Tuesday, October 2, 2012

An Autumn Weekend

The fall color came in a bit earlier than usual this year, giving us explosive scenes about two weeks ahead of schedule.  Fortunately for me, this past weekend I had some very good friends come in to visit from Minnesota and the autumn leaves were in full bloom.  We decided to make the most of it and have the best autumn weekend possible.

Because of the unseasonably warm weather a picnic was most definitely in the cards.  We assembled the Four B's (basket, blanket, bites, and beverages), and found a spot in the Arboretum.  This is one of my favorite places to go at any point of the year, but during the fall the Arboretum is especially beautiful.  Covering half of the shoreline of Lake Wingra, the Arboretum is great for hiking, biking, or just soaking up some outdoor bliss.  We assembled a meal of potato spinach quiche, fennel walnut bread, honey crisp apples, cider, and a selection of Wisconsin cheese (Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Bleu Mont Cheddar).  A high of 78°, good food, and the gleaming foliage from across the lake made this one of the best meals I've had in awhile.  But there was still more to do and we only had one weekend to get it all done!

For dessert, we needed to get the best.  We needed something seasonally delicious that would satiate our yearning for autumn goodness.  Appleberry Farm had just what we needed. 

A quick half hour drive outside of Madison, this beautiful orchard features cider, doughnuts, brats, pumpkins, and, of course, apples!  Unfortunately, due to the drought this summer, there was no Pick-Your-Own this year, but apples were available for sale and as a silver lining the warm weather made them extra sweet and delicious!  The farm itself is perched on top of a hill overlooking Cross Plains and Verona.  Keep your eyes open for the orange cat wandering the orchard.  It's very friendly and if you pay attention it'll lead you to one or two stray apples on the trees (which we indulged in), but I'm glad we also brought home a bag of baking apples for a later-day pie.  And a quick note to you homebrewers out there: Appleberry's cider is unpasteurized!

After playing on the tire swing and wandering aimlessly through the rows of apple trees, we detoured to Mt. Horeb for a glass of wine at Fisher King before heading back into Madison for dinner at the hot new restaurant A Pig In A Fur Coat.  This place features small-plate dining and they do it well.  Lamb Carpaccio, Duck Egg and Ricotta Raviolo, Pork Belly with Eggplant, Clam and Mussels Orzo, and Tripe with Chorizo and Garbanzos - just a few items that we loved at this place.  Recently named Madison's Favorite New Restaurant, MTC would highly recommend this as a place to bring friends that love to share or for date night!  Our favorite?  This Duck Fat Fries!  Comes with a dish of house-made aioli and is the perfect sidekick to any of the Wisconsin beers they sell.

Dan Carey, brewmeister at New Glarus, serves up his Oktoberfest Märzenbier Staghorn
Finally, at the end of the night we picked up MTC co-author Sam and her boyfriend and drove into New Glarus for Oktoberfest!  Yes, the town is Swiss, but what good brewery doesn't throw an Oktoberfest party?  During the day there is fondue and German bands playing traditional music in a family-friendly atmosphere, but when they sun goes down the party picks up!  Music was by Boogie And The Yo-Yo'z and they really rocked the tent.  When we first came in we thought a DJ was playing records but it turned out this live band was playing pitch-perfect covers ranging from LMFAO to Michael Jackson to the soundtrack of Grease.  Couple that with a steady stream to New Glarus Brewery's Oktoberfest beer Staghorn, and you've got one incredible party.  It was decided that this is most definitely going to be an annual MTC tradition.

And that was just day one.

Waking up at the crack of noon we decided to confront our headaches with a solid breakfast. One of my favorite spots for a good morning meal is Sophia's Bakery and Cafe.  Sophia's is only open on the weekends from 8am-2pm.  Little more than a kitchen with a small dining room attached, Sophia's consistently makes one of the best omelets and croissants on the Isthmus.  If you do stop in for a bite I'd recomment ordering your breakfast to go (don't forget the cinnamon roll!) and walk down to James Madison Park to eat along the lake.  Delicious food tastes even better with a beautiful view!

Rush Creek Reserve maturing the the caves.
Finally, our weekend ended with a visit to Uplands Cheese just north of Dodgeville.  Uplands is home to one of the greatest cheeses to come out of Wisconsin: Pleasant Ridge Reserve.  Made using only unpasteurized summertime grass-fed milk from a 150-head herd of Alpine cow breeds, Pleasant Ridge Reserve (a Beaufort cheese--similar to Gruyere) is only of the most decorated and beloved cheeses in the Dairy State and is putting our farmstead cheese industry on the map.

For the past two years Uplands has also made Rush Creek Reserve.  This cheese is a Vacherin Mont d'Or, a Swiss Alpine cheese that has a soft, washed-rind bound together with rings of Spruce bark.  Typically the top of the rind is peeled back and the cheese is scooped out of the center like custard.

We were guided around the farm by Kiley, one of the cheesemakers at Uplands.  They have four caves that they age their cheese in and each cheese has to be washed in a brine solution and turned over every single day!  This means eight hours of work every day just to make sure the cheese is aging properly.

The Pleasant Ridge Reserve has a rich and nutty flavor that changes throughout the year depending on what the cows are grazing on in the pasture.  It melts evenly, so it's great for cooking (read: fondue!).  The Rush Creek Reserve is an excellent appetizer or after-dinner cheese course feature.  Both can be found at specialty cheese shops across the country.

From Dodgeville my friends departed back to Minnesota.  I hope that they brought home with them some of the love I have for Wisconsin.  It was a whirlwind of a tour but there is just too many great things to do in this state.  I'm hoping I can convince them to come back again next year!

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