A lot of people I know joke about “fresh country air” as they pass Wisconsin farms and the scent of manure cuts through the air. But there actually is fresh country air, especially if you live near mint farms.
Usually in spring and early summer I can drive down I-90 or county roads and let the minty air waft through my windows. Ah…
And there should be a lot of ah’s in Wisconsin, as the state ranks 5th in mint production, according to the Wisconsin Mint Board, Inc. (WMB). Mint is grown in eight states and supplies 70% of the world’s mint supply. According to the WMB, 80-85% of the acreage is devoted to growing peppermint, and the rest to spearmint.
When you spot acres and acres of mint, however, you’re seeing crops for mint oil. One of WMB’s better factoids is: one drum (about 400 lbs.) of mint oil can flavor more than 5 million sticks of chewing gum or 400,000 tubes of toothpaste. Now that’s minty!
Mint started as a major Wisconsin crop in 1943 to meet war-time demands, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society. And, it’s no exception to the usual farming struggles, as mint farms face a host of “enemies” in the forms of weeds and pests.
But mint farming is different in the fact that this perennial plant produces no seed. Every year new fields are planted with root stock from existing plants.
Smaller farms grow mint that is sold for consumer planting and cooking. Savor Wisconsin lists the producers you can see for your cooking or mini mint farm use.
Harvesting mint usually takes place in mid-June to late September. So you’ll hear about mint again on Wisconsin Bites, as I’ll be talking to (and taking pictures of) neighbor mint farms about the harvest and oil processing.
In the meantime, here’s an appetizer recipe that shouts spring with that asparagus we talked about and mint!
Asparagus Appetizers with Mint Dressing
Adapted From: Gourmet Magazine
Time: 15-20 minutes
1 lb. asparagus
2 oz. goat cheese
2 oz. prosciutto
1 cup mint, loosely packed
1 garlic clove, medium sized
4 Tblsp. olive oil
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Boil water for asparagus.
While water is boiling, blend mint, garlic, broth, oil, lemon juice in a food processor. Add salt and pepper to taste.
When water is boiling, blanch asparagus for one minute.
Then submerge cooked asparagus into ice water for another minute to stop cooking.
Pat asparagus dry with paper towels and cut the top 2-3 inches (from tips) off to use (rest can be used for dinner or something else).
Bundle 3 spears together and spread goat cheese on them.
Then wrap a half slice of prosciutto around cheese and asparagus. The cheese and prosciutto cement nicely.
Arrange bundles on tray, then pour dressing over them — remembering to leave room for hands to easily grab a bundle without getting saucy!
Use mint sprig to garnish tray or plate and enjoy!