Employee of the Month and Other Big Deals

 A special treat this week: our first book review.  A friend recently lent me a copy of the book Employee of the Month and Other Big Deals by Mary Jo Pehl.  You might recognize that name–we’ll come back to that.  The book is a collection of essays drawn from some of the more embarassing moments from her life growing up and living in Minnesota, and then moving to New York City and beyond.  Dating, jobs, political dynasties, USDA nutrition guidelines…it’s all there.

In some ways, the book reminded me of Michael Perry.  Not so much in content or tone, but they both have a certain Midwestern eccentricity, a “Prairie Home Companion“-ness about them.  The essays have a plainly evident truthfulness to them (working in both directions– just as she did not spare herself the embarassing details, she did not inflate the stories beyond reality into farce).  What struck me about her writing style was the conciseness of it.  Stories are trimmed right to the bone.  It’s rather like if David Sedaris was the surrogate mother to Strunk & White‘s baby.

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Two Words, Grilled Cheese

April is National Grilled Cheese Month.  What better way to celebrate than to attend the first ever Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship in Mineral Point on Saturday April 21st.  I’m especially excited about the event because my friend Caitlin and I will be competing in the amateur classic category.  I think we’ve got a pretty good shot at winning 😉  Pictured below is something I concocted for lunch (nothing at all like what we will be making at the event).  That is a closely guarded secret!

Sourdough Bread, Brunkow Cheddar, & Abate Fetel Pear

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Brunkow Cheddar & Fractal Soup

Care for a bowl of cheddar and fractal soup?  No thanks?  Just what is that strange, dinosaur-like item below?  That my friends is a Romanesco broccoli.  A gift from Jenny & Rink of Shooting Star Farm.  Something between a standard broccoli and a cauliflower in flavor.  The structure is described as fractal because it is built up of one shape that repeats over and over no matter the size.  In this case it is self-similarity in spiral pyramid form.  Like nature’s matryoshka doll I suppose. 

 Romanesco Brocolli, Brocoflower, Roman Cauliflower

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Driftless Appetite at the Fair

Two weekends ago, we attended the Kickapoo Country Fair up in LaFarge, WI.  It’s an event put on by Organic Valley to highlight local and organic food.  We’d actually wanted to attend last year but had been busy.  This year they invited us up to cover the event as jounalists–and I love it when people confuse us with the real media, so we just had to go.  First impressions of LaFarge were…amazing.  It’s a beautiful location.  Definitely driftless, but quite different than our part of the state.  I want to buy a little vintage British convertible to drive around those country roads on the weekend.  The closest we’d been to LaFarge before was Viroqua. It just goes to show how much exploring we have left to do before we really know this area.
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Bacon, Egg, & Cheese on Buttermilk Biscuit

Good morning sunshine!  During this time of the year in particular, I start to get a little morning crazy.  Just google “annoyingly perky” and you’ll get a picture of me grinning from ear to ear.  I like to wake up early (earlier than the time my dog Ollie requires his morning belly rub), go for a jog, take pictures of dewy flowers, and most of all bake!  Below is my first attempt at making buttermilk biscuits.  They turned out nice and tender, a little moist, with a bit of flakiness.  It’s amazing what a lot of butter and buttermilk can do. :)

 Marr’s Bacon, Windy Ridge Eggs, & Hook’s Cheddar Cheese Sandwich

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Dinner at L’Etoile (Cheese Tour Part IV)

The final post in our ‘Cheese Tour’ series see Parts I, II, & III) takes us to L’Etoile in Madison for a memorable meal hosted by chef Tory Miller and with guest cheesemaker Brenda Jensen of Hidden Springs Creamery in Westby, WI.  Tory is the finest chef in Wisconsin and Leslie and I both love L’Etoile (if we were in a slightly higher tax bracket, we would probably eat there constantly).  Brenda is one of the most respected farmstead sheep’s milk cheesemakers around.

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Creama Kasa con Chicharrónes Mac ‘n Cheese

Creating a recipe for a month of Mac & Cheese was a fun challenge especially since I’ve rarely-if ever-actually made mac & cheese.  I wanted to make something that was faithful to the traditional style, but I wasn’t even sure what that was!  Luckily I had Keith around to help.  He grew up on mac & cheese (and it’s part of his triumvirate of comfort foods along with meatloaf and mashed potatoes) so he let me know when my first few ideas strayed a little too far from the tried and true (I guess southern style mac & cheese terrine is a bit out there…).  In the end I came up with something I’m very proud of and I think it balances tradition with bit of novelty.  I chose to use Carr Valley’s Creama Kasa, a triple cream cow’s milk cheese, along with Brussels sprouts, and pork rinds.  Enjoy!

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Mayor Dave Goes to Washington

First, let’s just get this out of the way:

Packers won the Super Bowl!

Ahem.  Anyways, I just wanted to give Mayor Dave (Cieslewicz) of Madison a shout out for his excellent choices of gifts to bring when he was invited to watch the Super Bowl at the White House.  The snacks included:

RP Pasta

Potter’s Crackers

Gail Ambrosius Chocolates

Edelweiss Emmentaler cheese

Extra Aged Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese

Sassy Cow Creameries Green and Gold cheese curds

and one bottle each of:

Ale Asylum Hopalicious

Capital Brewery Wisconsin Amber

Lake Louie Brew Kiss My Lips

Tyranena Bitter Woman IPA


New Glarus Spotted Cow

My only question is…just one bottle of each!?  Come on, you’re from Wisconsin, man!

Fondue at Roth Käse (Cheese Tour Part III)

Up next is Monroe, WI aka the “Limburger Cheese Capital of the USA”.  The town is situated in the bountiful expanse of Green County where they claim to have some of the best cow’s milk in the country.  With great cheese come the cheesemakers, many of them Swiss immigrants. Of the 34 cheese factories in Southwest WI, Green county has a total of 9, the most in any one county in Wisconsin.  If you think that’s a lot, wait ’til you hear this.  Green County used to have more than 100 small cheese plants, all of which produced the very odorific cheese called Limburger.  As the years passed, people had less affection for the cheese so 100 turned into 1, Chalet Cheese Cooperative, the only plant producing this cheese in the country.  Cheesemaking in Wisconsin began in 1840 and continuing that tradition with much vigor was our destination of the day, Roth Käse.

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The Cave at Bleu Mont (Cheese Tour Part II)

 We’re doing a bit of catching up here at the Driftless Appetite.  Here is part two of our southwest Wisconsin cheese tour last October sponsored by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.  (See part one here.)  We got the chance to visit Willi Lehner, a Swiss-American cheesemaker at Bleu Mont Dairy in the small village of Blue Mounds.  He started to learn about the art of cheesemaking from his father before he was even ten years old.  Later on, he learned cheesemaking in Switzerland as well as in the UK.  He is also an affineur, an expert in the art of aging or maturing cheeses, specializing in aging clothbound cheddar.  Several years ago, he built an underground cheese cave that is the envy of many if not all the cheese afficionados in the area.

The first thing I noticed right after we got off the bus were the large solar panels at one end of the property then a windmill toward the other end.  Another structure of note was the in-ground greenhouse with a sod roof.  We found Willi standing outside his house with a cup of something warm in hand, ready to give us the grand tour.  As he addressed our group, a couple of sweet kitty cats stole some of our attention while the family dog tried to take over the tour, urging us to come along toward the pièce de résistance, the underground cave. 

Cave’s Entrance

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