Review: Local Roots 2013 Winter Dinner

While calling an event “cheesy” would normally offend its hosts, there’s really no other way to describe The Henry Ford’s first Local Roots dinner of 2013. Delivering on its promise to be “an exploration of Michigan cheeses,” the evening highlighted a variety of creative uses for the state’s very own curds – and shed some light on the ways of whey.

Guests were welcomed to Lovett Hall with a sophisticated take on cheese and crackers, including a lavish spread of freshly cut cheddars and goudas from Grassfields Creamery in Coopersville, Mich., and other selections from Detroit’s Traffic Jam and Oliver Farms of Fostoria, Mich.

Local Roots Cheese Exploration Dinner

Of course, no cheese-focused evening would be complete without fondue, and a variety of fresh breads and vegetables awaited dunking in bubbling vats of spinach-artichoke, shrimp, and bacon-flavored dips. Strolling waiters offered freshly baked goodies, including a delicious apple butter and bacon puff pastry, while bartenders poured craft beers from Grand Rapids’ Founders Brewing Co. and classic Faygo pops.

After hors d’oeuvres, guests took their seats on the dance floor Henry Ford built for his wife, Clara, as Detroit-based pianist and singer Jarrod Champion performed original compositions. Dinner started shortly thereafter, with Farmer Jon and Michigan State Hoophouse greens tossed with dried cherries and shredded cheese in a lemon-pepper vinaigrette, served in a flaky cheese bowl. The light, tangy dressing balanced smartly with the sharpness of the cheese and the still-sweet cherries.

Local Roots Cheese Exploration Dinner

The main course came next, passed family style at round tables. Tender Michigan beef tip mingled with blue cheese crumbles in rich gravy, with chicken scaloppini and mushroom ravioli served under a warm cheese sauce. A baked squash filled with winter vegetables and greens was served alongside, followed by dessert – a trio of chocolate-cheese confections and L. Mawby’s “Detroit” sparkling wine.

Luke Meerman of Grassfields closed the evening with food for thought, speaking to the importance of fresh, locally-sourced ingredients and respect for both the land and animals integral to sustainable farming.

Luke’s colleague, Evan Velthouse, then explained the cheese-making process, from the culturing of milk with (non-scary) bacteria to the separation of curd (future cheese) from whey (water), to the long ripening process, conducted on wood planks.

Evan said that the older the wood plank, the better the cheese – which just goes to show that history and food are indeed a winning combination.

Justin Mularski is a writer based in Detroit. He occasionally forsakes his laptop to read of times long past, cheer for the Tigers, or make lists of home improvement projects he’ll never actually complete.

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