A brisk breeze tempered the 80-degree-F late afternoon as 50 or so guests recently gathered at Iron Shoe Farm near Princeton, Minn., for a delicious chef-prepared, three-course dinner.
The special June 13 event, hosted by the farm, Minnesota Farmers Union and Minnesota Cooks, was the first of four for 2021. The gourmet foods offer local chefs the opportunity to showcase their skills with Minnesota foods. Last year, the farm hosted 20 similar events to support both local producers and restaurants during the pandemic.
“When the pandemic hit, we lost business and so did local restaurants,” said farm owner Carla Mertz. “So, we turned to hosting dinners on the farm with Minnesota Cooks and local chefs. It has been a great collaboration.”
Mertz and her husband, David, started farming on the site in 2013, initially with 33 acres. Later, they added another tillable 33 acres. They raise grass-fed Hereford beef cattle, pastured chickens, Muscovy ducks and pastured Mangalitsa pigs. Carla also grows microgreens, edible flowers and seasonal produce.
“The Mangalitsa are like the Kobe beef of the pork world,” Carla said. “They have about 7 inches of backfat.” The heritage breed was imported into the U.S. in the 1990s
The late-Sunday afternoon when we were there for dinner, it was beautiful August weather in June, with a blue cloudless sky, bright sun and steady dry breeze. The dinner organizers had planned well to roll with weather conditions. The tent awning that we sat under was soundly staked, and as the meal progressed, restaurant staff personally tended to us, delivering napkins, silverware and cups when needed.
Our dinner feast with 100% local foods was prepared by three Minnesota chefs: Lachelle Cunningham of Chelle’s Kitchen in Minneapolis, Matthew Jensen of La Ferme in Alexandria and Anne Andrus of Honey and Rye in St. Louis Park. Each course was paired with a glass of wine chosen by Molly Krinhop with Winebow in Bloomington.
Our first course, prepared by Cunningham, was delicious spiced greens sambuusas served with a vinaigrette-dressed wild greens salad. Sambuusas are a type of East African dumpling, Cunningham said.
“Normally, it’s made with lentils or ground beef, but I love foraging,” she added. “So, I stuffed it with kale, dandelions, sorrel and black-eyed peas.” She served a wild greens salad on the side with charred corn, onions and chopped rhubarb.
The second course was a fork-tender braised beef served on top of polenta, with sorrel and roasted radishes. Jensen noted that the corn variety he chose and ground for the polenta was a multicolored old one — Painted Mountain.
And with a nod to in-season vegetables and fruits, for our third course Andrus baked us a fresh strawberry-rhubarb slab pie. Yum!
After a long year without social interaction, the on-farm dinner was a special treat for all in attendance. The location, the conversation, the food and beverage, even the weather — all melded perfectly for a memorable evening.
Here’s to future on-farm dinners across Minnesota this summer!