Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Wisconsin Food Hall of Fame

This is my tribute to food- and drink-related people, places and things that have defined Wisconsin’s cuisine. For the most part, I have only included businesses and products that are still around today. Some of the people, however, are no longer with us. Please submit your own nominees by clicking on the comment button at the end of the article.

Bavaria Sausage, Madison. The best of the wurst. Especially noteworthy are the Nürnberger bratwurst and Braunschweiger.

Bendsten's Bakery Kringle, Racine. Bendsten’s has been hand-making their sumptuous coffee cakes in Kringletown since 1934.

Beernsten’s Candy Store, Manitowoc. The family started making hand-dipped chocolates back in 1932 but the star attraction is the old-fashioned soda fountain that still dishes out ice cream treats like sundaes and sodas.

Brandy Old Fashioned. The unofficial state drink, in Wisconsin an Old Fashioned has to be made with brandy in Wisconsin (elsewhere, whiskey—bourbon or rye).

Brownberry Ovens, Oconomowoc. Begun in 1946 by Catherine Clark her line of breads became the first premium grocery store brand. The enormously successful company was sold in 1972 to the Peavey Company in Minneapolis and is now part of the giant George Weston Bakeries group.

Candidas Chocolatier, Verona. Swiss-trained chocolate maker Markus Candinas creates world-class confections in a small Wisconsin town.

Carr Valley Cheese, LaValle. Award-winning artisan cheesemakers with over 50 varieties, many are one-of-a-kind and outstanding.

Cheese Curds. Only in Wisconsin could this byproduct of cheese making have such a cult-like following.

Coffee Break, Stoughton. The custom is said to have originated here in the late 1800s by women who worked at the local wagon company.

Cranberries. Since 1995 Wisconsin has claimed the title as the country’s leading cranberry producer, beating out Massachusetts.

Culvers, Prairie du Sac. Wisconsin’s own little drive-in that became a national success. Today there are over 370 locations in 17 states.

Dane County Farmer’s Market, Madison. Come warm weather, it’s a Saturday ritual for thousands and claims to be the largest producer-only farmers’ market in the country.

Door County Cherries. Outside of the upper Midwest, it’s rare to find fresh sour cherries at the market. The good news is Door County produces lots of them. The bad news is this year’s crop is down 30% from last year—the lowest since 2002.

Elegant Farmer Apple Pie, Mukwonago. Baked in a paper bag, all gooey with caramel, you’ll never find another apple pie this good in the grocery store.

Fall Church Suppers: Lutefisk and Lefse. Unless you’re Norwegian you’ll probably never acquire a taste for this “delicacy” of gelatinous, dried, lye-cured and reconstituted cod served with bland potato flatbread.

Friday Night Fish Fry. What began as a Prohibition era marketing ploy by taverns to stir up business is today an institution. Originally beer-battered lake perch and walleye were the fish of choice but as they became more expensive, cod and blue gill grew in popularity.

Grassland Dairy Products Unsalted Butter, Greenwood. For the serious baker, they also make Wuthrich brand unsalted European-style (82% fat) butter.

Carson Gulley, Madison. An African-American Chef and cookbook author who along with his wife Beatrice had a local TV show, “What’s Cookin” in the 1950s, long before Julia Child hit the airwaves. Carson Gulley Commons on the UW-Madison campus where he worked for many years bears his name.

Harmony Valley Farms, Viroqua. They’ve been growing quality organic vegetables for over 30 years.

Heavy Whipping Cream. It has to have at least 36% butterfat and shouldn’t be ULTRA-pasteurized.

Honey. Wisconsin ranks 14th in honey production but it’s considered some of the finest produced anywhere thanks to our Italian honey bees brought into the state in the 1860s.

Hook’s Cheese Company, Mineral Point. Small, family-run cheese factory famous for their aged 1- to 10-year-old Cheddar as well as blue cheese.

Ice Cream Sundae, The first ice cream sundae was concocted in Two Rivers in 1881.

Ishnala, Wisconsin Dells. The Hoffman brothers of Madison open this restaurant in what was once the family summer home. In the 1950s, its North Woods idyllic setting on Mirror Lake and kitschy Indian décor complete with costumed waitresses set a new standard for the state’s supper clubs.

Jim’s Blue Ribbon Summer Sausage, Oshkosh. Silver Creek Meat Specialties make many notable kinds of summer sauce but Jim’s Blue Ribbon is by far the most popular.

Karl Ratzsch’s, Milwaukee. So much of Milwaukee’s German heritage is gone but Karl Ratzsch’s continues on. Founded in 1904, today it remains not only one of the city’s premier restaurants but arguably the nation’s finest German eatery.

Konop's Meat Market Hot Dogs, Denmark. These natural case wieners are the best you’ll ever have. Period.

Kopp’s Frozen Custard, Milwaukee area. Since 1950 Kopp’s has been making quality frozen custard in many unusual and tempting flavors.

