Over the last 40 years, Wisconsin, and particularly Dane County, restraunteurs and consumers have embraced the farm-to-table idea: bringing fresh food to the kitchen and onto the table. Farm to table embodies the renewal of chefs directly sourcing their ingredients from building close relationships with producers. Madison lays claim to having some of the earliest adapters with Odessa Piper, founder of L’Etoile in Madison, who, together with other innovators, like Alice Waters from Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA, provided the foundation for the farm-to-table movement.
The close relationship with local producers and foragers, and attention to seasons, has led to new innovations and iterations of farm to table or table to farm. Table-to-farm dining brings chefs to the farm and the patrons along with them, freeing the restaurant table from the confines of traditional brick and mortar.
Looking back, one might have seen this coming. For more than 45 years, communities have been invited to farms for a traditional farm breakfast and visit. These breakfasts during National Dairy Month, in June, provide the opportunity to not only eat fresh eggs, pancakes, bacon, and, of course, dairy products, but serve as an introduction for community members to farming.
Today, the hot ticket is dinner on the farm. What a range of options! Dinners appear on web pages or are discovered by word of mouth. Eat at your favorite farm that provides you with berries or corn. Or follow your favorite chef as they collaborate with a farm to use seasonal ingredients to create a delicious meal. Eat at a table for two or at a community table with other locavores. These dinners have proven highly popular and often sell out shortly after being announced, so you need to be vigilant when watching the events page of your favorite farm or chef.
This past fall, my husband and I experienced a romantic Friday night cenetta (dinner) at Campo di Bella, a winery combined with a sustainable farm producing a variety of ingredients. Run by a husband-and-wife team, Mary Ann and Marc Bellazzini, Campo di Bella has a wine bar/tasting area coupled with a small dining room and kitchen. They serve from a wine bar menu on Fridays and Saturdays, host set menu cenettas on Friday nights, and farm-to-table communal dinners on Saturday nights.
The cenetta includes a salad, main course featuring a farm ingredient, and dessert. And you select from wine not just from their winery, but a variety of white and red wines. Their inspiration is Italy, expressed in the menu that Marc presents, in their winery, and the farm itself. On Fridays, you make a reservation and pick a seating time. We arrived about 30 minutes early thinking we would explore the wine bar and have one of the bar menu offerings. We were greeted by the friendly family dog and a fading sunset illuminating the small building with a patio and flower, herb, and vegetable gardens around it.
On a warm summer evening, the patio, with its western view, would be very romantic and beautiful. The dining room and bar are basically a one-room affair, with seating for approximately 30 guests (think private birthday party or family gathering). A large group occupied much of the dining room, but with staggered seating, it all worked. We loved Mary Ann’s passion as she described both the wines and the dishes as they were presented. Eggplant was the featured ingredient, and the eggplant parmesan was flavorful and surprisingly light.
Our other farm dinner this fall was at Flyte Family Farm, near Coloma. Their family-style fall dinner included a beverage, appetizers, choice of salad, vegetables, main course, and dessert. Everything was seasonal and sourced locally. We arrived for appetizers and a drink shortly after the start time, and found that most people had already arrived and the appetizers were going quickly!
Caprese skewers, jalapenos wrapped in bacon, and melon balls/brie skewers were served on an improvised table in a large hay shed. The cash bar was set up at the back, and two musicians played toward the front. Improvised high tops and wooden wire spools on end were seasonally decorated. This barn bar also had regular tables and hay bales to sit on.
For dinner, we were assigned to table 13 with two other couples. Many people seemed to come from nearby, and their ages ranged from grade school to seniors. This was the farm dinner I was picturing in my mind. Tables were set out in the grass alongside the hay barn with the cornfields, silo, and farm house in sight. Each table sported a tablecloth with fall decorations and bowls of salads and vegetables to start. Once seated, family members and recruits served the hot food platters and bowls to each table. The pork loin with spiced apples and blueberry cream cake were delicious. We thoroughly enjoyed our tablemates and the beautiful evening at the farm.
After dinner, some guests returned to the bar for more conversation, while some others explored the farm grounds, and others started home. Flyte Family Farm’s dinner put a spotlight on the seasonal ingredients available. Other farm dinners might highlight the creativity and skills of a renowned chef in addition to fresh, seasonal ingredients.
If you follow chefs, ingredients, or you just want to take a further step to support local farms and wineries, try one of the many options available. The season generally starts in the spring and runs through fall. And don’t forget breakfasts! In addition to the traditional farm breakfasts, farms, like Flyte, have a fall breakfast for families with corn and hay mazes, introduction to farm animals, and fall activities. Pricing will vary with the type of event.
Liz Wessel is the owner of Green Concierge Travel, which has information for honeymoons and other ecotravel at greenconciergetravel.com .
FARM DINNERS AND BREAKFASTS
Dinners connecting diners with chefs and farmers.
Campo di Bella, Mt Horeb
Cenettas and communal farm-to-table dinners and wine tasting.
Flyte Family Farm & Flyte’s Fieldstones, LLC, Coloma
Dinners and family-friendly breakfasts.
Holy Hill Art Farm, Hubertus
A variety of events, including dinners, classes, and concerts.
June Breakfast on the Farm
Locations for farm breakfasts across Wisconsin.
Outstanding in the Field, a farm near you
A national roving dinner, setting tables at the source of ingredients and serving farm-to-table dinners that honor the local farmers and food artisans across the country.
Taliesin Summer Farm Dinner Series
Four course dinners with local beer and wine, featuring seasonal vegetables from the Taliesin Farm.