Chef Essig's Featured Item of the Week: Colorado Cuisine
What is Colorado Cuisine??
Are there certain foods or drinks that come to mind when you think of specific areas of countries, states, or cities? When you think of dishes from Louisiana, you might think of gumbo, jambalaya, po-boys, muffalatas, beignets, pralines, or sarzacs. When thinking of Napa Valley, most people probably think of wine. Philadelphia may spark a connection with cream cheese or Philly steak sandwiches. Wisconsin has cheese, Washington has apples, and New Mexico has green chiles… but what do you think of when you think of Colorado?
All areas of the country have a bounty of foods and beverages to offer, but there are some that stick out as being unique or specialized to an area. Currently there is a focus by the Colorado Tourism Office to look at the question of what is Colorado known for when it comes to foods. When people come to Colorado, what should they have to eat or drink before leaving and take back the story of how great it was to their friends and family?
Let's look at a few food items Colorado may be known for:
Colorado is often thought of for its beef, which is true. We currently have over 2.6 million head of cattle in Colorado with over 13,000 producers contributing to the industry. Cattle production represents over 2.5 billion in sales and is the largest industry in our state. Those numbers put us as the 10th largest beef producer in the US. (Colorado Agricultural Statistics Services). Last week I was driving through North Park early in the morning and was stopped by a unique road block. I was able to witness the cowboys (yes there are still REAL cowboys) bringing in the herd for the season as they drove them across Hwy 14. It was an amazing site to see over 3000 head of cattle gathered up and driven in from the open range and brought into the ranch for the winter months, all while being surrounded by the beautiful mountains of Colorado in the early morning light. That was a true Colorado experience that cannot be found in all parts of the country and is something that makes us unique.
Some of the finest restaurants across the country and across the world (including Restaurant Daniel, Momofuku Ssam Bar, and Craftsteak) rely on Colorado lamb and market it as such on their menus. Colorado is number one in lamb production in the United States. The cool temperatures, varieties of grasses, and altitude may all play a part in making the flavor, size, and overall quality of Colorado lamb the best in the country. Colorado was founded on early sheep ranchers, and the industry plays an important role in our history.
Ok, maybe it's not that well known of a food, but it is something that people use and consume every single day and may just come from right here in our back or front yards… sugar. The front range of Colorado (and specifically right here in Weld County) is one of the few places that sugar beets grow exceptionally well. They need a specific type of soil, growing season, and climate -- and we have it. These factors put Greeley and the front range on the map of world sugar production in the early 1900's. If you have some time to research the Great Western Sugar Company, you will see how important a role this crop has been to forming the growth and community we see today in Northern Colorado.
We have great peaches in Colorado. We are however not the largest or even close to being the largest in peach production. Peaches from Palisade are a regional specialty known to many locals but few from out of state. We may not compare in notoriety to Georgia for peaches but in quality will put a perfect Palisade peach up against any other at any table.
Loveland was the largest cherry producer west of the Mississippi in the 1920's. Pictures of the days when orchards surrounded Lake Loveland are beautiful. Michigan and Washington have now beat Colorado when it comes to cherries.
Rocky Ford Melons
It's unfortunate that there have been some very bad mishandlings by consumers and bad press in past years of Rocky Ford cantaloupes. These melons are some of the most flavorful in the country and have a nationwide reputation as being some of the best. Again, soil, sunlight, and temperature all play a part in our unique crops and quality. No matter what kind of produce item you consume, be sure to WASH IT FIRST. This simple step can save you from foodborne illness and save family farms from going out of business.
The San Luis Valley is a very unique place to grow potatoes. The cool nights and altitude (7600 feet above sea level) of the region means it uses the least amount of pesticides in the industry and has some of the greatest research and seed development sites in the United States. Cool nights also contribute to the desirable smooth skin of the potatoes. And what better source for water than mountain snow melt? Colorado is number 2 in the United States for potato shipping. I'm not sure what state is beating us… hmmm… maybe that one state... Idaho??!
There are some fantastic wineries in Colorado. Terror Creek winery is the highest elevation commercial winery in the northern hemisphere. Every state has their own wine industry, but ours is truly unique.
According to the Colorado Brewers Guild, "there are over 100 craft breweries in Colorado making Colorado the number one state in the nation in terms of craft breweries per capita, number one in the nation in beer volume, number two in absolute number of craft breweries by state, and number two in the nation in sheer craft beer volume." Napa may have wine, but no other state can come close to the history or variety of beers we have to offer.
Now it's your turn... what do you think?
So what are some foods or beverages you think Colorado should be known for? When a relative or friend comes from out of state, what will you have them try before they leave? I am part of the Colorado Heritage and Agritourism Committee as an advisor to the committee. If you have any thoughts on what Colorado Cuisine, Foods, or Drinks means to you, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know so I can share your thoughts with the committee as they explore how to promote Colorado Agritourism and the great cuisine and history we have to offer.
Happy Dining from Executive Chef Essig!
Chef Aran Essig, CEC, CCA
(Certified Executive Chef, Certified Culinary Administrator)
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