The earliest recorded example of butter sculpture was Dreaming Iolanthe by Caroline S. Brooks, which displayed at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Since then, of course, butter sculpture has become a very popular activity to check out at the Minnesota State Fair, among other state fairs. Here’s some more background on this much-buzzed-about art form and its earliest pioneers.
The work of John K. Daniels (1875–1918) provides a good example of the professionalization of butter sculpture. Daniels emigrated from Norway to Minnesota with his family when he was nine. He grew up in Saint Paul and trained there in several art schools and with two different sculptors before setting up his own studio. Like most sculptors, he modeled in clay and put his finished pieces into stone and bronze. In 1900, to earn some extra money, he accepted a commission to make a butter cow for the Minnesota State Fair. His fame as a butter sculptor, however, was established the following year, when he created a spectacular model of the Minnesota state capitol for the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. The State House, designed by renowned architect Cass Gilbert, was still unfinished in 1901, but it was the pride of the state. The board of managers for the Minnesota Exhibit wanted to show a plaster model, but there was not enough time or money to make one. Daniels offered to do it in butter for two thousand dollars. Working with an assistant, he took six weeks to make the 11′ × 5′4″ model. The two men spent fifteen-hour days in a glass case cooled to thirty-five degrees Fahrenheit, and were so “chilled to the bone” that they had to take frequent breaks to warm their hands.
Typically you don’t have to travel to the East Coast to find Wisconsin cheese, but to find the newest selections from Minnesota’s dairy-lovin’ neighbor, Washington, D.C., was the place to be last week. That’s where the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) held its annual Summer Fancy Food Show, and among the rows and rows of jellies, chocolates, cookies, soups, oils, crackers, yogurts, ice creams, pretzels, juices, sodas, and, of course, croutons, stood the massive Wisconsin cheese pavilion. The state’s cheesemakers and dairy industry aficionados eagerly showcased their latest creations, and you know there’s no way we’d turn down samples. Here’s a short list of new cheeses — and a bonus butter — to look for at your favorite cheese shop soon.
Peppermint BellaVitano and Cannella BellaVitano, Sartori Cheese
Since introducing its signature BellaVitano cheddar-parmesan hybrid in 1999, Sartori has expanded the cheese’s range of flavors to span espresso, balsamic vinegar, cognac, raspberry, merlot, black pepper, and a reserve “gold” edition. Now two new varieties have joined the family — peppermint and cinnamon — and if you’re like me, your stomach probably churned a little upon hearing about them. Peppermint and cheese? Yes, totally odd, but somehow it works. The pink-tinged rind is hand-rubbed with peppermint candy but doesn’t provide the same whoosh of minty freshness that you get from sucking on a peppermint pinwheel. Instead, the hint of mint lends a bit of sweetness to the cheese’s crystal-spiked crunch. Doubters may take heart in knowing that BellaVitano’s core flavors of nut and caramel still are the stars of the show here — the mint is more of a closer, just like that peppermint candy you grab as you head out the door of the Italian restaurant. Cheese and breath mint all in one! And in what may be the cheese industry’s first instance of pink-washing, Peppermint BellaVitano will be sold in October to tie into Breast Cancer Awareness Month, with $1 from every pound sold going to breast cancer research. Also available this fall will be cinnamon-tinged Cannella BellaVitano, which surprises skeptics with its gentle spice complementing the cheese’s fruity undertones.
Glacier Blue, Carr Valley
Carr Valley typically crafts its blues from goat’s or sheep’s milk, but new Glacier Blue is made from 100 percent cow’s milk, giving its paste a mildness that you rarely find with blues. It completely lacks the oiliness of a sheep’s-milk blue or the earthiness of a goat’s-milk variety, but there is no shortage of flavor thanks to the thick veins of blue running through the milky paste. Though the vintage we sampled was young — only 3 months old — we got a jolt of spicy, minerally blue with each bite, and Glacier Blue’s relative youth lent it a creaminess that is often missing from older blues.
Marieke Golden, Holland’s Family Cheese
Marieke Penterman’s prominence among Wisconsin cheesemakers is inspiring — she has created 13 varieties of goudas in the span of just five years and has won 60 awards in this short time, routinely beating out cheesemakers with generations of experience as their advantage. Granted, she does come from a country known for its goudas, but it’s doubtful that mad cheesemaking skills are handed down with every birth certificate in the Netherlands.
Fresh off a flight from Wisconsin, Penterman brought her new Marieke Golden, a semi-soft cheese that just won a best of class award at the 2012 World Cheese Championship. Made with raw, farmstead milk and vegetable rennet, Marieke Golden offers a creamy, nutty, satisfactorily soft bite. Penterman’s booth featured gouda samples aplenty, too, but I kept gravitating toward the Marieke Golden, proving that sometimes the simpler cheeses are the most addicting. If you look closely at the label, you’ll see Penterman’s five children, who are learning the family business alongside their mother on their dairy farm in Thorp.
