Work Worth Doing, Beer Worth Brewing: The Brewing Projekt Takes Root in the Valley

President William Glass and brewer Eric Rykal are excited to be able to finally concentrate on actually making beer, after a rough couple of years struggling to get federal and state applications to brew approved. The Brewing Projekt opened its taproom, which seats roughly fifty people, in April of 2015. They also give tours! Will and Eric spoke with us recently.

What is your background as a brewer? Eric: I began home brewing immediately when I was of age to drink. What I had hoped would be an occasional hobby quickly grew into an intense obsession. With my background in biology, and a few years of brewing at home under my belt, I was able to find an apprenticeship at a commercial production brewery that quickly turned into my first full-time brewing job. After brewing there for nearly five years, I was fortunate enough to get the offer of a lifetime: brewing highly experimental beers for the Brewing Projekt.

How are local food and the farm-to-table concept important to you and incorporated into your restaurant? Will: Being in the beer industry, coming by local ingredients isn’t always the easiest. The truth is the majority of our malts come from Chilton, Wisconsin (malting barley is a very capital-intensive business to get into, and there aren’t many that exist in North America let alone Wisconsin), and most of our hops from the Yakima Valley in the Pacific Northwest. Quality is ALWAYS first and foremost. Sowe tend to go for the best ingredients regardless of where they come from. That said we try very hard to source our additive type ingredients and some varieties of hops locally. We utilize Just Local Food’s network to help us bring in quality produce for beers like The Stolen Mile. We’ve also used local producers like Miss Bee Haven LLC for our honey, and we’ve been known to hit up the Eau Claire farmers market for pilot batch stuff! When we make pilot batches, we’re testing out new recipes to potentially make on a production scale (that is, 620 to 1,280 gallons). For example, we’ve made a Belgian Rhubarb Strong with rhubarb from the farmers market.

What is your five-yea goal for the business? Will and Eric: In five years we hopeto have settled into our new location, expanded distribution throughout Wisconsin, and have expanded into more Belgian-style hybrid beers as well as more sour and funky stuff. Our first go at barrel aging sour beers has turned out to be some really awesome beer, and we hope to do a lot more of that stuff in the future. One of our goals is to open a second, smaller brewery dedicated to terroir, that is those particular environmental conditions like soil and climate where the grapes are grown that give each wine its unique flavor and aroma. Doing more farmhouse-type ales and lagers utilizing ingredients we can grow ourselves like fruits, spices, herbs, and even hops and barley is also a goal.

What we’d like to do is operate a smaller farmhouse brewery, on- or off-site, where we would make small production batches of beer with barley that we’ve malted, hops that we’ve grown, etc. Logistically it is VERY difficult for us to do that with our current scale. We’d have to have a 40-acre farm dedicated just to us. So the goal is create a smaller brewery making “homegrown” beer. We’d also branch out into some of the old world wild/sour ales as well where the fermentation is spontaneous and comes from the air around. Ideally we’d be located in an apple orchard where there is lots of good “wild” brewer’s yeast just floating around in the ambient air.

What are your thoughts on the Local Challenge? Will: I think it is awesome. I always wonder what would happen if we dropped a big glass dome over the Chippewa Valley, what would happen. I think we’ve got the goods and the ability to stand up quality-wise to anywhere else. It’s very exciting that more and more people are taking pride in our local economy and the products

Support Farm Fresh

By Emily Schwartz

There’s nothing quite like strolling through a bustling farmers market early on a Saturday morning, basket and cash in hand, looking through the rainbow array of fresh produce. With a growing trend towards locally sourced foods, it’s no wonder why farmers markets are popping up everywhere. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture estimated that the number of farmers markets exploded by over 75% in the past eight years. In 2014, there were over 8,400 markets in cities across the country. And, that growth shows no signs of slowing down!

Don’t want to miss out on the farmers market fun this summer?  Here are several tried-and-true tips for making your trip to the farmers market a success:

►Arrive early. Many vendors bring a limited amount of produce each week, so head to the farmers market early for the best selection. Early morning shopping also often means smaller crowds and more opportunities to chat with farmers and fellow market-goers.

►Cash is king. When heading to a farmers market, remember to bring the cash! Although growing in popularity, most vendors don’t have the capabilities to accept credit or debit cards at this time. Some markets do accept SNAP/EBT cards and WIC vouchers. If in doubt, swing by the ATM before heading to the market. Also, vendors appreciate bills in smaller denomination.

