by Jonny Hunter of Underground Food Collective
Our Madison, Wisconsin catering company, the Underground Food Collective, doesn’t have a head chef or owner. Instead, we are a collective, a group of cooks who work together, drawing on our individual experiences and training, to produce food that’s better than any one of us could make alone. Community is a guiding principle, and the theme that connects all of our projects.
You can find us co-sponsoring Bike the Barns, cooking breakfast at the Dane County Winter Farmers’ Market, catering, menu consulting for local and national restaurants, vegetable processing and meat processing. Soon, you’ll be able to find us at our new restaurant, the Underground Kitchen and Delicatessen.
Buying local food is am important part of Madison’s culture. Year-round, Underground Food Collective sources food from local farmers and producers.
Our introduction to the local foods economy, years ago, was through cheese. We began sourcing foods locally, making connections with many area farmers, purchasing products for our events. We feel lucky to be a part of such a strong community of wonderful farmers, many of whom have become good friends.
Our cooking is inspired by many of the approaches that local cheesemakers use to develop and produce their cheese — the careful calculations that Upland’s Cheese uses in their grazing, the way that Bleu Mont Dairy combines old and new approaches to produce award-winning cheeses, and the foresight of Hook’s Cheese to hold their Cheddar for 15 years (I hear rumors of a 20-year batch in the works) to see what happens (the result is amazing).
When we cook with Wisconsin Cheese we rarely do anything fancy. If we did, we would just get in the way of its flavor.
Here are two of our favorite recipes that are easy to make and feature Wisconsin Cheeses:
Fig Preserve with Dunbarton Blue on Crackers
Dunbarton Blue from Roelli Cheese Company in Shullsburg, Wisconsin is a Cheddar cheese with Blue veins. This is a simple appetizer that melds the sweet from the fig preserve with tangy and creamy flavors from the Blue cheese.
12 Whole wheat crackers
1/2 cup Fig preserve
12 slices Dunbarton Blue cheese
Take a whole wheat cracker (Potters Crackers, made in Wisconsin, have a number of great options), a teaspoon-size dollop of fig preserve (try Fig with Black Tea preserve, produced in Wisconsin by Quince and Apple) and add the sliced Dunbarton Cheddar-Blue cheese on top.
Steamed Rainbow Chard with Grated Nuts, Sunflower Oil Vinaigrette, and Shaved Pleasant Ridge Reserve
Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Upland’s Cheese in Dodgeville, Wisconsin is a Gruyère-style, made only in the summer month’s, when the cows are on pasture. This cheese adds complex flavors to a simple summer salad.
1/4 lb to 1/2 lb Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese
1 bunch rainbow chard
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, almonds or hickory nuts
1 cup. sunflower oil (try the delicious oil made in Star Valley by Driftless Organics)
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tbsp. sweetened rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. minced green garlic
1 tsp. mustard
Mix sunflower oil, vinegars, minced green garlic, mustard, and salt to taste. Set aside. Cut the stems off of the chard leaves. Thinly slice about half of the stems, and put away the rest to use for something else. Toss the sliced stems with the vinaigrette and let sit for 15 minutes.
Roll each chard leaf into a bundle, tucking in the sides of the leaf to make smooth edges, and steam for 2 to 3 minutes. The chard should be just barely cooked so that the leaves still have some texture and crunch. Arrange cooked chard bundles on a plate. Top with vinaigrette and sliced stems.
Use a microplane to shave the nuts over the top of the chard. Or, crush nuts with a heavy pan. Use a vegetable peeler to shave long ribbons of cheese over the top of the platter.
Photos via undergroundfoodcollective.org.