Midwest Meets Upland South—Mitten Reserve Cider

On Craft Cider

To say that craft cider is having a moment would be a bit of an understatement. While the craft beer movement is now decades old, well established, and even bubbling up in places one would not normally associate with a craft-anything movement (my small city of Muncie has four breweries that I know of). Yes, I do know that there is a difference between craft breweries and microbreweries, though offhand I can’t remember what that difference is. I’m not much of a beer drinker, so I should be forgiven my lapse.

Anyway, craft cider, especially of the apple variety, is definitely coming into its own. Perhaps it is a nod to the past—the long-ago past, when presidents and the hoi polloi would drink cider as a matter of course. Thomas Jefferson made sure to plant apple trees specifically for cider on the grounds of Monticello. Hard, or fermented, cider was a staple drink back in the early days of the United States. It fell out of its eminence in favor of other beverages, including beer, but now seems to be making a comeback in these DIY, locavore, culinary exploration times.

Sweet, or nonalcoholic, cider never really went away, making its annual appearance at orchards and supermarkets alike during apple season. However, the cider I’m referring to, the alcoholic variety, is developing a really strong following these days. Hard cider can be both sweet (think Woodchuck Amber), semi-dry (which is still on the sweet side—try Rhinegeist’s Semi-Dry) or dry. I suppose I should also add a fourth category—unusual (read: tending toward funky). In short, there’s a cider for everyone, from the Cosmopolitan/Appletini/Strawberry-Lemonade Vodka drinking set to those with very adventurous palates.

The Mitten Reserve

Enter Virtue Cider, a cidery just outside of Fennville, a quaint and arty town in southwestern Michigan. Virtue produces a number of ciders, both semi-dry varieties as well as drier ones, including the decidedly for-the-daring-palate Sidra de Nava (which might appeal to fans of sour beer). And Virtue uses 100% Michigan apples in its ciders. That’s a big plus for me, because I think Michigan apples are truly the best apples in the US! Yes, Washington apples get all the love (or at least all the publicity and marketing), but if given a choice in a supermarket, I always opt for the Michigan ones. Washington apples probably taste delicious—in Washington (or thereabouts). Given that I’m in Indiana, Michigan apples don’t have to travel far, so I’m probably getting a better product.

Okay, this isn’t a review of the Virtue Cider facility or a rundown of its products (maybe some other time). Rather, I’m here to discuss a particular Virtue offering—The Mitten Reserve (2016) as an introduction to Virtue (and Flyover ciders). Let’s look at the name. Surely you remember from your middle school or high school geography 1(assuming you’re in the US), that Michigan is divided into two parts: the Upper Peninsula (home of pasties and Yoopers) and The Mitten, so named because of its physical resemblance to a mitten.

Back to the cider. The Mitten Reserve is a dry cider, but it’s aged in bourbon barrels (just like The Mitten) for about one year. The “Reserve” part comes from the blend of ciders used. I will say that this cider is definitely bourbon-forward! It’s smooth, with hints of warm spice (think of muted apple pie spices, like cinnamon), as well as butterscotch. And, of course, apples. The alcohol content of this particular cider is 8.4% alcohol by volume, fairly high for a cider. As far as food pairings, this is the cider to drink with bacon or ham. Vegetarians might enjoy this with a slice of toast slathered with onion jam, grilled pineapple, or even a piece of honey cake or lebkuchen, something with a hint of sweetness.

Midwest Meets Upland South

The Upland South (Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, even parts of southern Indiana and Ohio) is distinct from the Deep South, with Kentucky and Tennessee probably forming its core. Of course, Kentucky is known for bourbon—perhaps it most well loved “export”. So, aging the Michigan apples in bourbon barrels is a sort of culinary marriage between the two, the Kentucky whose distilling skills have rendered it as a bourbon paradise, and the Michigan, with its unparalleled microclimate giving it some of America’s best fruit. And now that marriage is nicely expressed in The Mitten Reserve!

1You didn’t have a class called “geography in middle and/or high school? Ah, one of America’s educational failings–a discounting of vital content in favor of “teaching to the test” (and there isn’t any geography on the test).

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O, Landjaeger! My Landjaeger!

Apologies to Walt Whitman for that title.

Coincidence? I Think Not!

