Gastronomic brilliance might not be the first thing you think of at the mention of Iowa. Your mind might conjure up images of a tranquil family farm with fields of crops ready for the harvest. While these are certainly accurate representations of Iowa’s agricultural base, inspired chefs from around the state and around the country are coming to rely upon extraordinary products that are sourced and produced in the Hawkeye State.
In the American heartland, with a supportive business culture and decades of agricultural success, it’s really no surprise that Iowa has made the happy connection between farm and table. The Iowa offering of organic, gourmet, heirloom, artisan and specialty ingredients has been generations in the making, and the cuisine that springs forth locally can stand up to larger metropolitan rivals anywhere. Virtually anything an accomplished chef could want is produced fresh in the state. Iowa is the nation’s number one pork producer – perhaps you’d like some succulent Swabian Hall, or do you prefer your pork acorn-fed? The sixth leading beef supplier, Iowa is home to hands-on cattle operations – have you tried the grassfed Angus? Iowa produces more eggs than any other state and four billion pounds of milk produced annually lead to 147 million pounds of cheese – you might enjoy handcrafted cheeses from a microdairy, but leave room for the organic goat cheese.
To get a glimpse of Iowa’s remarkable culinary sophistication, take a look at a few of the producers demonstrating their chops:
La Quercia (http://laquercia.us) brings a bit of Parma to the Midwest. La Quercia specializes in prosciutto, pancetta, coppa, speck, lonza, guanciale, and lardo, carefully crafted with the traditional methods. La Quercia pork comes from sustainable producers who treat their animals and their land responsibly. The company uses local ingredients and takes care to use only organic spices and sea salt from the United States.
Frisian Farms Small Batch Gouda (http://www.frisianfarms.com) utilizes Iowa’s bountiful milk production to create cheese in the Dutch tradition. Frisian Farms handcrafts washed-rind cow’s milk farmstead cheese that is nutty and sweet with a hint of fruitiness.
In Newton, Iowa, you’ll find the home of Maytag blue cheese (www.maytagdairyfarms.com/). The company still makes its wheels and wedges by hand and ages its cheese in temperate caves twice as long as most other blues.
Animals raised with high standards and compassion produce better results. That’s why chefs depend on Niman Ranch (http://www.nimanranch.com) for all-natural beef, pork and lamb that make up the cornerstones of this Iowa treasure.
When prohibition came to pass, Al Capone came to Templeton, Iowa. Or so the story goes. It was there that Templeton Rye whiskey was born, lost, and resurrected in 2001 (http://www.templetonrye.com). Along the lush banks of the Mississippi, using locally sourced grain, the Mississippi River Distillery (http://www.mrdistilling.com) has established itself as a premier small batch spirits producer. Both companies are family-run businesses committed to creating products of the highest quality. Neither shies away from using production methods that take a little extra effort.
Iowa’s growing food culture is one of the industry’s best secrets, because Iowa foodies understand the undeniable truth about good food: the best ingredients produce the most memorable food experiences.