►Bring a bag or a basket. To help keep costs down, it is best practice to bring a reusable bag or basket to carry all of the wonderful items you find. Dont worry if you happen to forget! Vendors will always have a few extras.

►Ask questions. Farmers are farmers because they love the food that they grow. They are incredibly knowledgeable about the fruits of their labor – no pun intended – and enjoy sharing information about their growing practices and favorite preparation techniques.

►Try something new. Farmers markets provide the opportunity to branch out from the traditional Russet potatoes, Roma tomatoes and Red Delicious apples. In fact, many local growers offer more unusual or heirloom varieties of common fruits and vegetables that are more suitable for our Wisconsin climate and growing season. Farmers markets provide the perfect opportunity to try something new like purple carrots or multicolored tomatoes. And, there are frequently samples!

►Get creative. One of the beautiful things about shopping at farmers markets is seasonality. Although farmers are often able to give a good prediction of what will be available in the upcoming weeks, there is little certainty from week to week. So, head to the farmers market with an open mind and prepare to get creative!

►Bring the family. With a bounty of delicious and nutritious foods, the farmers market is the perfect venue to get kids excited about fruits and vegetables. Markets also offer the unique opportunity to learn more about where food comes from, how it is grown and what can be done with it.

►Have fun! There are few activities that are comparable to shopping at a farmers market. Enjoy the lively atmosphere, befriend a farmer and  have fun eating the freshest of foods!

Farm Fresh – Meet Your Farmer

Seibel’s Organic Dairy is a fifth-generation family owned and operated dairy farm near Bloomer, Wisconsin. Chuck and Diane Seibel bought the farm from his dad in 1983. Chuck transitioned the farm and became certified organic in 2001 in search of a healthier life style.  Their son Adam and his wife Chrissy joined the operation about ten years ago.  Around that time they all formed their pasture-raised organic meat business.

Why Organic?

Organic farming does not use pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, which are designed to kill living organisms, can be harmful to wildlife, and can contaminate food, air, and water, as well as accumulate in our cells. Organic farmers also do not use synthetic growth or breeding hormones, which are often used to alter reproductive cycles and speed up growth. This means healthier, less stressed animals and less exposure to endocrine-disrupting hormones for those consuming organic meats. The Seibels do not use antibiotics in raising their beef, nor do they use any genetically modified crops. They seek to raise their animals in harmony with nature.  They feel strongly that their meat tastes better and has more flavor than other meats due to the humane way they are raised.

How Are the Animals Raised?

All of their animals are raised in well-ventilated facilities, all built since 2005.  From birth until two months of age, the calves receive milk, water, and calf starter, which is a mix of oats, corn, and all the right minerals to help them get off to a great start.  Calves are housed in a state-of-the-art calf facility with individual pens. From two to six months the calves eat oats and dry hay and are grouped in adjustable pens to comfortably house anywhere from two to fifteen calves Once the calves reach six months of age, they receive a majority of their feed from the farm’s rich, lush pastures.  If the weather is not ideal for them to be outside, they can come into the barn to cool off in the summer or warm up in the winter.

What Products Do They Sell?

Seibel’s Organic Meats, LLC, offers frozen ground beef, tenderloin, ribeye, New York strip, sirloin steak, round steaks, sirloin tip roast, rump roast, prime rib roast, and beef roast. Beef is also available by the eighth, quarter, or half.  They just recently began raising chickens.  Their chickens are fed all certified organic feed and raised with access to pasture.  These chickens are frozen whole and available year-round, however they are not certified organic due to processing plant licensing.  All items are available for pick up at the farm, but they ask that you call before coming to make sure someone will be there. All pricing is listed on their website.

Contact them at seibelsorganic@gmail.com, call Chuck at (715) 568-2587 or Adam at (715) 933-2494. Visit them on the web at https://sites.google.com/site/seibelsorganic  or find them on Facebook

The Time, The Place is Now, and it’s in Eau Claire

When you ask Terry Vajgrt about local food, he lights up like he’s talking about his newborn baby. And The Informalist, in The Lismore hotel, opening this May, is his new baby. “This is really where my passion lies,” he said. “Here’s the thing. To me, it’s about hospitality. When I invite you into my home, I want to feed you THE best thing I can and give you THE best thing to drink.”

