A Farm-to-Table Fête: Sustainable Catering

How Wisconsin caterers are making celebrations more sustainable than ever.
From: Spring/Summer 2017 edition

Food plays such a pivotal role in wedding celebrations; couples plan for months researching caterers, going to tastings and creating the perfect menu. There’s a reason many discussions occur about the merit of short ribs versus sirloin—people care about food.

Now more than ever, couples are in search of local, sustainable and in-season fare for their special day. The great news is that when you get married in Wisconsin, options abound. From desserts to drinks and every course in between, couples and their guests can really get a taste of what this great state has to offer.

Live La Vida Local

Although local products have been available to individuals for years, it’s a relatively recent phenomenon for Wisconsin wedding caterers. At Blue Plate Catering in Middleton, co-owner and director of sales David Porto says the number of couples asking for locally sourced ingredients has really ramped up within the last five years.

“We are locally owned and operated, and we are able to work with farms that are locally owned and operated,” Porto says. “It really helps the economy of Madison. This is a hub of the farm-to-table movement.”

Blue Plate Catering was founded in 1993 by co-owner Jodi Fowler, who also owns a farm, Triple J Ranch, in Hollandale.

Fowler wants the food people are consuming to be healthy, says Porto. “The same thing she’s doing is the same thing that local farmers are doing—raising meat in a humane way that’s less stressful for the environment. It completely changes the taste of what you’re eating.”

He says local meat is available all year and two butchers they frequent are the Conscious Carnivore and Knoche’s Market, both in Madison. But for one bride, Fowler’s ranch was as far as they needed to go.

“We did a small wedding for a bride last January, and she had her heart set on local prime rib,” Porto says. “We were able to use a local steer; it was organic and pasture-fed.” In addition to cattle, Fowler also raises pigs and chickens.

At Blue Plate Catering, couples have the option to “go local” on many of their menu items, but it can be more expensive. For example, serving a local tenderloin will add an extra $3 or $4 per plate. It might be worth it, however, if supporting small, local businesses is important to you. (Because of their size, larger companies lower their prices and still make money; smaller companies don’t have that advantage.)

When it comes to tastings, their goal is to replicate what a couple’s exact menu will be—even if they are tasting it months before their event in a different growing season. “If foods are out of season, we’ll source them from another place and tell couples that this is what the food will look like, the color and presentation,” Porto says. “But it will be fresh and local for the day of their event.”

Home Grown

It’s always a happy coincidence when a caterer has a green thumb. Take the folks at From Scratch Catering in Cedarburg: Owner Donna Erickson and husband Roger incorporate as many ingredients as possible right from her own garden. From zucchini and tomatoes to pumpkins and peppers (and every herb you can think of), their catering menu is infused with freshness.

One dish that’s especially popular is their antipasto platter. It features fresh, in-season fruits and vegetables, including strawberries, carrots, mushrooms, peppers and celery, with artisan cheeses, homemade crackers and two homemade dips, cold cucumber and warm Vidalia onion.

“One thing that really sets us apart is that we don’t purchase from any distributors,” says wedding and event coordinator Addie Erickson (Donna and Roger’s daughter). “With the aggressiveness of gluten issues and food allergies, the desire to have a fresh product is so much more requested than it used to be. Also, because we make everything from scratch, we can tweak it to be gluten-free or vegan.”

In addition to more requests, Erickson says couples these days are much more ingredient-savvy. “I get calls from brides who want to know where we get our meat from and where we grow our vegetables,” she says. “A few years ago, brides weren’t asking that.”

At From Scratch Catering, custom menus are king, and the flavors change with the seasons. That may mean a crimini mushroom and butternut squash lasagna in the fall or a fresh tomato, basil and sweet onion tart in the summer.

Local Means Love

Sometimes, love of the land can lead to love and marriage, as is the case with husband-and-wife team Jeremy and Erin Lynch, owners of Enos Farms in Spring Green.

“Jeremy started growing specialty salad greens and selling them to chefs in Madison, along with broccoli, carrots and potatoes. That’s when I met him,” says Lynch, who was working at L’Etoile in Madison. “I knew we were complementary. Yes, I want to work with you. And within six months we got engaged.”

So when it came to finding food for their own reception at Hilltop (which is right next to their farm), they did what came naturally and catered it themselves.

“There was no question we were going to source our own food for our wedding. We sourced everything, prepped everything and hired our friends in the food service industry to serve. It was a contribution from everyone,” she says.

Their main dish was tacos, which is still the most popular dish at the weddings they cater today. Not only are they fun, Lynch says, but they can be easily customized for people with a range of dietary restrictions. The corn tortillas are naturally gluten-free and vegetarians can add a smattering of in-season vegetables on top.

“The beef came from our neighbor, the appetizers were Wisconsin cheeses and the veggies for the salad came from our own farm,” she says. “Almost everything we served was from within a 50-mile radius.”

Everything they did for their own wedding served as a blueprint for how they run their catering business today. And they are now busier than ever, especially with baby Daphne in tow.

Because the harvesting season in Wisconsin is short, they preserve much of their produce so they can offer fall and winter couples local fare, such as jams, mushrooms and roasted red peppers. “We preserve foods when they are at their freshest,” she says. “Sometimes Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate with us every year which is why you have to be flexible.”

“For a farm-to-table client, we need them to understand the flexibility required in their menu,” Lynch says. For example, that may mean chicken with rhubarb for spring or chicken with roasted red peppers for summer. “Our couples are really trusting us and letting us decide two weeks out from their wedding what the menu is actually going to be.”

Lynch says this year their local chicken supplier fell through but they could still offer local pork, turkey, beef and fish. Some crops may not have a good year. If tomatoes look measly, they’ll serve something else, relying on their local farmers to tell them what’s good.

For foods they don’t grow or animals they don’t raise, Erin finds what they need from other local sources, such as Wepking Farms for their cows or Fortune Fish, which sources whitefish and freshwater trout from the Great Lakes.

How Local Can You Go?

No matter the course it’s easy to go local. One of the most iconic—and popular—is the cheese course.

“We did a wedding the Sunday before Labor Day, and the bride was a cheese fanatic,” says Porto. “We emailed back and fourth about cheese. She says, ‘I promise I’m not crazy. I just really love cheese!’ ”

With the help of Blue Plate Catering, the bride created an elaborate cheese platter filled with beloved Wisconsin brands Hook’s, Uplands, Holland’s Family Cheese, Carr Valley and Montchevré.

It’s also easy to find great artisan bread companies in Wisconsin. Stella’s in Madison is known for their cheese bread, a perfect complement to a soup or salad course.

And when it comes time to raising a glass, nothing will do but a Wisconsin brew. From New Glarus’ Spotted Cow and Island Orchard Cider to Door Peninsula merlot and a Death’s Door vodka cocktail, you can toast the happy couple with your favorite local beverage.

 

Trends Worth Trying

Breakfast

With local sausages, eggs and bakery items, your brunch wedding has never looked better.

Out-of-the-Box Desserts

From Madison’s Babcock ice cream to Mukwonago’s Elegant Farmer apple pie, you can find many options besides cake.

The Main Course

One of the biggest local trends is meat. Options are plentiful for steak, poultry, pork and even fish.

Family-Style Meals

Nothing brings people together like passing around dishes of your favorite local fare.

Other Ways to Go Local

Flowers

Madison Wedding Flowers

Shining Hills Farm and Gardens

Bridal Party Gifts

Beer Cap Maps

Wilson Creek Pottery

Favors

Quince & Apple

The Waxwing