Serving Local During Colorado’s Winter

Don't get left out in the cold.

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Wheat field covered with snow in winter season. Green wheat shoots coming up from under the snow.
Just because there's snow above ground doesn't mean things aren't taking root below. / Volodymyr Shtun © 123RF.com

Cooking local is practically a religion in Colorado. Many restaurants display the Colorado Proud label, highlighting their partnerships with local farmers and food producers. The state’s agricultural variety is the stuff of culinary magic. Spring offers up asparagus and tender greens to the grateful chef; summers burst with peaches, melons, and apples; and in autumn, squash, Brussels sprouts, and kale steal the show. But what about winter? 

Chef’s shouldn’t despair about the season—at least not from a sourcing standpoint. Local farmers and ranchers offer a wealth of Colorado meats, cheese, and produce to make winter menus shine, as well as local greens, onions, and potatoes. There are even kitchens cooking up Colorado quinoa: Consider the student center café at Regis University, which offers a breakfast bowl with organic, locally grown quinoa from White Mountain Farm in the San Luis Valley.

Cooking with fresh local products can be a real differentiator for your business, no matter the season. Besides boosting the flavor and freshness of the simplest dishes, locally sourced cuisine appeals to the values of your food-loving, environmentally astute customers, whether they’re ordering curbside takeout or dining in. 

As Denver-based Duo says on its website, “We source locally. Sourcing the best ingredients is not only our mission and ethos, it is the necessary start to a great dish.”

Here’s a look at what we’ve seen with our customers. Really, the bright blue, sunshine-splashed Colorado sky is the limit.

Discovering Your Roots

Colorado is the second-largest shipper of fresh potatoes in the country,  and the state’s farmers plant between 50,000 and 60,000 acres a year in the San Luis Valley in a rainbow of varieties, from red to yellow to purple. The good news is that these spuds are available throughout the winter months. Onions and carrots also grow all season long, so think about all the creative ways you can make local root vegetables shine on your menu. 

5280 Burger Bar in Denver sources local potatoes and onions to go on its burgers. And it taps local farms for veggies, too: The 5280 Power Salad, for example, includes local kale, Brussels, arugula and carrots.

Colorado potatoes are grown by a variety of farming operations like Strohauer Farms and RPE, a list can be found at the Colorado Certified Potato Growers. The Colorado Fruit and Veggie Growers Association maintains a list of Colorado farms on its website ColoradoProduce.org

 The Virtues of Self-Preservation  

Fresh fruit season is long gone by winter, but that doesn’t mean you have to cross fruit off your local menu. Colorado farms have learned to extend their growing—and selling—season. For example, Ela Family Farms in Hotchkiss grows over 55 varieties of organic fruit trees, including cherries, peaches, pears, apples, and plums, as well as organic heirloom tomatoes and grapes. But the orchardists don’t give up when the winter winds blow; Ela also sells a variety of artisanal organic jams, jellies, fruit butters, sauces and dried fruits, all made with what they grow on the farm. 

Local Ranches

Consider serving locally raised beef, pork and lamb, which you can purchase directly from farmers or through a local distributor. Organic, grass-fed and -finished beef can elevate your menu—and your price points.    

Take the Peppertree in Colorado Springs, which serves Colorado-raised bison strip steak in a 12-ounce portion finished with bourbon demi-glace and melted blue cheese crumbles for $64.95.  

Meanwhile, Boulder’s Salt serves grass-finished Colorado beef in its Tom’s Tavern Burger ($20.00). The bistro’s philosophy: “We source quality ingredients from local farms and believe the shortest distance from the farm to the table is best.” Legacy Meats and Rafter W Ranch both offer local grass fed beef options.

Greens and More

The fields may be covered with snow, but savvy Colorado farmers have learned how to make the most of high tunnels, hoop houses, and heated greenhouses to deliver fresh produce all year long. 

Rohwer’s Farm is based in Pleasant View, Colorado (about 20 miles outside of Cortez in the state’s southwestern corner) and grows an array of vegetables through the winter, including 10 types of lettuce, seven varieties of kale, and three kinds of spinach. It also grows radishes, carrots, beets, onions, and mizuna, reports Edible Southwest Colorado magazine.  

When in Doubt, Pickle it

 Whether you are deep frying the pickles like TAG Burger Bar or serving it as kimchi like Shin Myung Gwan, pickled and fermented foods are great dish additions in the winter. 

It makes sense for a chef to grab produce when it’s at its freshest and most abundant, but once the farmers’ markets have shuttered for the winter months, consider incorporating locally grown pickled and fermented food into your menus.  As FoodBusiness News noted in 2018, “Chefs have learned that incorporating fermented ingredients into prepared foods adds an extra dimension to flavor, one not attainable by any other means.”

Ben Deda is the CEO of FoodMaven and oversees the operations of the company. Ben has held senior and executive leadership roles at Vertafore, Galvanize, FullContact, and TruStile in operations, sales, marketing, and support. Ben is also a co-founder and board member for Denver Startup Week, the largest free entrepreneurial event in North America. Ben has an MBA from the University of Denver and a BS of Mechanical Engineering from the University of Notre Dame.

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