I suppose that those of us Americans of relatively recent Germanic vintage of some sort (Germany, Switzerland, Austria) are statistically likelier to have conversations about sausages and wursts than those of some other ethnic background. Granted, I’ve not actually conducted this particular type of combination geographic-linguistic research (but, hey NSF, feel free to send me some monies!) Still, I’m fairly confident that my hypothesis is not only testable, but also reasonably likely to produce my anticipated results. So somewhere on my recent road trip to Iowa and southern Wisconsin, the term “landjaeger (landjäger)” came up in conversation. As in my extolling the smoky virtues of them. As in Mike not ever having eaten one. As we were cruising the back roads south of Madison, seeking (and finding, though closed, Cheese Chalet Coop, the only American plant producing limburger cheese), we stopped at a gas station in Monroe (WI) because my bladder is the size of an acorn. Low and behold, what do I see hanging up by twos like some glorious snack ark getting ready for a 40 day-and-night deluge but landjaegers! I bought a pair (they are typically sold in pairs) and excitedly (very excitedly!) split them between us. How serendipitous!

landjaeger1

Speak Softly and Carry a Meat Stick

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of indulging in one of these (and are omnivores), a landjaeger is a meat snack. Like lottery machines and cigarettes, meat snacks are a mainstay of convenience stores (Slim Jims™ is perhaps the most well known). But landjaegers aren’t mere meat sticks. For one thing, they aren’t as well known outside of certain regions with large populations of Germanic ancestry; this is unlike beef jerky (which seems to be ubiquitous). Therefore, they are likelier to be produced locally (and, by extension, have a smaller market area). And they are often made by real butchers instead of in giant factories. Landjaegers are created with beef and pork, salt and spices, and smoke. The smokiness is integral to the landjaeger. You see, these babies are cooked/smoked and dried, making them shelf-stable and free from the need for refrigeration. That’s why I found them hanging next to the cash register at the Monroe BP station.

Landjaeger, directly translated, means “country (land) hunter(jäger)”, perhaps owing to its popularity with hunters or others about to spend a lot of time outdoors. Certainly hunters (or hikers or long-distance cyclists) would find these to be delicious yet portable snacks. But no need to go outside—enjoy them indoors (or on a country drive in Wisconsin!)

Zuber’s and Ruef’s

So, my first Wisconsin landjaeger was made by Zuber’s Meats of Monroe Wisconsin. Now that was definitely local, given that we’d stopped at a Monroe gas station. We enjoyed them as we drove on to New Glarus Brewing for an afternoon beer. In the über-Swiss town of New Glarus itself, we stopped at Ruef’s Meat Market, hoping to find more landjaegers, as we’d eaten the two purchased earlier. Alas, there weren’t any. But as luck would have it, another customer told us they often had a few extra in the back. We asked and were rewarded with some Ruef’s landjaegers. And, as luck would have it again, a stop at a gas station the next day yielded some more Zuber’s landjaegers. More souvenirs to add to my collection of fourteen Wisconsin cheeses, several liqueurs, and a couple of cookbooks!

Zuber's in the front, Ruef's in the back
Zuber’s in the front, Ruef’s in the back
Ruef's in the front, Zuber's in the back
Ruef’s in the front, Zuber’s in the back

Want Your Own?

If you have a German butcher or delicatessen in your neighborhood, see if they carry them. But if not, Zuber’s and Ruef’s do ship landjaegers. Because these babies are cooked, they can be mailed to your home.

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I Heart Ewe

B(l)aaah, B(l)aaah, B(l)aaah

The heading is the answer to “what does the sheep say”. Well, it’s ONE of the answers! Another answer is “ try my delicious cheese”! Sheeps milk is one of the Big Three in the cheesemaking world (the others being cow and goat). Indeed, many fine (and well known) cheeses are the product of Ovis Aries, including Pecorino Romano, feta, Roquefort, Manchego. These are readily available in grocery stores, even in the small city in which I live. What IS more difficult to source, though, is fresh sheep’s milk cheese, even in places like my semi-local Whole Foods in Indianapolis.

PetitNuageWithBerry1

Fresh chèvre, the caprine (read: goat) white log of spreadable cheese, seems to have exploded in popularity within the past 10-15 years, going from exotic ingredient to supermarket mainstay. While not as ubiquitous as Slim Jims at a convenience store, fresh goat cheese has become so common that I can find multiple brands in my Muncie grocery stores. And I hardly live in a bastion of gastronomic innovation. But fresh sheep’s milk cheese? Nope.

