Last week I attended a media tour of Wisconsin as a representative of Asiance Magazine. As an Urbanite, the first thought in my mind was “Whoa! I’ve never milked a cow before!” Just kidding. But seriously, in NYC they say everything is “about making that cheddar”. Not to be cheesy, but in Wisconsin it’s true- especially making that 6 year-old sharp white. And it is all deliciously worth it. Last week I attended a media tour of Wisconsin as a representative of Asiance Magazine. As an Urbanite, the first thought in my mind was “Whoa! I’ve never milked a cow before!” Just kidding. But seriously, in NYC they say everything is “about making that cheddar”. Not to be cheesy, but in Wisconsin it’s true- especially making that 6 year-old sharp white. And it is all deliciously worth it.
As our Founder, Jaymie had explained to me, it was a business trip that would offer us a fresh glimpse of the community and what life might be like as an Urban Asian American visiting or living in the Heartland. Well, that is if normal Wisconsin life consists of being pampered in the most gorgeous spas and hotels complete with the most wholesome, gourmet food that Wisconsin had to offer… I was psyched! If you didn’t know, Milwaukee has a significant and growing multifaceted Asian American population of Hmong, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Filipino and Indian residents.
If you didn’t know, Milwaukee has a significant and growing multifaceted Asian American population of Hmong, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Filipino and Indian residents.
Our first stop was the beautiful Osthoff Resort at Elkhart Lake, about an hour outside of Milwaukee. The other writers represented Hispanic and African-American readerships in Chicago and Miami as well as two freelance writers from Zagat and Spa Magazine. (In Spa Magazine check the writer’s latest story on Korean yoga, some moves of which requires tapping your toes together 300 times!) All from big cities, we were about to experience something new. In this area of Wisconsin, the small towns were referred to as villages, and the air was so crisp you could bite into it like a fresh Granny Smith Apple. The sky was bright blue and small white clouds dotted the sky. Large pumpkin patches adorned the roadside, and looked like thousands of small orange balls of fire amidst the backdrop of yellow and red trees. Beautiful.
Even more beautiful, was the pampering at Aspira Spa! (Aspiraspa.com) Coincidentally The New York Times just ran an article about Aspira in last week’s Sunday paper. It came in 2nd for its use of water treatments. “American Indian tribes and the Aspira Spa staff agree: water from this lake is holy. For the Sacred Waters Massage, the healing water is heated and put into deerskin pouches, then placed on Chakra points along the back to untangle those deep muscle knots.” (“Splendor in the Bath”, October 21) That was the treatment I received. Imagine multiple hot water bottles floating on your back, relaxing each muscle with a cedar-smoked scent, followed by a hot rainbow bath with a view of the lake. Very nice! Rated #1 was Kohler Spa, also in Wisconsin. It is a large suburban corporate area based on Kohler supplies that many locals mentioned as “Stepford Wives”-ish.
The whole area of Elkhart had a mystical energy to it. Lola, the Oftstoff manager showed us around and told us how in the surrounding areas there was a three-level Indian Burial Ground. One of the layers was a circle of shamans, and in the center of the circle a giant Conch shell. No one knew where it could have come from, meaning it was either brought over from somewhere far away or the Great Lakes really did use to be one big ocean. It seemed so mysterious, and so appropriate to set the mood for the meditative spa, which used Feng Shui and indigenous mystic powers within the architecture to create a pinpointed balance in the rooms and space. Each room had its own private bath and felt like the comfort of your own home (with many more Jacuzzi jets!) The spa was absolutely perfect for late Autumn and early Winter: snow literally falling on cedars. It was the kind of place where you could really picture yourself living permanently, as a wintertime hermit warming your feet in cozy moccasins by the fire, eating small dried berries and deer jerky.
But we didn’t eat small dried berries at all! We had extravagant gourmet meals, cooked with all the best local ingredients. Lola’s theme was “authenticity” and boy was it ever! She even picked fresh squash from the organic garden each morning to bring to the enthusiastic young chef – “ the squash soup was to die for. It tasted like Fall-time exploding in your mouth: warm, thick and nutty like savory, creamy sweet potato pie. We had a cooking lesson with the famous Jill Prescott who hosts a PBS show and makes amazing French dishes! We used local apples for the tartan and ripe, bright organic tomatoes. There were sweet cream sauces with whole vanilla beans and raw, countrified milk. All the crusts and dough were made with a touch of Wisconsin. The creamy unsalted butter I helped churn just minutes before in a giant red barn, smiling and wearing a bonnet! Sadly, that part was just my fantasy. But those are the kinds of thoughts that you may come across in Wisconsin!!
All the food was fabulous at the resort and village restaurant (picture a warm, friendly isolated bar/grill hangout with fine dining in a velvet candlelit backroom). It was definitely the ingredients of local farms and traditional meals that took the cake. I didn’t opt for the cake personally because I would have blended in too much with the cows- I was constantly stuffed! Highlights were: the Kobe beef- buttery and carmelized (cows get massages too!), the simple appetizer of a cheese plate (your taste buds will not be the same; what looks like a normal piece of cheese in Wisconsin is actually a delicate firecracker of sharp flavor) and very tender tenderloin with white cheddar mashed potatoes that to me, represent all things mouth-wateringly hearty in the homeland.