Madame Kunoy and The Postilion, Fond du Lac. Liane C. Kuony, born in Antwerp, Belgium, was known to her customers and culinary followers as “Madame” and brought classic French cooking to Wisconsin and the Midwest. She and her husband settled in Fond du Lac in 1939, opening a tea room and interior design shop called The Postilion. Paris Cordon Bleu trained, she opened a cooking school in 1965 and later a restaurant. She was passionate advocate for using only the freshest and finest ingredients, including organic produce. She passed away at the age of 90 in 2005.

Lakeside Horseradish, St. Francis. July is National Horseradish Month.

Tami Lax. Owner of Madison’s Harvest Restaurant which has received national acclaim as one the country’s best farm-to-table restaurants, she is a mover and shaker in both the slow food and sustainable farming movements.

Limberger Cheese. Only one factory in the entire country still makes the smelly stuff: Chalet Cheese Co-op in Monroe.

Ma Baensch Marinated Herring, Milwaukee. Before the salad bar, every supper club had a lazy Susan and none was complete without marinated herring. Ma has been a Milwaukee legend since 1932.

Madison Sourdough Company. Family bakery making traditional French bread and pastries.

Maple Syrup. Wisconsin ranks a distant 4th in maple syrup production behind Vermont, New York and Maine but the quality is on the par of that produced anywhere.

Miesfeld Market Bratwurst, Sheboygan. They make more than 20 varieties of bratwurst and all are exemplary.

Morning Buns. I don’t know who invented the morning bun but the first I ever encountered was in the early 1970s at the original Ovens of Britney on State Street in Madison. Today many croissant bakers (they’re made from the dough scraps) make these oversize, sugary cinnamon rolls.

Mustard Museum, Mount Horeb. The museum has over 500 varieties of this condiment popular worldwide; many varieties are for sale.

Neuske’s Bacon, Wittenberg. Their applewood-smoked meats, especially bacon have a national following. It’s one of the few brands of bacon that actually cook well in the microwave.

New Century Farms Organic Eggs, Shullsburg. Free-range brown eggs.

New Glarus Brewing Company. Wisconsin has many fine microbreweries but none have been as honored with so many awards for so many different types of beer.

Nikki’s Cookies, Milwaukee. Wonderful shortbread cookies, most notably key lime and Meyer lemon.

Norske Nook, Osseo. Homemade pie is alive and thriving at this small town diner.

Organic Valley Milk Products, LaFarge. Formed in 1988 it’s now nationwide and one of the largest agricultural coops and producers of organic dairy products.

Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, Milwaukee. PBR is really the beer that made Milwaukee famous; beginning operation in 1844 (Schlitz didn’t appear until 1856). Today, the company is owned by Miller Brewing and headquartered in Woodridge, Illinois. Ironically, after the Schlitz label disappeared it’s again being bottled by Pabst.

Penzeys Spices, Brookfield. The company distributes a dazzling array of spices, herbs and seasoning blends from its Wisconsin warehouse by mail order and at 39 retail stores nationwide.

Pinah’s Rye Chips, Waukesha. The family-run business started in 1913 and was recently sold to Racine Danish Kringle. It once made Gardetto’s snack mixes but that product line was sold to General Mills.

Pin-Oak Ridge Farms Lamb, Delavan. Organic fresh lamb and sausage.

Odessa Piper, Madison. The original chef-proprietor of L’Etoile restaurant she received national recognition for creating local cuisine using only regional ingredients.

Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Dodgeville. Made by the Uplands Cheese Company, this is probably the single most decorated cheese in the state.

Potter’s Crackers, Madison. Quality whole-wheat crackers with imaginative flavors.

Red Circle Inn, Nashotah. Since 1848, Wisconsin’s oldest restaurant.

Renaissance Farms Pesto, Spring Green. They take basil directly from the field to the table, making pesto, salad dressing and herb-infused sea salts.

RP’s Pastas, Madison. Founder and owner Peter Robinson learned all about pasta while touring Italy. Today his line of fresh pasta and sauces are sold at markets throughout the Midwest.

Roth Käse Cheese, Monroe. Another fine Wisconsin artisan cheesemaker.

Rushing Waters Fisheries, Palmyra. Fantastic fresh and smoke trout raised in artesian springs.

Salemville Amish Gorgonzola, Richfield. Made by the Salemville Cheese Coop, it was selected “Best American-Made Blue Cheese” at the 2000 World Championship Cheese Contest.

Sendik's Market, Wauwatosa. For over 80 years the same family has run this gourmet market, now in located in several Milwaukee suburbs.

Seymour Soda. Since 1883, they’ve been making soda pop the same way in Seymour, Wisconsin. The 17 flavors still come in 7-ounce returnable glass bottles.

Sibby’s Homestead Organic Ice Cream, Viroqua. The flavor combination of sweet cream and pure vanilla is angelic.

Simma’s Bakery, Milwaukee. This bakery is justly famous for its cakes.

Sprecher Root Beer, Glendale. Made by the Sprecher Brewery in small batches, this is one of the best root beers in the country.

