of the Midwest, L’Etoile has been a proponent of local and sustainable ingredients since it opened in 1976. The current owners are the Racine-born
chef Tory Miller and his sister Traci, young cheese boosters both. “I think of Wisconsin cheesemakers as farmer-artists,” said Tory, who attributes the complex flavors of the region’s cheeses to the sweetness of the milk.
Many of the cheeses on his list come from the Driftless area, a long strip of land west of the city that the glaciers passed by during the ice age. The area’s deeply carved hills and river valleys make it better for pasturing animals than farming, and the limestone-lined hills impart a distinctive flavor to its milk and produce. If this were France, it would have an A.O.C. designation. (Close, though: in 2006,
a Driftless faction was invited to the Slow Food Terra Madre conference in Turin, Italy.)
My first stop in the area was the tiny Fantôme Farm in Ridgeway, 35 miles from Madison, where Anne Topham made the first artisanal goat cheese sold in the state. After abandoning her Ph.D. in educational policy to make fresh chèvre in 1984, Topham had a learning curve as steep as the ridge that juts up behind the barn she and her partner, Judy Borree, built. “I learned to make goat cheese with a goat and a book,” she said and that book was in French. “People in Wisconsin knew cheese, but they didn’t know goat cheese. We did a lot of educating.” L’Etoile bought her fresh chèvre from Day 1, and today the only retail location is her folding table at the farmers’ market though Fromagination gets a few rounds. She regularly sells out of her weekly production made from the milk of her 11 goats, from fresh cheese spiked with tellicherry pepper to hand-molded discs aged with Celtic sea salt and vegetable ash. Today she’s the grande dame of Wisconsin chèvre if grande dames wore wire-rimmed glasses and listened to “A Prairie Home Companion” while they ladled soft curd into molds. “It feels like we’ve been out here slogging along doing it for a long time,” she said with a laugh. “Why would I retire? This is the fun part.”
Ten minutes away, on the cow-speckled hills outside Dodgeville, Mike and Carol Gingrich of Uplands Cheese Company are an overnight success in comparison. The couple he’s a former Xerox executive who returned to his family’s dairy-farming roots have produced milk from pasture-grazed cows on their 300-acre farm since 1994. In 2000, they aged their first wheel of Pleasant Ridge Reserve in their basement, modeling it on the Alpine cheeses of the Savoy region of France it won
Best of Show in the American Cheese Society awards the next year. They soon built a small plant near the milking barn, pumping fresh milk directly into the vats used to make their 10-pound wheels. The rounds are then aged on cedar planks and hand-turned every day. “It’s a lot of labor, but it creates fabulous flavor,” Mike told me as Carol nodded proudly beside him, hairnet bobbing. “It was the standard way of producing cheese 150 years ago.” The nutty, grassy notes make it popular with customers at both Cowgirl Creamery on the West Coast and Murray’s Cheese in New York. During our meeting, a man knocked on the door, holding crumpled Yahoo! directions to the farm. “I drove from Iowa City,” he said. “I love your cheese!” After the man left, Carol said, “How in the world did he find us?”
Sid Cook also draws cheese hunters, to Carr Valley Cheese Company, despite its hard-to-find location in La Valle, an hour north in Amish country. The fourth-generation owner began experimenting with small-batch cheeses a decade ago and now sells more than 50 varieties at his factory stores. Last year, Cook scooped up 28 citations at the American Cheese Society awards for a wide variety of products that make use of a range of local milks, from sheep’s milk with truffle to aged goat cheese with a dusting of cocoa powder (it works). “Sometimes I have a flavor profile in mind,” he said while men in hairnets stirred cranberries into a vat of chipotle cheddar. “And sometimes I’ll just take a bunch of ingredients that I think will be good and let them go where they want to go.”
Among these celebrated cheesemakers, Brenda Jensen at Hidden Springs Creamery is the passionate rookie. She left her job as a printing plant manager two years ago to make cheese from the milk of her 250 sheep. (She calls them “the Ladies.”) Her Driftless farmstead cheese won first and second place at two major national competitions just months later. Today, the upbeat mother of five milks the sheep twice a day, makes and packages the cheese herself and delivers it in her customized van. Jensen wants people to know where their cheese comes from, so she is building a B&B onto her house, which is set on a breathtaking hilltop surrounded by pastures. In addition to making creamy spreads, some flavored with lavender, tomato, basil and pumpkin from her unfenced garden, Jensen is currently learning to age cheese in the basement of her pristine new plant with help from the Gingriches and the cheesemaker Willi Lehner.
