A State Fair Winner: Four Tips To Create A Ribbon-Winning Dish Showcasing Local Foods

Give me a piece of paper and pencil and I might choke out a few stick figure drawings for you. I’m not much of an artist in the traditional sense. But give me a chunk of cheddar, some beer, fresh veggies and other local ingredients from my home state of Wisconsin, and I transform into the artistic ninja of my kitchen here at Inn Serendipity Farm and B&B. Give me a palette of local, homegrown flavors and I can channel my inner culinary muse.

Case in point: Wisconsin Melting Pot Cheese Soup, my recent entry into the Wisconsin State Fair’s “Cornucopia Challenge” culinary contest, featuring ten different Wisconsin-produced ingredients. This recipe below garnered a third place white ribbon in this culinary contest category sponsored by the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s “Ag in the Classroom” efforts to promote Wisconsin products.

Ready to take on your own private “Cornucopia Challenge,” creating your own signature dish featuring your local fare? Here are four tips to get you thinking creatively about combining your area’s flavors into a state fair ribbon worthy dish:

1. Assess Your Ingredient Arsenal

Start by making a list of what’s available locally. These will probably be your “core” local staples, the items for which your region is known. In Wisconsin, especially in Green County where I live, cheese and beer reign local ingredient royalty, so those formed my core staples in the Wisconsin Melting Pot Cheese Soup recipe.

2. Focus on Fresh

Summertime ushers in a seasonal bounty of fresh, locally-grown flavors, wherever we may live. Since fresh translates to great tasting and nutritious, add in as many fresh fruits and vegetables as the recipe can handle. Soup serves up a good example of packing in fresh ingredients as I could readily add in four from our organic gardens at Inn Serendipity: broccoli, dill, onions, carrots.

3. Add an Unexpected Dash

Take the opportunity to add some unexpected flavor dashes and combos. My soup needed a dash of sweetness, but rather than the usual sprinkling from the sugar bowl, I instead added some Wisconsin maple syrup (Wisconsin ranks fourth in maple syrup production nationwide). Since maple syrup is sweeter than cane sugar, I only needed a small amount to transform the flavor. The Organic Prairie Sausage adds a nice savory touch of fennel.

4. Share and Celebrate the Homegrown Flavor

The key ingredient in celebrating local flavors is a hearty dose of community and celebration. While some of the reasons for stressing the importance of locally-grown foods rank outright depressing – from climate change to health risks – focus on the positive abundant nature of this type of recipe. My Wisconsin Melting Pot Cheese Soup makes a hearty batch and does not freeze particularly well due to the numerous dairy products used. Therefore this recipe is made for dishing up into a canning jar and sharing with our neighbors down the road.

Wisconsin Melting Pot Cheese Soup

All Wisconsin-made ingredients listed in bold.  Ten total!


¾ c. Organic Valley butter (1 ½ sticks)

1 Inn Serendipity Farm medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)

½ c. Inn Serendipity Farm carrots, finely chopped

1 c. Inn Serendipity Farm broccoli florets cut into small pieces

2 c. flour (ideally unbleached and organic)

1 bottle (12 oz.) Berghoff Original Lager Beer (craft-brewed in Monroe, WI)

3 t. Worcestershire sauce

2 c. Organic Valley heavy cream

2 T. Forest County Gourmet Maple Syrup with Honey (made in Merrill, WI) or any other Wisconsin-produced maple syrup

1 T. Inn Serendipity Farm fresh dill, chopped

4 Organic Prairie Italian Chicken Sausages (one 12 oz. package), cut into small pieces

5 c. Roth Kase one-year-aged Cheddar (made in Monroe, WI), shredded


* Heat butter in a large 5-quart soup pot.

* Sauté onions until translucent. Add carrots and broccoli. Cook 5 minutes.

* Add flour. Stir to completely coat vegetables.

* Add 2 c. water. Bring to a boil. Add beer, Worcestershire sauce and cream. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes. Add maple syrup, dill and sausage. Cook 5 minutes more.

* Slowly add cheese, stirring constantly until cheese is melted into soup. If soup is too thick, add more cream or water and stir thoroughly.

Photo Credit:  John Ivanko

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