State Fair Cream Puffs, West Allis. For more than 80 years a major attraction at the Wisconsin State Fair in August—over 355,000 sold!

Sub Zero Refrigerators, Madison. Since 1945, Sub Zero has made the Cadillac of home refrigerators and freezers.

Sun Prairie Sweet Corn Festival. An ode to the state’s favorite “vegetable.”

Supper Club. They’re the common man’s country club, seemingly have been around forever, and every true Sconnie as their own favorite.

Washington Island Hotel, Restaurant & Culinary School. Located in a century-old hotel on an island at the tip of Door County this place is the essence of Wisconsin.

Watt’s Tea Shop, Milwaukee. Every major department store had a tea room, but few remain. Located on the second floor of George Watts & Son, this historic tea room serves breakfast, lunch and, of course, afternoon tea.

Westons' Antique Apple Orchard, New Berlin. Ken Weston grows and sells over 100 wonderful varieties of apples, many rarely seen elsewhere any more.

Wild Rice. As most of us by now know, wild rice actually isn’t rice but an aquatic grass. It was a staple Ojibwa and Menominee people for centuries. Today, the Department of Natural Resources limits and regulates wild rice harvesting by those not members of Native American tribes. You must be a Wisconsin resident and cannot use any mechanical device in the water to gather the wild rice.

Willow Creek Farm, Loganville, Pasture-raised pork and pork products.

Woodman’s Food Markets, Janesville. A pioneer in the warehouse grocery concept, today the have13 stores in Wisconsin and Illinois.

Carson Gulley’s Fudge Bottom Pie

1 9-inch graham cracker crumb crust, baked and chilled

2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup granulated sugar
4 eggs, separated
1 tablespoon gelatin softened in ¼ cup cold water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1½ ounces unsweetened chocolate
Pinch of salt
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

Whipped cream.

In the top of a double boiler combine cold milk and cornstarch, stirring until dissolved. Add ½ cup sugar and set over simmering water. Cut, stirring until the mixture starts to thicken.
In a small mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks until combined. Beat in a little of the hot milk mixture to warm the egg yolks, and then add to the double boiler, stirring constantly. Continue to cook, stirring, until the mixture is thick and smooth. Transfer the custard to a large mixing bowl and stir in the softened gelatin and vanilla. Set aside.

In the top of the double boiler set over simmering water, melt the chocolate. Add 1 cup of the vanilla custard. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the egg white with a pinch of salt until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat until they hold their shape. Gradually beat in the remaining ½ cup sugar and continue beating until the meringue forms soft peaks.

Fold the meringue into the cold custard.

Spread the chocolate custard evenly over the bottom of the graham cracker crust. Add the vanilla custard to the pie shell, using a rubber spatula to gently cover the chocolate and spread out evenly. Cover the surface of the custard with plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

At serving time, top with whipped cream.

Serves 6 to 8.


cheesecurds said...

You mentioned cheese curds! But you forgot Ellsworth, Wisconsin.

The best come from the proclaimed “Cheese Curd Capital of Wisconsin” in Ellsworth, Wisconsin. The Governor of Wisconsin gave them that title! They are so squeaky good! Their cheese is ALL NATURAL and is made from rBST free milk. They are so yummy!

They do have a web site and sell fresh and lightly, hand-breaded cheese curds. They sold 104,000 lbs to the Minnesota State Fair last year and have been selling to state and county fairs for over a decade! They are also in A&W Restaurants. If you go to a Milwaukee Brewers home game at Miller Park you can buy the breaded cheese curds there. These cheese morsels remain the color of milk: White!
(Have you ever drank a glass of orange milk?)

You can even purchase breaded cheese curds – and deep fry at home. Or if you purchase one of their fresh cheese curds packages (Deli section of Cub Foods for example) there is a very simple recipe on the back of the package - it is so easy to make your own batter with only FOUR common ingredients. Additional recipes are on their web site.

Found fresh in many grocery stores... Remember to microwave for just 15 seconds to bring out the rich cheddar flavor and its trademark SQUEAK! Or go to their creamery on-site store and walk out with a package of WARM, FRESHLY MADE cheese curds...

Scott said...

Growing up in the Marathon County, the number one dairy producing county in the state, I would never have considered ordering cheese curds by mail. You just get on one of the state or county highways and drive. The cheese curds, fresh from the dairy, find you.

As a youth in 4H one of our most popular money-raising endeavors was to sell deep fried cheese curds at a local tavern during pool tournaments. I suppose that would be frowned upon nowdays, but at the time deep frying cheese curds had become popular at the Marathon County Fair and sales at the tournament were brisk.

Here is the recipe, which I still cannot get at perfect as our club leader Phyllis Bleise. The trick is to make sure the oil is very hot.

French Fried Cheese Curds:

1 c Flour
2 eggs
3/4 c beer
1/4 c milk
1/2 t salt
Fresh cheese curds. The fresher the better and always at room temperature.

Mix together. Put liquid oil in fryer - it is hot enough when a kernel of popcorn pops. Fry until brown.