That first day of the tour could have been the be-all-end-all. I could have gone back to New York, ate at Pete Lugers’ steakhouse, warmed up a cup of (ew!) pasteurized milk, and sat in whatever pile of leaves on the sidewalk I could find eating a hunk of cheese dipped in butter, all to (try to) recreate the wonderful memories I had formed and be satisfied. But no! There was more.
The next day we ate in the countryside at a Farmstead restaurant and tried Black Angus steak sandwiches with cheese-layered French Onion soup, a dish known as the “haystack” which consists of deep fried “hay-like” onions and cheese dip, Cheese battered cheese-sticks. All this was after the tour of the Widmer cheese factory that has the signature block cheddar of Wisconsin and will be featured on “Taste of America”. There is actually proof that the enzymes that produce opiates are not only in poppies but also in calves’ livers (the liquid contents of which I saw being poured in the vats.) Can someone say Cheese Den?
This somewhat explains the addiction many people have to cheese. Interestingly, many people of non-Northern European backgrounds are often lactose intolerant because of what is believed to be a pre-disposition in genetic code, based on not eating much dairy in many parts of the world. Younger generations from countries in Asia like Japan and China where cheese was not use to being used have grown extremely fond of the product, and have built a new tolerance to cheese. I know I’ve definitely felt the effects (everywhere) whenever I take that first (or fifth or tenth) bite of baked brie. Yummy.
The rest of the day (after all the cheesiness) was spent at the Cedar Creek Winery in Cedarburg, Wisconsin and then the Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee. It was a good thing we had all that food in our stomachs beforehand…
At the winery we tasted their gold-medal winning Vidal, a crisp and refreshing semi-dry. Their winemaker Phillipe had generations of professional winemaking experience from France and ended up at Cedar Creek after falling in love with the daughter of the previous store owner. The whole experience was very historic and the wines were great, though the grapes had to be imported from Washington State and California because the winds from Lake Michigan create bad growing. We learned more about the concept of dessert Ice Wine which is very popular in Europe (and also New York) where the frozen grapes are used to create a sweet wine. This is made in the U.S. in the Great Lake area and upstate New York. Try it out!
The countryside of Wisconsin was beautiful, fulfilling, wholesome and fresh-but now it was back to big city life-Milwaukee that is, population approximately 500,000. Before settling in at the Pfister (voted by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the World’s Best Places to Stay) we got a tour of one of the best breweries, Lakefront Brewery. The Pumpkin beer was the seasonal delight. It was wonderful to witness the process of distilling hops and barley in the big tanks (painted with the faces the Three Stooges) and of course guzzling many beers. Drinks were spilled, sleepiness set in, and we came to learn why Milwaukee is “America’s Drunkest City” according to Forbes.com (Aug, 2006).
Beer chugging to fine dining was the theme of the day, after we settled in to the Pfister and were planning to have dinner at the adjacent Mason Street Grill. As I was getting ready, I gazed out the window from my 20th floor room, admiring the shores of Lake Michigan and the metropolis around it. Beautiful, clean and sea-like; if you like that sort of thing. I mean it was no East River.
For dinner I had bass, caught in Lake Michigan. It was delectable as were the other dishes. The meal was urban and glamorous, with a diverse crowd of young professionals and older Milwaukeeans. I felt at ease and enjoyed the fact that a city like Milwaukee in the middle of the country was up and coming for all types of people, with modernity found on both coasts. In fact some aspects of it seemed even more modern than many New England towns. Only an hour from Chicago, Milwaukee is a great place for young people. Apparently there is really authentic Thai, Japanese and Indian food (of course one of the standards for great cities!) We also visited the Potawatomi Indian Casino in the heart of the city, which was extremely crowded for a Tuesday night. And finally back to Blu at the Pfister, the 23rd floor lounge area with a luxury bar.
Well Spa, located below the Pfister was my last treat of the Wisconsin experience. If you want a unique private-room spa, this is the place to go (if you’re staying at the Pfister it is more convenient). The Dairy State of Mind treatment, with the honey and milky yogurt massage truly reflects the Grade-A dairy and indulgence of the state.
So for those of you who are curious about what really goes down in the middle of this great nation, think of Wisconsin in a new light. It is hip, clean and come to think of it has a lot of the things we appreciate in New York City: great food, diversity, local organic products and of course, loads of cheddar!
Check out www.visitmilwaukee.org for info on culinary and brewery tours, lakefront activities, eco-tourism and the Jewel of the Great Lakes. Also www.pfisterhotel.com, www.osthoff.com, www.pfisterwellspa.com and of course Aspiraspa.com.
For more information on Shannon, please visit her at my.asiancemagazine.com/shannonlin