PetitNuage1

Landmark Creamery’s Petit Nuage

On a recent food landscape exploration road trip to eastern Iowa and southern Wisconsin, I discovered Landmark Creamery’s Petit Nuage (or rather the wonderful staff at Fromagination helped me discover it). “Nuage” means “cloud” in French, and this little cloud is aptly named. Sold in a four-pack of crottin-sized, 1-oz. (28 g) buttons, Petit Nuage has a crisp, bright flavor underscored with grassiness. It’s mild flavor pairs well with berries and fresh herbs like parsley or chives. As a breakfast treat, I’ve enjoyed it drizzled with a mild honey (such as dandelion); avoid matching this with an assertive honey, which would overwhelm the cheese flavor. The cheese is smooth and spreadable, with a (very) slight granularity that add some real textural interest. I imagine this cheese would work well in salads, slightly warmed, though I’ve not tried that yet. Petit Nuage is a seasonal offering from Landmark, available from February to October.

PetitNuage2

About Landmark Creamery

PetitNuageWithHoney

Landmark Creamery is a relatively new operation, the owners having met each other only in 2009. The two owners (or two Annas) are women, Anna Landmark and Anna Thomas Bates. According to their website, they met at a potluck for a group of women in sustainable agriculture. This serendipitous meeting grew into a cheesemaking operation!

Landmark Creamery also makes a couple of other cheeses, such as Anabasque (an aged sheep milk cheese). Indeed, that particular cheese is on my dinner menu for tonight. I sampled Anabasque at Fromagination and was taken with that offering as well. Sadly, I don’t believe either cheese is available in Indiana yet, so I’ll have to consider a return trip to Wisconsin!

PetitNuageWithBerry2

A Reminder

Don’t forget to bring your cheeses (Petit Nuage or any other cheese) to room temperature before enjoying them. Taking them out about an hour before you plan to serve them should suffice, assuming your house isn’t refrigerator-cold. Serve cheese too cold and you risk suppressing the flavors, losing your ability to taste the complexity of various cheese.

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Goet-ta Out of Here!

A Gift from the Queen City

Gliers

Glier’s Goetta

About a year or so ago, I was introduced to goetta (pronounced get-tuh, rhymes with meta), a type of breakfast sausage-combination-amalgamation-thing with its roots in Cincinnati’s German immigrant population. I’d heard of this semi-mythical gastronomic beast but, living in Hoosier Land, a two-and-a-half hour drive away from the Queen City epicenter, I’d never partaken of so much as a crispy, crunchy crumb of the stuff. It wasn’t (and to my knowledge, still isn’t) available in my local grocery stores.1 So leave it to a new relationship and an invitation to a Goettoberfest to initiate me in the Ways of the Goettarati.

As a mixture of meat and grain, goetta has been compared to scrapple, that morning mush featured as part of Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine. Certainly, similarities stand out—both contain some combination of meat, grain, and spices. Both share a German-American lineage. And both are an expression of creative frugality. But they are clearly two different kinds of treats.

So, What Is Goetta, Exactly?

Goetta, which combines ground pork, often pork shoulder (sometimes with ground beef), pinhead or steel-cut oats, and seasonings, was, historically, a way to stretch meat into multiple meals. In that sense, it served as a testament to immigrant frugality. Typically formed into a log or rectangular loaf, it’s sliced thin and then fried so that the exterior becomes crisp. Although goetta is most often deemed a breakfast treat, culinary creatives pushing the envelope incorporate it into other recipes (goetta pizza, anyone?).

Goetta’s closest relative may be the aforementioned scrapple, the Pennsylvania Dutch2 dish. Scrapple mixes porks bits (including offal), cornmeal, and spices, so there is that meat-grain similarity. It, too, is sliced thin and fried. But the grains are different, as is the origin of Germans behind these dishes. The revolutions of 1848 that brought many Germans to the United States served as the impetus of many of Cincinnati’s immigrants relocations, whereas the Pennsylvania Dutch primarily stem from the Protestant religious refugees of the Rhineland-Palatinate, southwestern Germany, and Switzerland during an earlier period. Additionally, the textures differ. Scrapple is fine-grained, whereas goetta is coarser and crumblier. Still, one cannot deny the correlation between scrapple and goetta.

