Nora G. Hertel
JoAnne Penny of Penny Lane Farm
"Oh, this is so good," said Greg Stroupe of Cottage Grove. He had just tried JoAnne Penny's sweet and sour sauce at the Isthmus Food & Wine Festival. Then Penny offered him a recipe for pork with her S.E. Asian Spicy sauce or her cherry ginger variety.
"I love cooking, and I love eating," said Penny, who drove from Door County to Madison on Friday morning. Some of the ingredients she uses come from her business Penny Lane Farm, and the cherries in the sauce are from Door County.
Penny Lane Farm is one of 80 vendors at the first Isthmus Food & Wine Festival, which opened Friday and concludes Saturday at the Alliant Energy Center Exhibition Hall.
The scene on Friday night was a feast for more than just the taste buds. Presenters shared recipes and cooking tips and guests took turns spinning a Ho-Chunk wheel for prizes. But local and artisanal food took center stage with strong representation from cheese, spirits, and charcuterie.
Like most food events in the Dairy State, the festival featured many cheeses. Noble View Creamery attracted a little extra attention with two skillets of sizzling cheese cubes.
"It gives a little table presence," said Jay Noble, a sixth-generation dairy farmer and first-generation cheese maker. "[The cheese] doesn't melt, it just gets soft and a little squeaky."
Noble started making cheese in 2010 to stabilize the market for his milk, which he said experiences high highs and low lows. He will soon be adding 250 cows to his current herd of 300 in Union Grove, south of Milwaukee. "[Business is] picking up nice," said Noble, and is now "at the point where we can expand."
Although "wine" is in the title of the festival, several vendors featured beers and cocktails. Luctor International, a distributor based in Milwaukee, served a PB&J cocktail with grape juice and peanut butter and jelly flavored vodka from the Netherlands. It's only missing the bread, said Scott Hallatt, a sales representative.
The selection from Luctor International included flavored vodkas, aged Abuelo rums from Panama, and an unusual whiskey from Canada. Tap 357 produces whiskeys aged for three, five, and seven years, blended with Canadian maple syrup. "You could pour that on your pancakes," said Hallatt.
On the other side of the exhibition hall, Madison-based Quince & Apple offered tastes of a tart cherry grenadine and rhubarb hops to spruce up gin and tonics or other cocktails.
The variety of charcuterie on hand proves the popularity of the artisanal food and drink trend. Osteria Papavero, Bolzano Artisan Meats, Black Earth Meats, and Underground Meats featured locally butchered and cured (or uncured) salamis.
Alessandro Monachello stood behind a pile of salame, coppa, lonzino, pancetta, head cheese, and pork liver pate from Osteria Papavero. He noted that Papavero prepares its meats "from the beginning, to the plate," that is, from the butchering of a whole pig to the serving platter.
"Now it's very trendy and so many other people started to do charcuterie in Madison," added Monachello, a native of Sicily who's been in Madison almost seven years.
Underground Meats, a part of the Underground Food Collective, featured the best batch of its Tuscan salami, the favorite of manager Jerry Traczyk. After fiddling with the casing and the balance of red wine, garlic, fennel, salt, and pepper, they finally got it just right.
"We're not messing with it anymore," said Underground Meats' Ben Jackson, "this is the best batch we've made yet."
Across the hall, Fifth Season Cooperative shared information about the network of farmers, businesses, consumers sharing local food in southern Wisconsin. And Community Action Coalition collected donations in exchange for souvenir photos. Its booth offered accessories for attendees to dress up and have their photos taken; donations go to the food and gardens division of Community Action Coalition.
Chris Brockel, food and gardens division manager at the Coalition, noticed an increase in participants as the night wore on. "It started off slow, but now, after a few drinks..." he said.
Most likely those eating at the festival enjoyed their dishes out of a traditional order. The Willy Street Co-op booth stood near the entrance, showcasing desserts: Smores cupcakes and French-style pastries with almond filling.
A few booths away, Loren Leoni and Bianca Singer dished up some of the 450 mini-cupcakes they brought from Gigi's Cupcakes at Hilldale. Flavors ranged from raspberry lemonade and strawberry champagne to a chocolate "Midnight Magic" flavor.
"It's not bad to try one of each," said Leoni.
The fest continues Saturday, October 20, from 2-6 p.m., with samples, cooking demonstrations, and more.