Sunday, September 14, 2008
bounty of the midwest: slow food nation
Slow Food Nation held this year's exhibitions in SF. What was it exactly? In the simplest of terms, an orgy of food and festivities that drew in thousands of eaters passionate about the foods with a story and people behind them. Basically a weekend of non-stop eating and gratuitous tastings of the nation's finest new developments in food. Lucky me. And thanks to FoodBuzz, I got to attend a Taste Workshop I'd had my eye (and stomach) on since the schedule of events was first announced, as a Foodie Correspondent.
The tasting featured heritage foods that hail from the Mid West, namely from Michigan. The big draw for me was Zingerman's, just about the most kickass purveyor of regional, wholesome, and novel foods and products there is. They've expanded over the years from just a small deli to a now a large family company that covers baked goods, charcuterie, cheeses and dairy products, artisanal breads, and fresh meats and produce.
Feast your eyes on this tasting menu...
Zingerman's Bakehouse Red Fife Bread (Ann Arbor). This breed of wheat was once cultivated all over the plains of Michigan, but was over-harvested and was at one point, almost extinct. With the help of regional farmers, the hearty Red Fife wheat has been brought back. The bread was dense and sweet, and as heavy as rocks. Mmmm filling.
Pickled Asparagus from Maulbetsch Farm (Ann Arbor). This little delight was the single most refreshing dish of the tasting, at least for me, and begs the question, what else can you pickle? Well, gosh, just about everything! And if you put your heart into it, it might taste just as good as these crisp stalks.
Cold Smoked Salmon from Durham's Tracklements (Ann Arbor). Durham's does a dry cure on all its salmon, as opposed to a brine-cure, which is a much more commercial and mechanized process. With dry curing, it's all done by hand and every filet is treated differently depending on the flesh, size and thickness. Learning about the cold smoking process was seriously fascinating (more interesting than anything I'm learning in law school presently... ahem) This piece was cured in a slurry of maple syrup, juniper, cinnamon and salt.
"Twigs and Berries" Salad from Zingerman's Delicatessen. The wheat berries were harvested from Washington Island, WI, just across lake Michigan. Chewy and hearty, the salad was a simple recipe of wheatberries, dried cherries, red onion, purslane, and parsley tossed in a light vinaigrette.
Cured Berkshire Pork from The Henry Ford (Dearborn, MI). The pork is from pigs raised on Almar Orchards in Flushing, MI. Orchard, you ask? Well yes, this makes sense if you think about it. The apples that fall to the ground attract ground larvae, which little piggies absolutely adore. They eat their weight in a natural source of protein and carbs, all the while producing meat that is lean and sweet. The tenderloin here was smoky and salty, nicely paired with an apple and cherry chutney, also from Almar Orchard.
Cheeses from Zingerman's Creamery, paired with Preserves from American Spoon (Petoskey, MI). The speckled one in the back is the "Bridgewater," a double-cream, cow's milk cheese, flavored with ground black pepper. It was brilliantly tangy and spicy (my favorite of the three cheeses served) and paired well with a sweet peach preserve. The creamy white cheese toward the front is "Lincoln Log," a Bucheron-style, goat's milk cheese that was salty and smooth, and paired with elderberry preserves.
Fresh cream cheese! If you think cream cheese comes spreadable, from a plastic tub like I did, then you are seriously missing out. This was fresh, double-cream, cow's milk that had been acid-coagulated with a minimum amount of rennet. Light and extremely milky, it was paired with a thimbleberry preserve.
All 3 cheeses are available at Cowgirl Creamery (yes, I made sure to ask!).
The last treat of the hour was Paw Paw Gelato from Zingerman's Creamery. Paw paw is an actual fruit (which I never knew) that is a relative of the mango. It retains a custard-like flesh, and has a grassy, sweet taste. The gelato was dense, even though it is made with less cream than regular ice-cream, due to the fact it's slow-churned, and thus has less air content. (This is why a pint of gelato may weigh more than a pint of ice-cream.) The paw paw fruit was grown locally in Palmyra, MI.
I walked away a much happier, fuller, and more knowledgeable foodie. Michigan is the second largest agricultural producer in the country, and most of its milk is shipped directly to Vermont for cheese. Next time you eat a piece of Vermont cheddar, you might ask yourself where that really came from....
Much more to come from my adventures at the Taste Pavilion.... stay tuned!