“Farm to Fork” is more than just a trendy catchphrase. It’s a food philosophy that embodies how we feel about ingredients and supporting local, sustainable food production at Dante.
Dante Owner and Executive Chef Nick Strawhecker has been supporting and partnering with local farmers, ranchers and artisans around the Midwest since the restaurant opened in 2010. Chef Strawhecker knows the importance of bringing fresh, sustainable ingredients to the culinary experience at Dante – everything from the fresh, local, seasonal vegetables to the very cheese on the pizza. It is food we are confident and excited about and hope you are too.
“Knowing where our food comes from matters more to me
than anything else in our restaurant.”
-Dante Chef Nick Strawhecker
A CHEESE STORY
Dante Chef Nick Strawhecker wanted to create an exclusive, behind-the-scenes story with local producers to highlight the people who provide the dairy products used in the restaurant and featured on its pizza. Partnering with Omaha production company, Motion Parlour to document the process, the local producers and Chef had a candid chat about the authenticity of the agricultural and economic impact of buying local and the incredible partnership farmers have with Omaha restaurants.
As the sun rises at dawn to illuminate the gently rolling landscape of nearby Raymond, Nebraska, the cows are heading to “work” at Branched Oak Farm to produce the dairy products we use at Dante. The herd looks happy and healthy as they go quite willingly from pasture to barn led by Dairy Manager, Ben Gotschall of Davey Road Ranch. While you might not expect state-of-the-art milking equipment in this quiet town nestled between Omaha and Lincoln, that’s exactly what you’ll find here along with 100% grass fed jersey cows producing certified organic milk. As he goes about his morning milking routine, Gotschall explains why the cows appear so content. It’s simple. They are pampered.
“We try to make their lives as stress-free as possible because it produces a higher quality product. They are able to produce a rich high-solids milk that is great for cheese making with extra butterfat and proteins,” he said. A big part of that stress-free life is a diet of natural grasses in the pastures around the farm. Utilizing intensive rotational grazing (MIRG), the cows are allowed to graze in various sections which lets the grass rest and rejuvenate naturally as they are moved from pasture to pasture. This allows the cows to consume the best fresh grass without the need for artificial fertilizers or other products to speed up the grass regrowth process.
What started out as a part-time dairy farm, became a prospering full-time business when Branched Oak Farm Founder, Krista Dittman received a call from Chef Strawhecker around 7 years ago asking if she would be willing to make cheese for a new restaurant he was opening. She said yes. “I think evolution is a good word to describe what has happened here on the farm,” said Dittman. “I’m not sure it was all planned, that phone call from Nick was really key in the development of our new business strategy.” Not only did that strategy include providing fresh, local milk and handmade organic mozzarella for Dante, it also included the certified organic designation, a process that took 3 years to complete. “It is just better for the land, air, animals and us,” Dittman said. “We care about delivering products that are not just delicious, but wholesome too.”
Naturally, when you think of a dairy farm, you think of all the delicious things that come out of it…particularly cheese. While we love the cows and their milk, the cheese is what most people remember when they see and taste it in their meals at Dante. “It all starts with the quality of the milk,” said Katie Justman, Owner and Cheesemaker at Branched Oak Farm. “You take something so perishable…raw milk and just by adding heat, salt, and bacteria it turns into something that can sit in a cave for years that just gets better and better with time.” Such is the approach to cheese making at Branched Oak Farm. By using the highest quality, fresh, organic milk, the cheese produced there is superior to the mass produced kind that you’ll find in most grocery stores. “Sometimes I open a bucket of cheese (from Branched Oak Farm) and it smells like the grass on the farm- I mean that in a good way- it smells like the earth,” said Chef Strawhecker. He noted that the scent and flavors of the cheese change seasonally based on the diet of the jersey cows which is a perfect compliment to the ever-changing hyper-seasonal menu at Dante.
With the Farm-to-Fork emphasis on ingredients that is central to Chef Strawhecker’s food philosophy at Dante, locating those ingredients has become much easier thanks in part to services like Lone Tree Foods. “There was a need for a business to come in and help connect the farmers to the buyers in a straightforward and consistent way,” said Sales Manager, Erin Schoenberg of Lone Tree Foods. “We eliminate the need for local farmers and producers to identify buyers on their own by aggregating products for distribution to a number of local restaurants, groceries and other venues.” Having access to such fresh, local ingredients is one of the characteristics that makes the food at Dante so unique and by supporting local farmers, growers and artisans, it helps contribute to a sustainable cycle of food production and responsible agricultural practices in the Omaha metro.
Perhaps the words of Chef Strawhecker sum it up best… “I don’t ever want to compromise on quality or on community. That’s why knowing where our food comes from is so important to me and why I’m a huge supporter of local farmers and producers. It’s simply a win-win situation for everyone.”