Sources of Goetta

Eckerlin's
Eckerlin’s

The Greater Cincinnati area (which includes not only the Queen City herself, but surrounding counties, including some in Indiana and Kentucky), is Goetta Central. A number of producers supply the goetta-loving public and, having tried three of them, the recipes are like snowflakes—no two are alike. The standard (and most ubiquitous in supermarkets) is Glier’s, which comes in a tube. I’ve also had Eckerlin’s (from Cincinnati’s Findlay Market), which seems spicier and pepper-ier, as well as Mike’s (also acquired at Findlay Market), which has a more pure pork flavor. I enjoyed all three and wouldn’t turn any of them down. If you’re up for a challenge, you can even make your own (which I will, some day!). Until then, I’ll happily indulge in those available commercially.

Mike's Homemade (but Commercially Available) Goetta
Mike’s Homemade (but Commercially Available) Goetta

On Deck: Cooking Goetta and a Recipe for Goetta Grilled Cheese

In the next week or so, I’ll be posting some instructions on cooking goetta, as well as a recipe for goetta grilled cheese. With pictures!

1On June 16th, I checked both my local Marsh supermarket and my local Meijer superstore, neither of which currently carries goetta
2The proper term is actually Pennsylvania German, as “Dutch” is a corruption of “Deutsch”, aka German in German.

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It’s Better with Butter

My Favorite Fat

Butter had been removed from the list of Worst Dietary Offenders some time ago. I’d certainly done my time in the Low Fat Prison System. But much research since then indicates the benefits of fat (and yes, your body needs fat) as part of healthy diet. But as much as I love a good olive oil, it doesn’t hold a candle to my favorite fat—good, delicious butter! That’s great, because I certainly missed it!

When I talk of butter, though, I DON’T talk of mass-produced varieties, the kind sold in your supermarkets and trumpeted as a loss leader during holiday baking season (which, by the way, is rapidly approaching!) No, I’m talking about creamy, high butterfat varieties, preferably cultured. Indeed, favorites of mine include Organic Valley’s Cultured Butter or their Pasture Butter, though the latter isn’t cultured. Well yesterday I made an acquaintance with Tulip Tree Creamery’s Cultured Butter with Sea Salt. Suffice to say, I am in major Flyover Foodie crush mode!

Because Everybody Needs a Little Culture!

So, what exactly IS cultured butter? No, it doesn’t mean that the tub has a subscription to the symphony and reads literary classics. Rather, it’s butter to which some cultures (like the cultures one finds in yogurt) have been added, either naturally from the bacteria present or from an external source. Cultured butter, common in parts of Europe but not in the United States, has a slight tang to it, courtesy of those flavor-enhancing cultures. Your standard supermarket butter isn’t going to have this.

A most delicious buttery experience awaits the person who removes this lid!
A most delicious buttery experience awaits the person who removes this lid!

Enter Tulip Tree Creamery’s Butter

Tulip Tree Creamery, located in Indianapolis, is a relative newcomer to Indiana’s cheese landscape, having been established in 2014. But don’t assume that this “baby” is a baby! Tulip Tree Creamery is the brainchild of Fons Smits, whose cheese pedigree includes Cowgirl Creamery (Point Reyes Station, CA), Trader’s Point (Zionsville, IN), and Ludwig Creamery (Fithian, IL). The charming Mr. Smits, whom I was fortunate enough to meet, took time to answer my questions. At some point in the future, I’ll write a full blog post about Tulip Tree, though given my current schedule, I can’t say when that will be!

So, the butter. Tulip Tree is not a farm, but they source their milk (and the attendant cream) from a family farm located about 50 or so miles south in Seymour, Indiana. This farm refrains from using antibiotics or growth hormones. The butter produced by Tulip Tree is an artisanal product, traditionally crafted. The butter, besides being marvelously delicious, is truly a seasonal product, an exceptional expression of the cows’ diets. During the milder seasons, the milk reflects a diet of pasture greens. The cream in this luscious product is enhanced by the addition of sea salt, generating butter that is especially addictive. Yes, I can eat this plain!

And Eating the Butter?

Well, I haven’t gotten beyond eating the bread on butter (plain or with a slice of Tulip Tree’s beer cheese). Okay, I lied—I have also licked it off the knife! Anyway, I think this is a butter that is best enjoyed simply, with bread or perhaps garnishing some steamed broccoli or asparagus. I think it would be a shame to use this in a way that would mask the rich flavor of this butter.

Readers, you owe it to yourself to try Tulip Tree Creamery’s Cultured Butter!

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