The Informalist will be a local food dining experience like no other. When you walk into the restaurant, the posh lighting, barn door tables and lounge booths, and the menu of local farmers’ home-grown goodness transports you out of your own world into one where eating is an experience, a culinary journey of growth and transcendence that happens on each plate.

Vajgrt and his wife, Paula Williams-Vajgrt, aren’t new to food—far from it. Owners of The Creamery in Downsville, Wisconsin, from 2008 to 2011, along with growing up on farms, the couple knows that this is where their organic food ethos comes from.

“We are very sure that that is a healthy way to eat and to be, in terms of our local environment, our local culture,” Terry said. They plan to draw on existing relationships with local farmers and get to know new farmers too, recognizing those farmers on the menu. “I always love farmers that are doing really unique things because it really brings art into farming,” he says. “It’s a beautiful thing. I mean, you go to a factory farm, and it’s a different experience than you go out to George and Emma’s farm out on D where they have 120 acres, and they’re producing animals or greens or whatever it is they’re doing—it’s just a different experience. And I really believe that from an economic standpoint, one of the worst things that could ever happen in Wisconsin is the disappearance of our family farms, and I think Big Agriculture has been in the forefront of that, pushing that. I understand the efficiencies that you gain when you’re big, bu if we are what we eat, then shouldn’t we care about how our animals are treated, what their life is like, how our plants are treated, how they’re getting their nutrients? People have gotten so far away from their food that they don’t know their food sometimes anymore. They don’t know where their food comes from.”

“Or they don’t question it,” Paula added.

In the restaurant and the coffee shop (ECDC, or Eau Claire Downtown Coffee), everything will be from locally produced ingredients, from scratch, or from suppliers who are sourcing their foods from other regional local farms. Vajgrt is glad to be part of trying to change the system toward meeting demand for more organic products. “If we can help turn that ship a little bit, that is our goal.”

People sometimes feel that organic food is too expensive, but Vajgrt suggests instead they ask, “Why is factory food so cheap?” Williams-Vajgrt added, “Why do we need an adjective in front of our food—organic food? Actually, better to think about, ‘What is food?’”

Vajgrt feels the food culture here in Eau Claire is changing for the better. “It’s changed a ton. Certainly other places have led that transformation, but I think Eau Claire is right there now.” But he adds, “There’s an awakening consciousness in Eau Claire overall, I’d say. Look at what’s going on in the downtown area, look what’s happening with the arts. People are really looking at quality of life things now that maybe at one point weren’t quite as important or just wasn’t thought about. There are some real foodies in Eau Claire now. I love what’s happening now with Eau Claire and the feeling of the community. And by buying more local and focusing on our local producers, it helps to continue to build that community. I know that’s what these young entrepreneurs that have invested a lot of money in this place are all about. They’re about community. What Justin Vernon’s doing, and what the guys are doing over at The Oxbow. Why are they doing this in Eau Claire? It’s their hometown. It’s their community. They want to build that community. And thankfully we have people that are now in leadership roles because of their success in other areas, they’re bringing that success back to our food, our entertainment on all levels. You know, dining out is entertainment. That whole process. The time, the place is now, and it’s in Eau Claire.”

Another soon-to-open downtown restaurant featuring good quality food in Eau Claire will be The Lakely, in The Oxbow Hotel, with Chef Nathan Berg at the helm, and opening mid-summer 2016. Berg too has close relationships with local farmers, suppliers, and producers.  “At this point, their ingredients are as much a part of my culinary style as anything I could possibly do in the kitchen.  As a chef, it would be pretentious of me to think that I alone create the dishes that I cook,” Berg notes.

He also enjoys picking and gathering foods he’ll use in the restaurant. “Whether it’s gardening or foraging, I continually make an effort to go outside to either raise or hunt for foods because, without that, I feel that I would lose touch with food’s origin. Again, the majority of the work of great chefs begins well before their ingredients enter the kitchen, so I think it’s important to do that kind of work, if not solely as a decent reminder of the processes of nature that ultimately create the stuff that I too often get credit for,” Chef Berg says.

