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Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference 2005 Staff Reflections, Part II
by Dan Moore, Deli Manager
I hang out with a lot of foodies. It seems like every other weekend I’m invited to a get together at someone’s house where we all bring a dish to pass. As the deli manager at the Co-op, it goes without saying that I’m always expected to bring something on the impressive side. It’s a lot of pressure, especially considering the talent level of some of the cooks that attend and the typically small amount of time I have to cook these days. My friend Vesna, for example, routinely wows me with her amazing meals. More impressively, she does it with everyday ingredients. I’ll give her some ground beef, or some stew meat—low-grade stuff really—and she’ll drop off an Indian dish or traditional Serbian meal that I can’t believe. So when I get an invite to Vesna’s place for a dinner party and asked to bring some food with me it’s a tad intimidating.
Last year, after a few of these parties, and the increased demand on my time at the deli, I decided that I had to do something to make it a bit easier on myself. I figured that as long as I was at the Co-op working, I might as well use it to my advantage. I began looking at our old platter menu, and thought it was good, but that if I wanted to use it to impress my friends, it needed some tweaking, some dressing up, and some new blood. So we re-wrote it.
If you’ve read this column over the past couple of years, it’s no surprise that I started by looking at our cheese platters. Our domestic platter was good but focused on some of the more everyday cheeses. We kept the standbys but decided to make it more interesting by adding some gouda and goat cheeses made right here in south-central Wisconsin. Now you not only get the cheeses that make the kids happy, but there are also a few items to please the more discriminating adult palates. The imported cheese platter was tough to improve. We already had some cave-aged Gruyere on it as well as a great triple cream Brie, but we added flavored Chévre and a variety of specialty cheeses from locales throughout the Mediterranean and Europe. Got a favorite, or a specific region in mind for your cheese? Let our staff know and we can tailor your options to provide exactly what you’re looking for.
We also took a good long look at what our customers want the most. On a typical week we sell hundreds of pounds of our spinach dips and hummus. So we decided to design some platters around them. Our Mediterranean platter features both of these, as well as my personal favorite of our dips—the artichoke pâté. Then we tried to figure what goes well with these dips. What can you eat with your hands, tastes great, and meets our “interesting food” criteria? We decided that olives were a no-brainer, especially the kalamatas. But we also felt that for a truly Mediterranean feel there had to be some cheese. (I know, shocking—I do love cheese.) We picked out a high quality semi-firm Asiago to start. A cow’s milk cheese, it has a nutty flavor that complements both the olives and the dips. We also wanted to find a place for some feta. It’s the classic Greek cheese, and we use either the sheep or goat milk version (depending upon availability), and then stuff it into pepperoncini peppers. Pepperoncinis are also known as Tuscan peppers, but these mildly spicy peppers have been pickled to serve as an antipasto. You get the salt from the cheese and the sour of the pickling forming an extremely tasty flavor. We weren’t done yet, though. We figured if we’re going to highlight the dips, we better give you something to put them on. So we added a second platter to the first. This one has toasted wedges of Nature’s Bakery pita bread—not only are they excellent pitas, but it’s always nice to use products from just down the street.
The last platter we did a major revamp of became our Middle Eastern platter. We had a cook named Sean a few years back that had tried our tabbouleh and decided to take a crack at improving it. Sean was a trained chef, and the person responsible for creating our sushi program, so I agreed. He succeeded. Fresh mint, lemon juice, and lots of parsley combine with the bulgur to provide a startlingly fresh flavor. We put it on the platter next to our hummus (we add tahini, so technically its hummus bi tahina) and the combination of the freshness and earthiness were a perfect pair. We needed one more flavor though. I’d never been a big fan of eggplant, as a matter of fact it’s probably one of the few things I don’t eat, but the staff argued that a traditional baba ganouj was a must for this platter. So I tried it, and was very surprised to find that I loved it. The roasted eggplant combines with tahini, lemon, and garlic to have a flavor that is smoky and garlicky at the same time—it was in. To round out the platter we added kalamatas and fresh veggies for dipping, and another platter of pita from our friends at Nature’s Bakery.
The deli also has fresh veggie platters, a wrap platter featuring our fabulous cream cheeses and meat selections, a Southwestern platter piled with tortillas stuffed with our southwest inspired dips and salsas, a seasonal fruit and cheese platter, and a spinach bowl platter with a centerpiece of La Brea’s rosemary olive oil bread filled with your choice of vegan or regular spinach dip. Many of our platters can be made vegan, for those of you of the vegan persuasion. Check out our website for pictures of the platters.
Now when I get invited to parties I come well armed with not just one dish, but with a platter full of a variety of flavors and foods. Of course, the deli gets all the credit now, but I can live with that.