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Going Local for the Holidays

Choose Wisconsin foods this year

Nov. 19, 2008
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’Tis the season for your calorie count to skyrocket. What better way to feel truly at home with the holidays than to savor—or share—a taste of Wisconsin?

You already know you’ll be satisfied with local classics such as Quality Candy, Usinger’s and Penzeys. But consider expanding your menu with other local food and drink specialties to add depth to athome entertaining, make classy hostess gifts or remind out-of-state relatives about what makes Wisconsin simply delicious.

Your Thanksgiving Meal

Let’s start with dessert first: Don’t forget that The Elegant Farmer in Mukwonago (www.elegantfarmer.com, 262-363-6770) sells apple pies that The Wall Street Journal declared to be the best in the world. The pies are baked in paper bags.

Rice River Farms in Spooner sells wild rice and tasty rice-herb mixes (www.riceriverfarms.com, 800-262-6368). It’s been a lean year for wild rice harvesting statewide, in part because of too-cool spring weather, so expect to pay top dollar for genuinely wild rice.

Since 1929 MacFarlane Pheasants (www.pheasant.com, 800-345-8348) in Janesville has raised and sold pheasant, plus other wild game. Also in stock are Wisconsin-made specialties (cranberry chutney, stuffing with wild rice and cranberries, salsas, mustards and jams), so this is almost a one-stop shopping address.

Too late for your plans this year are the heritage breed, organic turkeys raised at Blue Valley Gardens in Blue Mounds (www.mhtc.net/~blueval, 608-437- 3272), but keep these delectable birds in mind for next year (and place your order months before Thanksgiving). Outpost Natural Foods, however (www.outpostnaturalfoods.coop), still offers organic and antibiotic-free turkeys from Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Smoked turkeys and turkey breasts— as well as a dizzying array of other meat products—can be ordered from Nueske’s in Wittenberg (www.nueskes.com, 800- 720-1153). A good gift idea is the Breakfast Bonanza Basket, an attractive arrangement of Canadian and applewood-smoked bacons, a scone mix and Irish oatmeal.


Of course, any celebration in Wisconsin will start with beer, and Milwaukee’s breweries offer an array of seasonal varieties. Riverwest’s Lakefront Brewery (www.lakefrontbrewery.com, 372-8800) produces Pumpkin Lager through the third week of November and Holiday Spice Lager through December, so snap up some six-packs quickly. And, of course, Art Kumbalek’s Focktoberfest beer is perfect for any occasion. Sprecher Brewing Co.’s (www.sprecherbrewery.com, 964-2739) prize-winning Winter Brew is perfect for the shortening days. Leinenkugel’s (www.leinie.com), which has a brewery on North 10th Street, is introducing a Fireside Nut Brown this month.

In addition to seasonal beers are those with unusual names, which always make for interesting gifts. New to Milwaukee liquor stores this month are the irreverent (as in Dim Whit, Berserk, Big Swede) products of Viking Brewing Co. (www.vikingbrewing.com, 715-837-1824), in Dallas (yes, Wisconsin), a small company that is well known and much loved on the northwestern side of the state. Impress the beer connoisseur with a four-pack of JuleOL, a spiced and citrus holiday beer, or Hot Chocolate, a stout that smacks of cocoa and cayenne.

Keep your eyes peeled for this year’s batch of Fallen Apple, a seasonal label that is 40% freshly pressed cider, from Furthermore Beer (www.furthermorebeer.com, 608-588-3300) in Spring Green. Next up: Makeweight, which brewmaster Aran Madden playfully describes as “three pale ales skillfully crafted together, or stupidly piled high,” like holiday buffet plates.

For truly local beer, seek out Island Wheat and the newer Rustic Ale, both made from wheat grown on Door County’s Washington Island. Also in the lineup for Capital Brewery in Middleton (www.capital-brewery.com, 608-836-7100) is the seasonal Autumnal Fire, a bock that took home the gold at this year’s Great American Beer Festival.

Other Spirits

Relatively new to town is Great Lakes Distillery (www.greatlakesdistillery.com, 431-8683), which has already won a “Double Gold” medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition for its Rehorst Premium Milwaukee Gin. In addition to their quality gin and vodka is their Pumpkin Seasonal Spirit, produced in limited quantities. Check your favorite liquor store or gourmet grocer now for the remaining bottles in town—you’ll find a list of retailers on the distillery’s Web site. If you can’t find it, the Citrus and Honey vodka, made with honey from Wisconsin Natural Acres in Chilton, is just as tasty.

Further north, White Winter Winery (www.whitewinter.com, 800-697-2006) in Iron River has produced handcrafted mead—fermented honey—plus hard ciders and other alcoholic concoctions that involve honey. Serve mulled Cyser (mead and cider), which has earned international awards. Or sip Acer, a mix of maple and honey mead. Ingredients tend to be grown close to home. Order online, or drive Up North for a production tour. At Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery & Market (www.orchardcountry.com, 920-868-3479) in Fish Creek, Winter Wine (served warm) and Cherry Christmas are seasonal specialties. Order a four-bottle gift pack that celebrates all seasons; that means Winter Wine, Autumn Harvest, Sangria Splash and Cherry Blossom.

