Sunday, May 31, 2009

Northwoods Grocery Shopping

I'm at the cabin just about every weekend in the summer unless I have a serious conflict back in the cities. It's my retreat and I cherish my weekends up there, regardless of the weather. If the sun isn't shining, or the fish aren't biting, there is still good beer to drink (currently back on a New Glarus kick) and my mom easily runs the best kitchen in Burnett County, and possibly all of Northwestern Wisconsin (maybe a bit biased). The only issue is that I hate to leave and often stay pretty late in the day on Sunday which means I miss out on the farmers markets and often can't hit the co-ops before they close. Given the circumstances, I only have a few options if I want to eat well on Monday: 1.) Scavenge the family CSA 2.) Win big at the local meat raffle or 3.) Go shopping Northwoods style.

I prefer to do my shopping Northwoods style. Over the course of the 11 years that I've been heading to the Siren area I have found a few good spots to source local, wholesome foods that are raised in a respectable manner that I both appreciate and savor. I'll take you on a brief tour of my shopping excursion on Sunday evening as I was dragged kicking and screaming back to reality.

The first stop was at the Burnett Dairy Cooperative in Grantsburg, WI. We've been going to the cooperative for years to pick up perfectly smoked Goudas and other cheeses for cocktail hour on the lake. There is also an assortment of other great happy hour fare (smoked meats, spreads and crackers) and I tend to stop on the way home to pick up a good snacking cheese or a little something to slice for sandwiches during the week. Their cheese selection ranges from the classic American varieties to some tasty European inspired offerings. It's cheese and it's Wisconsin, so you just can't go wrong. Can't make it to Granstburg? The Linden Hills Co-op has a small selection of cheeses from the folks in Burnett County to help you get your cheese fix.

Next stop is one of my favorites, Hennessey's Hidden Pond Farm. The friendly folks at Hennessey's seem as if they are from another time, where things move a bit slower and classic farming integrity is yet to be compromised. They also run a small bed and breakfast, but the reason I hang around is for their natural Buelingo Beef. I know that the word "natural" has lost some of its buzz in comparison to say pasture raised or grass-fed, but I still appreciate what these folks are doing, and think their products are pretty darn good.

I'll start by saying that I prefer grass-fed beef to grain-fed for a number of reasons that likely warrant a different post. I realize that grass-fed beef will never have the "merits" of prime beef - you just can't coax that much fat from such a natural diet, and it's hard enough to achieve a prime quality steak from a grain-fed steer as it is. However, I feel that if prepared correctly, you can have incredibly flavorful cuts of beef that are sourced outside of the realms of the grain-fed stockyards. Hennessey's cattle bridge the gap between grass and corn-fed, offering their animals a diet of hay, corn, soybeans, sunflower, wheat and barley (and thankfully, no animal bi-products). They also have plenty of room to move around and live a peaceful existence, and at $3.10 a pound for ground beef and $2.00 a pound for short ribs, it's tough to beat (they also sell whole halves and quarters in addition to organic eggs and Amish chickens). I think their ground beef is best mixed with some minced onion, an egg, a pinch of fresh thyme and some really good Dijon. Mix thoroughly, form into patties, grill to medium and melt some of that gorgeous Burnett Dairy cheese and you are in for a serious cookout.

Every Minnesota boy likes some meat and cheese, but eventually you need to have some vegetables to keep the blood flowing. I like to balance out the food pyramid at the Melon Vine Organic Farm just down the road from Hennessey's in Pine City, MN. In addition to seasonal produce, they sell a variety of flowers and bedding plants to start your own organic garden. I was already fixed for plants from an early season trip to the Mill City Farmers Market so I decided to focus on the produce. I wasn't very optimistic for variety this early in the season, but managed to find some gorgeous asparagus. Buying straight from the source enabled me to pick up a bunch for only $3, quite a bit less then if I bought from a farmer who had to drive down to a city market. The perfect spears cooked up quickly and tenderly with a little coat of olive oil, some freshly cracked pepper, and a nice little shake of sea salt. Simplicity, indeed.

I'm fortunate enough to have my own northern oasis to escape to on the weekends, but eventually the the beer and food runs out and I have to head home. Thankfully I've met some awesome purveyors who can help ease the pain of the Sunday evening ride home and subside the sting of Monday with a little farm-fresh boost to start my week.

Happy Eating,


1 comment:

kat said...

Sounds like you found some good options to missing the farmer's markets. Lucky you finding asparagus. We went to the Kingfield market on Sunday & there wasn't a stalk to be found

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