There's more to Wisconsin cheese than those hats Packers fans wear. Yes, plenty of brick cheese is still made here, but a growing number of Dairyland producers are making artisan cheese - chèvre, Brebis, Crescenza-Stracchino - that is carefully crafted and sings on the palate.
And this fall, perhaps by the end of September, Madison cheese lovers will be able to buy the artisan cheeses of Wisconsin (and elsewhere) at Fromagination, 12 S. Carroll St.
"Wisconsin is kind of becoming the shining star for great artisan farmhouse cheeses," says proprietor Ken Monteleone. "There are artisans here who have traveled to France and studied with cheese makers, the ones who have been making Gruyères for years."
Cheese will be the star of Fromagination, of course, but Monteleone also will sell food and drink that pair well with his cheeses: "perfect companions," he calls them. "I'm traveling the world looking for items not available in Madison," he says, citing olive oils, balsamic vinegars - and peanut brittle? It's great with blue cheese, he promises.
A Madisonian of 15 years, Monteleone worked for 13 years at Famous Footwear, where as a senior shoe buyer he toured the globe and tasted various cuisines. After a brief stint at Land's End, he began pursuing the Fromagination idea in earnest. "I wanted to take my life experiences and direct them toward something that drives my passion," he says.
Fans of recently shuttered Relish Deli, 1923 Monroe St., need not despair. Many of the eatery's sandwiches, salads and soups are still available for lunch at Brasserie V, the restaurant that Matt and Andrea Van Nest recently opened in the old Relish storefront.
"Our menu at night is basically a European-inspired menu," says Matt, "which starts with mussels frites and steak frites."
A Madison resident since 1991, he was inspired to open the restaurant when he and Andrea traveled in France and Italy two years ago. "We're not trying to copy the Paris cafe," he allows. "But I liked the laid-backness of it, the great service, the pride in all of their food."
The offerings at the bar also have a Continental flavor: Of the 14 beers on tap, 10 are Belgian. "I had my first Belgian beer in Chicago four years ago," Matt says. "I kind of fell in love with it. It's sweeter, more complex. It reminds me of drinking wine."
The day may soon come when housing developments sprawl over what is now the farmland between Madison and Sun Prairie. When that day comes, homeowners there will have corned beef and cabbage readily at hand from Erin's Snug Irish Pub, which opened two weeks ago at 4601 American Parkway.
The pub is located in the east-side office park that is anchored by American Family Insurance. This is the second Erin's; the first is up in Reedsburg.
"What we're trying to do," says manager David Eisner-Kleyle, "is give everyone an alternative to some of the corporate restaurants around here." He is referring, of course, to the miasma of chain restaurants that make up most of the dining scene around nearby East Towne Mall.
On the menu are traditional Irish favorites - fish and chips, shepherd's pie - as well as steaks, fish and poultry dishes. The pasta is from Madison's own RP's. "We're trying to do a lot local," says Eisner-Kleyle.
Nothing tastes quite as good as dough fried in oil, and now Madison fans of the doughnut can enjoy the snack with a little less angst. That's because Greenbush Bakery (1305 Regent St.) has begun frying in oil that is free of trans fat.
"If you think it was good before, put your seatbelt on" says Greenbush owner Marvin Miller of his product. "It's much better now."
Miller styles himself the Doughnut Man, and his enthusiasm for the humble doughnut is seemingly boundless. "It's true comfort food when times are bad," he rhapsodizes.