The scenery and fresh food were part of the appeal long before COVID provided a new appreciation for open-air dining.
Whether raising a glass of wine while touring the vineyard where the grapes were harvested or dining in a hayfield as the evening stars come out, there are few better ways to appreciate the bounty of Wisconsin than a dinner on the farm.
These gatherings took on an added luster during the pandemic, when many people felt safer gathering out of doors. While the 2022 summer picnic season is winding down, there are still some fall gatherings ahead. Some venues, like Campo di Bella, near Mount Horeb, have indoor dining and continue serving through the winter. And it’s a good idea to put a reminder in your spring calendar for next year, because these dinners tend to sell out fast.
Here are some places to make the connection between farm and fork in the most delicious way possible:
Enos Farms Harvest Moon Dinner Did we say sellout? This purveyor of pork products from Spring Green completely sold out all 225 tickets in 24 hours to its 11th annual meal in early September. This year’s version featured Chef Itaru Nagano of Madison’s Fairchild restaurant. The event cost $235 per person and included six courses and beverage pairings. While Enos Farms’ pork is revered by chefs, they also accommodate vegetarians.
The Enos Farms’ first dinner in 2011 attracted 18 people, but in 2020 the Wisconsin Public Television show Wisconsin Foodie featured the Enos dinner, and since then it’s been a tough ticket. Your best shot is getting on the Enos mailing list, which is where tickets are announced.
Near Mondovi, south of Eau Claire, Together Farms offers a range of dining opportunities from fancy wine dinners to Burger Nights (hey, it’s a beef farm).
On the other end of the food spectrum, Fresh for Life Organics, Richford serves gourmet vegan food in central Wisconsin’s sand country. Chefs Genie Metoyer and Russ Brown grow organic vegetables on a farm near the border of Waushara and Marquette counties. Their Summer Picnic in the Field series runs from early June until Labor Day and features weekly vegan meals for members of their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group. Since joining the CSA only costs $12, it’s worth it even if you live too far away to buy vegetables.
Fresh for Life’s final meal of the 2022 season featured a Cajun menu, in homage to the New Orleans roots of its chefs. As CSA members sipped beer and wine, Brown turned a pile of green tomatoes from the nearby garden into fried green tomatoes in a spicy remoulade. After diners were seated at a snaking row of picnic tables, servers brought out a multi-colored coleslaw, followed by Cajun potato salad and an etouffee topped with crunchy fried shiitake mushrooms.
Dessert was one of Metoyer’s signature frozen desserts: a salted caramel and apple “ice cream” (made with cashews) that was so rich and delicious, you’d never miss the dairy.
Nearby, Flyte Family Farms, known for their giant strawberry and blueberry patches, offers a series of seasonal dinners throughout the growing season. The fall gala was September 17, but there’s still a farm breakfast in early October at the Flyte’s Fieldstones Farm, which is located between Wautoma and Coloma and features a corn maze and other fall fun.
In the lake country west of Milwaukee, the Stone Bank Farm offers monthly farm dinners cooked by a James Beard Foundation winning chef. The farm still has an October dinner, farm lunch and wine tasting on its calendar, as well as a cooking class focused on cold weather stews and soups.
Not far away in the Kettle Moraine, the Holy Hill Art Farm has farm dinners, music and arts events.
Another type of dinner is the one-off, popup event. A California-based group called Outstanding in the Field has put these events on for more than 20 years, at venues ranging from a Wisconsin cheese cave to a Maine oyster farm. If you want to get on the list for 2023, sign up for the Outstanding newsletter. Tickets go on sale the first day of spring and typically sell out fast. These “roving restaurants without walls” feature local produce and chefs. The Wisconsin venues in 2022 were the Hidden Acres farm in Door County and the Blue Moon Community Farm near Stoughton.
Hidden Acres also does monthly underground farm dinners on the first weekends of month from May through December.
Campo di Bella, outside Mount Horeb, is modeled on an Italian agriturismo, where guests can reserve an apartment above the dining hall and stay for the weekend. Plenty of others drive out from nearby Madison for the three-course meal on Fridays evenings or the five-course meal on Saturdays.
The farm was founded in 2008 by first-generation Italian-Americans Marc and MaryAnn Bellazzini. It includes a vineyard and winery, and meals that are seasonally based and cooked in traditional Italian and French styles.
The end of summer featured several vegetarian feasts starring lasagna and other hand-made pastas. As the weather cools, said MaryAnn Bellazinni, the menu will shift to heartier fare: steaks sourced from the nearby Dreamy 280 farm, porchetta made with Dorothy’s range pork, and vegetables including kale, leeks, potatoes and squash.
Around the holidays, Campo does a traditional Italian seafood feast. And the cold months will be “all about comfort food.” In January, that will mean Italian stews, and in February, French comfort foods such as coq au vin, cassoulet, beef bourguignon, and French onion soup.
Bellazzini said the restaurant, which opened in 2015, is also based on the Italian tradition of “pranzo,’’ community luncheons with extended family that she remembers from her childhood. They featured long tables and course after course of food, served family style.
Campo di Bella shifted away from the group seating when it reopened following the pandemic, and currently diners are seated with their own groups.
“It’s my dream to bring back the long tables one day,’’ Bellazzini said. “I can’t tell you how many people met each other at our long tables, began a friendship, and now come back again and again to dine together.”
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