Gin and vodka, made in small batches under the Death’s Door label (www.deathsdoorspirits.com, 608-441-1083), begin as wheat and juniper berries grown on Washington Island. So buy a bottle or take a nip during a private cocktail clinic that can be arranged by the liquor manufacturer, which also has ideas about how to cook with the hooch.



Milwaukeeans are lucky to have so many good local cheeses at so many local shops. Check out West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe (www.wacheesegifts.com), the Milwaukee Public Market (www.milwaukeepublicmarket.org) or Wisconsin Cheese Mart (www. wisconsincheesemart.com, 888-482-7700) for a truly awe-inspiring selection. Local grocers such as Sendik’s, Whole Foods Market, Metro Market, Pick ’N Save and Outpost Natural Foods are also worth a long look.

True Cheeseheads know that stinky cheese often is good cheese. So send Limburger with love from the Chalet Cheese Cooperative in Monroe, which is the only place in the United States that produces this European invention. Order it at 608-325-4343 by the half-pound or pound, but don’t wait until summer. The paper/foil/plastic-wrapped Limburger is (wisely!) mailed nowhere during hot weather. The SarVecchio Parmesan from Sartori Foods (www.sartorifoods.com, 920- 893-6061) earned two golds and one silver during this year’s World Cheese Championship. Also in the highly regarded Sartori Reserve line of products is Raspberry Bellavitano (Best U.S. Cows Milk Cheese), which incorporates Raspberry Tart beer from New Glarus Brewing Co.

From Carr Valley Cheese (www. carrvalleycheese.com, 800-462-7258), Cave Aged Marisa (named after cheesemaker Sid Cook’s daughter) and Snow White Goat Cheddar both earned Best of Show awards from the American Cheese Society this year. Its retail outlet in Sauk City (30 miles northwest of Madison) has a sleek cooking school, which routinely features fine dining chefs from around the United States as the instructors. So consider a $45 class gift certificate for the foodie on your shopping list.


Cocktailers in Wisconsin are way picky about how drinks are garnished. That is why some Bloody Marys look like small, floating salads. Now we have Cholives (that’s olive-shaped, ganache-filled dark chocolate) to dress up chocolate martinis, and we can thank a Milwaukee company, The Cholive (www.thecholive.com, 877- 204-0106), for the invention. You can find these gems in the city’s coolest bars or order them online (shipping is free through Jan. 1, 2009).

Madison chocolatier Gail Ambrosius— yes, that’s her real name—produces exquisite little gold-bellied Buddhas, finely detailed dark chocolate that is infused with green tea and then brushed with gold dust (www.gailambrosius.com, 608-249- 3500). Or indulge in a 12-piece assortment of single-origin truffles to taste cacao from around the world. Expect a drenching of cinnamon/cayenne, toppings that range from rose petals to candied ginger, and infusions of Kentucky bourbon or Chambord liqueur.

But when an order of turtles (as in chocolate, caramel and salty pecans) seems too ordinary, turn to Terrapins, p r o d u c e d by Kohler Original Recipe Chocolates (www.kohlerchocolates.com, 800-778- 5591). The creation represents 18 months of testing 400-plus recipe variations just to get Herb Kohler’s nod of approval. Terrapins come in five varieties, and they are merely the tip of this sinful chocolate empire.

Other Sweet Treats

Wisconsin is the king of cranberry production, and the Cranberry Discovery Center (www.discovercranberries.com, 608-378-4878) in Warrens knows how to sweeten the pot of cranberry products. Think jams and jellies, sauces and syrups. Buy the berries sweetened and dried, coated with chocolate or yogurt flavoring, or mixed with nuts and candy. Order products by the cluster, the pound or the gift basket.

Since 1852, Honey Acres (www.honeyacres.com, 800-558-7745), a 40acre and fifth-generation operation in Ashippun, has been abuzz with honey production. Inventory includes pretty and tasty clover, buckwheat and wildflower honeys, bottled in classy jars. When shopping in person, check out the free and informative Honey of a Museum.

Decorative bottles of pure maple syrup are sold in Cadott by Roth Sugar Bush (www.rothsugarbush.com, 715-289-3820), which has been tapping maple trees for more than 50 years. Consider a gift box that includes a jar of maple cream for spreading on toasted bagels and bread.


Consider food-related getaways for a special holiday gift that will definitely keep on giving. Cooking demos, meals and wine tastings with an ethnic flair come together as three-day Taste of Kohler immersions during winter (www. destinationkohler.com, 800-344-2838). Taste of Austria is Feb. 22-24, and Taste of Italy is March 8-10; the cost, including two nights of lodging, begins at $295 per person.

Chef Janice Thomas can customize cooking classes, or you can sign up for one of the sessions already on her docket at Savory Spoon Cooking School in Ellison Bay (www.savoryspoon.com, 920-854- 6600). Coming Nov. 29: Holiday Candy Making.

In Sister Bay, chef Terri Milligan teaches in a kitchen that is one floor above her scrumptious fine dining restaurant, The Inn at Kristofer’s (www.innatkristofers.com, 920-854-9419). Coming Nov. 29: Tis the Season, a holiday cooking demo and luncheon.

Itchy Cat Press recently released Hungry for Wisconsin: A Tasty Guide for Travelers, which is the second book written by Mary Bergin of Madison.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.


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