Lehner’s name comes up a lot among Driftless cheesemakers. He’s something of a local legend, the off-the-grid rock star of the Wisconsin artisanal cheese movement. Lehner practices his freestyle alchemy in nearby Blue Mounds, within an underground cheese-curing vault that he excavated from the land. Inside, the beautiful ceilings worthy of an Italian chapel are filled with shelf after wooden shelf of cheese, from complex, English-style bandaged cheddars to the funky Earth Schmier, which Lehner spritzes with a brine culture derived from soil taken from his woods.
Lehner is the son of a Swiss-born cheesemaker and, as Anne Topham put it to me, “he has had his hand in the vats since he was a little kid. He knows things in his cells that the rest of us try to learn.” Lehner makes his Bleu Mont Dairy organic cheeses at four different plants he then brings them back to the wind- and solar-powered vault to age. “I want to harvest the terroir. I want it to be from right here,” he said, pointing outside. At the Madison market, the Earth Schmier is a surprise hit. “People in this area have an increasingly developed palate,” he explained. “They’re starving for non-vacuum-packed cheeses. My motto is: if I make it, they will buy it.”
CHEESEMAKERS The cheesemakers of the Driftless region are all within two hours’ drive of Madison, the state capital. Several of the best are open to the public daily or offer tours with advance notice. Bleu Mont Dairy Blue Mounds (608) 767-2875 [email protected] by appointment. Carr Valley Cheese Company La Valle (608) 986-2781 carrvalleycheese.com. Cedar Grove Cheese Plain (800) 200-6020 cedargrovecheese.com. Fantôme Farm Ridgeway (608) 924-1266 fantome
farm.com by appointment. Hidden Springs Creamery Westby (608) 634-2521 hiddenspringscreamery.com. Uplands Cheese Company Dodgeville (608) 935-5558 uplandscheese.com by appointment.
BUYING Dane County Farmers’ Market Year-round for time and location, go to dcfm.org. Fromagination 12 South Carroll Street, Madison (608) 255-2430 fromagination.com.
RESTAURANT L’Etoile Stellar local cheese course. 25 North Pinckney Street, Madison (608) 251-0500 entrees $29 to $35.
1. Boston baked beans
Boston baked beans from State Street Provisions.
They don’t call it “beantown” for nothing. With a history of being served during Native American meals, beans slow-baked in molasses are not only a nod to times of yore, but also to when the city was awash in molasses during its part in the “triangular trade.” The dish is traditionally served in a small crock, with brown bread sitting sidecar.
When you’re located along Boston’s Freedom Trail, it’s a no-brainer to dish out a classic plate or two. The Beantown Baked Beans is a traditional recipe with brown bread on the side. (100 Tremont St., Boston)
If Chef Brian Poe could cook this Boston tradition in an old 1800s fireplace with a hanging pot, he said he would. He instead layers bacon, beans, molasses, and brown sugar, and bakes the casserole for four hours for his Frank ‘N Beans special. (1281 Cambridge St., Cambridge)
Chef Sean Dutson takes two days for this heirloom recipe, beginning with an overnight soak of dried beans. After six hours of simmering in molasses and brown sugar and an overnight rest, the North Country Smokehouse bacon flavor comes through like a rebel’s yell. (200 Stuart St., Boston)
This French-meets-Italian restaurant in Downtown Crossing cooks Great White Northern beans, short ribs, and ham hocks in veal stock, adds molasses for sweetness and that iconic mahogany color, and serves up a side dish that takes center stage. (10 Bosworth St., Boston)
The Museum of the American Cocktail
Birthplace to the Ramos Gin Fizz and Sazerac, it makes perfect sense that New Orleans should also be home to The Museum of the American Cocktail. Located in the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in the Riverwalk Marketplace, the museum was founded by legendary mixologist Dale DeGroff. Stop in to catch up on two hundred years of mixology history or browse through the collection of rare spirits, Prohinition-era literature and music, and vintage bar gadgets. The museum also hosts educational seminars on pairing, concepts, and trends taught by leading mixologists.