Glacial Lakes, Saxon Homestead Creamery
Apparently, glaciers and their resulting bodies of water are big in cheese names this year, but Saxon’s Glacial Lakes is a world removed from its similarly named counterpart from Carr Valley. A raw, cow’s-milk cheese, Glacial Lakes is cellar-aged two months or more, making its grassy, buttery flavors slightly more pronounced. A few holes dot Glacial Lakes’ paste, but you won’t find any sharp crystals here — just a smooth, creamy texture that makes it easy to sample more than your fair share of cubes.
To me, butter has been something to have around for baking or scraping on toast, but not for fetishing — until I tasted the hand-rolled butter by La Crosse’s Farmhouse Kitchens. That spoonful of light, sweet, angel-like butter was enough to make me a convert. Unfortunately, the cooperative was not handing out 1-pound rolls as giveaways, so I had to make do with my schmear of butter on bread and dream about the taste for the rest of the day. Farmhouse Kitchens butter can be purchased at Twin Cities area co-ops, but if you happen upon Larry’s Market in Milwaukee, you can find the butter mixed with either maple syrup and pecans or blue cheese and bacon.
Fun fact: Though Farmhouse Kitchens’ creamery is in La Crosse, the cooperative actually launched at the Wedge Co-op in Minneapolis and brings together dairy farmers and cheesemakers from the two states to create both the butter and Rochdale Farms cheeses.
I was recently introduced to a local celebrity, a friend of a friend, who said we’d have a lot in common. This sort of thing happens to all of us — sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t — but when the friend in question turns out to be a pig, one feels more than the usual amount of stranger aversion. What could we possibly have to talk about? Pretty much oink.
Of course, it never pays to make assumptions. I knew in one glance that Mercy Watson, the curly-tailed heroine of local author Kate DiCamillo’s charming children’s book series, would be a lifelong friend. It didn’t take us long to discover that we have but one thing in common: an uncommon love of hot, buttered toast. In these carbophobic times, one longs to meet a fellow traveler. Ah but for one frustrating moment it seemed we were doomed to sit, nose to snout, all our best adventures, our most glutenous hopes and dreams, ready to pour forth — yet silenced for lack of a common language.
Not surprisingly, Mercy, the porcine wonder, knows a pig-whisperer. Victoria Stewart was the playwright for Mercy Watson to the Rescue, which is playing at Children’s Theatre Company now through October 23. The play is a stirring roman á clef: Mercy heroically saves many lives, including those of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Watson, and makes unlikely allies of the fireman, animal control, and a rather curmudgeonly neighbor — all in the name of toast.
Here, in our brief discussion via Victoria Stewart, Mercy reveals a more contemplative side, gamely talking about literary heroes, the horrors of vegemite and lost toasters, and the upside of cold, dry toast.
HEAVY TABLE: How did you discover your love of toast — of all the tasty snacks?
MERCY WATSON: I used to eat pretty much anything I could find with my very sensitive snout, nuts, berries, mushrooms, grubs. But the Watsons introduced me to toast — Mr. Watson likes a lumberjack special — and it was love at first sight. The Watsons fell in love with me and I fell in love with toast.
Amid a rising demand for artisanal butter, Wisconsin is looking into relaxing some of its arduous regulations of the buttermaking profession; the Wisconsin State Journal has a thorough story examining both the rising interest in good local butter and the legal changes that will help the state’s cheesemakers (and master cheesemakers) rise to meet that demand.
The coffee is black, the omelets are thick, and the hash browns are plentiful. When Uncle Louis opened on November 2, 1993, they had one goal: “making the best breakfast in town.” Pizza Luce, the Amazing Grace, and Chester Creek Cafe all offer breakfasts that can rival and sometimes surpass Uncle Louis Cafe, but if you are looking for an omelet, a bottomless cup of coffee, and a hearty tablespoon of whipped butter on your French toast, Uncle Louis is the place.
Uncle Louis Cafe is the Duluth version of Al’s in Dinkytown. The L-shaped bar is lined with emerald green stools that give customers on the end a full view of the cooks flipping hash browns and cracking eggs. Three eggs with black olives, tomatoes, onions, and green pepper, cheddar cheese, and taco meat make up the Taco Omelet ($6.59), one of the best sellers on the menu. Served with a side of American fries or hash browns and toast, pancakes, or French toast, it is hard to believe that you can get it all for less than $7.
Other popular entrees include the eggs benedict (ham), florentine (spinach), or theodora (gyros meat). Each comes with sides. The French toast or pancakes are popular sides because of the homemade apple cinnamon syrup that are available alongside blueberry and regular syrup.
On April 19, 2007, Uncle Louis Cafe shut down after a serious fire caused by an electrical short. Customers demanded that the cafe reopen, and owner Penny Briddell worked hard to reopen as soon as possible. Half a year later — on November 2, 14 years after the original opening — Uncle Louis Cafe reopened serving up the same menu that they always have.
They have no plans to change, and people would be upset if they did. Uncle Louis Cafe is a black coffee, eggs, and hash browns kind of place that is doing everything they can to meet their goal of “serving the best breakfast in town.”
Uncle Louis Cafe
520 E 4th St
Duluth, MN 55805
Sat-Sun 7am-2:45pm OWNER: Penny Briddell ENTREE RANGE: $5-10