About a month ago, I sent my friend Patricia Winn Wood, Press and Public Relations Manager for the Tourist Office of Spain in Chicago, a copy of one of my favorite books, one I like to take with me when I’m traveling through Wisconsin. Called the Wisconsin Cheese Cookbook: Creamy, Cheesy, Sweet, and Savory Recipes from the State’s Best Creameries, it was written by Kristine Hansen, a Milwaukee-based journalist who covers food/drink, art/design and travel and whose work has appeared ArchitecturalDigest.com, Fodors.com, Vogue.com, Midwest Living Magazine and Milwaukee Magazine.
The book works on a variety of levels. With over a million cows, the state turns out more than 2.8 billion pounds of cheese per year. Hansen focused on the growing number of artisanal cheese producers in the state and though her cookbook has 60 recipes (as well as beautiful, lush photos), it’s as much of a travel guide — call it a cheesy road trip if you can excuse our pun — to 28 of the state’s creameries.
Notable creameries include Cedar Grove Cheese and Emmi Roth in Southwest Wisconsin; BelGioioso Cheese and Sartori in Northeast Wisconsin; Door County Creamery in Sister Bay in scenic Door County; Holland’s Family Cheese in Northwest Wisconsin; and Clock Shadow Creamery in Southeast Wisconsin.
Hansen also includes background information, a kind of cheese data base about cheese events, cheese pairings, different cheese characteristics, how cheeses from the milk of goats, cows, and sheep compare, and cheese award winners.
As for poutine, it took a trip to Montreal and Quebec for me to become familiar with the dish. It’s said that more Canadians have eaten poutine than have seen a moose (and moose crossing signs dot the highways) or have been in a canoe – two things I associate with Canada way before fries with cheese and gravy. It’s a hearty dish—don’t even ask about the calorie count—but delicious. There are a ton of varieties, but the recipe Pat used is simple to make.
“The curds were direct from Wisconsin, and the dark malt beer that my husband bought at my request was from a store near here,” says Pat.
One suggestion she offered is that she thought the dark malt beer was a little too bitter for her taste and suggested using a sweeter, milder beer. Though if you like your beer hoppy, then stick with the dark malt.
We also discussed whether to use homemade French Fries or the frozen kind and Pat and I quickly concluded that frozen work for us. The recipe says you can also use frozen tots (I’m thinking Tater Tots) but neither of us have tried that.
For those who don’t want to use beer at all, I included another recipe from the book that uses beef stock instead.
Standard Wisconsin Poutine
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour
6 ounces dark malt beer
½ cup beef stock
3 cups crispy potato tots or French Fries
1 cup Cedar Grove cheddar cheese curds
Cook onion and brown sugar in butter until onion is translucent and begins to caramelize. Slowly stir in flour and dark malt beer. Simmer for vie minutes. Add beef stock and simmer for five minutes. Add beef stock and reduce for seven minutes.
Cook crispy potato tots or French Fries according to package directions.
Add curds to potatoes until hot. Pour gravy over curds and tots and serve immediately.
Poutine with Red Barn Family Farms Cheese Curds
4–5 medium potatoes
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup beef stock
Red Barn Family Farms cheese curds
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Cut potatoes into fry shape you desire and mix in a bowl with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Bake for 40 minutes, flipping halfway through.
To make gravy, heat olive oil in saucepan on medium heat, whisking with flour until it becomes a paste. Cook for 30 seconds. Add beef stock and bring to a simmer. Let sit to thicken and add pepper if desired.
To serve, layer fries and Red Barn cheese curds in a bowl and ladle on gravy.
Recipe by Sophia Herczeg
Both recipes courtesy of the Wisconsin Cheese Book by Kristine Hansen.