You may have noticed that I’ve been teaming up with The United Dairy Industry of Michigan for the last few months to bring you great recipes featuring Michigan milk, yogurt and cheese, like lentil burritos, spinach-artichoke turkey burgers and chicken gyro salads. So that I could learn more about why “Milk Means More,” UDIM invited me on a two day blogger trip to Grand Rapids earlier this spring, where I got a behind-the-scenes look at an ice cream factory, found out about wine, beer and cheese pairings, and participated in an “Iron Chef” Showdown.
First, a disclaimer. I’m actually very surprised that you can’t see the grim reaper lurking behind me in the photos you see here. I was battling the worst sinus infection of my life. In all honesty, I probably should have been at home in bed, but I just couldn’t miss the opportunity to go on this fun trip. So, if there are gaps in any of the details, well, I was probably zoned out, dreaming about taking more cold medicine.
Above, the group before our tour of Hudsonville Creamery & Ice Cream. Left to right: Dianna, local dairy farmer Cathy, Deb, Liz, Kirsten, Sheila, Rachel, me, Wendy, Sarah, Lauren, and Staci and Amy from UDIM.
At Hudsonville, Cary and Caryn gave us a tour of the meticulously clean and organized factory and storage areas. We were treated to a lunch that actually included sandwiches and salads, but since the majority of my caloric intake was ice cream samples (hey, I was sick, and at an ice cream factory, alright?), I like to say it was the day “I had ice cream for lunch.” Erin taught us a little bit about the food safety practices that Hudsonville employs, and we also had a fun session with Chef Ray (he’s seriously an ice cream chef!), where we learned how new flavors are developed, and how ingredients and mix-in’s are selected (the majority of the milk comes from dairy farms right down the road!).
Not only did Hudsonville treat us like royalty, but they treat their employees that way, too. They have just one shift a day, believing that evenings and weekends are for family. That’s rare for a factory, I’m sure. I’m officially a Hudsonville convert, and always swing by the freezer aisle at my grocery store to scope out the Hudsonville flavors now (my favorite being Tiger Traxx).
After all that ice cream decadence for lunch, it was time for happy hour. Yep, this was my kind of day! We headed to Reserve Wine & Food restaurant in downtown Grand Rapids, where The Beervangelist taught us all about how to pair various cheeses with local wines and beers. Even with my limited taste capicity due to my raging sinuses, I still learned so much from this event. In particular, there was one pungent cheese that I took a nibble of, and did not like. At all. But after sipping the bright white wine that was paired with it, then having another nibble, the cheese took on a whole different flavor, and it was absolutely delicious. It’s so interesting how food and drink can pair together like that and completely change how we experience them.
After happy hour, we headed back to the lovely JW Marriott, and a few of us had dinner downstairs at Six One Six Restaurant. After that, I promptly went to my room, crawled into the huge bed and slept like a sick baby. I was going to need some energy for the Iron Chef Showdown that was happening in the morning!
The following morning, we broke into two teams and headed into the JW Marriott kitchen to an extremely warm welcome from the chefs and cooks there. Each team was tasked to make an appetizer and an entree, both highlighting the wide variety of products Michigan dairy farmers produce. I was happy to be back in a professional kitchen again, and immediately got to work making an Israeli couscous “risotto” that would be included as part of my team’s entree. You can sort of, kind of, barely see it peaking out behind our stuffed rolled pork loin and asparagus entree below.
While it was a competition with legit judges (it seriously felt like we were on a TV cooking show or something), the important thing was that both teams got into the kitchen together and had a great time. Oh, and did I mention that we got to eat all of our amazing food for lunch immediately following the competition? You never see the real Iron Chefs sitting down and eating their meal. Maybe they do. But I doubt it. We settled down for our final meal together, and of course, toasted to our amazing two days together with big glasses of milk!
Is all this talk of ice cream giving you a craving for something creamy and cold? I’ll be back this afternoon with a seasonal, fruity milkshake with a unique ingredient. Can you guess what it is?
For more information on The United Dairy Industry of Michigan and to find out why Milk Means More, be sure to check out their website, and connect with them on Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube and Twitter.
Disclosure: This post is part of a relationship I have with The United Dairy Industry of Michigan. I was hosted for a two day local dairy tour, but was not otherwise compensated for this post. All opinions are 100% my own.