But there is another reason he is so fond of foraging. “I have a life-long goal of helping to foster the development of a distinguishable Upper Midwest style of cuisine. And any regional cuisine should be defined, first and foremost, by food that are not just local, but native to that region. So I’ve spent years researching the foods and dietary customs of the Native American tribes from our region, and that has helped me to understand what foods were always here, not just brought with the white settlers. Low and behold, many of the plants and foods that these tribes relied upon for their sustenance are things that seem common to all of us here in the Upper Midwest today: maple syrup, venison, corn, freshwater fish, cranberries, etc.

But there are also a pretty significant number of foods that wee collected and enjoyed by peoples like the Anishinaabe and Menomonee—mostly plant-based—that have been essentially forgotten over the centuries. Thankfully, despite a slew of past and present environmental threats, many of these foods are still growing out in the woods and marshes and prairies; things like fiddlehead ferns, ramps, wild huckleberries, wapato, cattails, and a wide variety of fungi. I love utilizing these foods in the kitchen because it gives me the sense of breathing new life back into some very old food traditions. But it’s equally rewarding just to search for them as the hunt itself brings with it the side-benefits of fresh ai, exercise, and a deeper connection to the land.” NOTE: Berg warns that you shouldn’t forage unless you are very well educated about what plants are safe and what might potentially cause illness or death!

The Oxbow Hotel design will have a Midwest Modern feel, reminiscent of the old lakeside lodges we’re familiar with here in the north woods. The Lakely will reflect that feel and the feel of the Midwestern supper club. Berg explains, “It will definitely be an updated take on those kinds of menus, but I’d call that the ‘soul’ of our menu.” He adds, “I think people will find somethings that they’re familiar and comfortable with, but there will also be some uniquely original creations that are reflective of where we live for the more adventurous diners. We’ve also got an incredibly cool, original idea that we’re developing but keeping under wraps until opening day.”

Berg thinks visitors and locals alike will enjoy The Lakely. “For travelers, I believe that our modern take on Upper Midwestern foods will really help to give them a (literal) taste of our area. But I think of this as being even more appealing to locals as it will be a pretty unique and adventurous addition to the local dining scene. I hope that folks get as excited by our updated interpretation of local cuisine as I am. With local diners, my goal for their dining experience is that they walk away with a bigger sense of pride for the culinary possibilities of this place that we all call home.”

Berg also feels the local food culture is improving. “Our local sustainable farming community is amazing, even in comparison to some of the best around the nation. Thankfully, the people of the Chippewa Valley do a damn fine job of supporting these great local farms on a consumer level. But as that consumer base has grown so large over the past ten years, there haven’t really been many restaurants focused on farm-to-table for these consumers to throw their support behind. With at least a few of them opening here in the very near future, I hope to see some strong support for these ventures (ALL of them…not just ours). If those thrive, then I’m sure it won’t be long until more and more start springing up and maybe even our old stand-bys will increase the amount of local products that they feature, leaving us with a restaurant scene we can be proud of.”

The Informalist is set to open April 28th for dinner service, with The Lakely opening this Summer.

More info at theoxbowhotel.com/lakely and theinformalist.com-JC

Growing Our Principles

Values in Action
Menomonie Market Food Co-op has supported small, local and cooperatively run farmers, food producers and vendors for over 40 years. Now we further deepen our commitment to our values by joining the P6 Cooperative Trade Movement.

P6 is a national movement focused on building equitable and just relation-ships between farmers, producers, retailers,and consumers. Currently a collaboration between six food co-ops around the U.S., P6 works to create strong,values-based economies.

Cooperation & Change
Principle Six (P6) is the sixth cooperative principle, “Cooperation Among Cooperatives”. Originallyestablished by the Rochdale Pioneers in 1844 and later by the International Cooperative Alliance, At Menomonie Market we view YOU as a powerful participant in our local and global economy: ENGAGEDEDUCATED EMPOWERED to use YOUR dollars as a tool for change. the seven cooperative principles serve to guide the business decisions of our co-op. P6 co-op members are hard at work creating strong local communities by promoting and living our values of creating healthy, just and sustainable relationships with farmers, vendors, our staff and the community at large.

A Step Further
In addition to finding a wide selection of P6 products in the store, MMFC takes the same P6 care in selecting the ingredients used to prepare our homemade Hot Bar and Deli foods. Whether you are joining us for weekend brunch, a business lunch or quick evening meal, you will enjoy delicious food and feel great knowing you are helping to create a vibrant local economy

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