What would possess a woman with five kids, four dogs, a lot of impractical shoes and a relatively easy-going husband to move to a small town in Northern Wisconsin and buy a restaurant? Cheese. It all started with tortas- a cheese and chutney appetizer that Renee had made for years prior to meeting me. I remember sitting in the bar at the Wild Rice, planning our foray into the cheese business in Minneapolis a couple months after we met. I called the Uptown Kowalski's, delivered my 'elevator pitch' and scheduled a meeting with the head cheese specialist. As I walked out of Kowalski's on that sunny November afternoon, I had no idea how much my life would change.
Our little cheese company took off in a hurry. The tortas were in all the Kowalski's stores and selling well. We had a pretty good system worked out— Renee handled production and I was the delivery and 'demo' girl. Everything came to a screeching halt when her restaurant caught on fire and burned to the ground 3 months after our first delivery. We needed a kitchen to continue making our tortas and spent a couple of weeks exploring our options. We walked into an old yellow farm-house outside Washburn with an illustrious history as a speakeasy, brothel and restaurant and that was that. I found myself seriously considering buying a restaurant. Another three or four weeks passed, Renee had a partner, I had a restaurant and Bayfield had 7 new residents. As Gabrielle Hamilton, author of Blood, Bones and Butter, said, 'And that, just like that, is how a whole life can start'.
Blue Cheese & Fig Chutney Torta
2 cups dried mission figs, chopped 3 garlic cloves. chopped 1 red onion, chopped 1/4 cup butter 2 cups red wine 2 tbsp candied ginger, minced 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes salt and pepper to taste
Blue Cheese Torta
2 packages of cream cheese, at room temperature 1 sticks of butter, at room temperature 1 garlic cloves 1/4 cup red onion, minced 1 tsp cayenne pepper, to taste 1/2 cup blue cheese (more if you prefer a stronger blue cheese taste) 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese salt and pepper to taste
Chutney: Melt the butter in a sauté pan and add the onion, sauté until softened. Add garlic, figs, red pepper flakes and candied ginger and saute for 5 to 7 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until liquid is nearly evaporated. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cool completely.
Cheese: Combine the butter and cream cheese in a food processor. Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth. Line ramekins or other containers with plastic wrap. Press chutney into mold and add the cheese mixture. Cover and refrigerate until set. These can be frozen and de-frosted before serving.