House-made, house-cured, hand-churned, hand-dipped—we’ve heard it all before. We’ve probably tasted most of it. And despite the more-than-occasional sensation that we’re trapped in a Portlandia episode, we have to admit that (A) this kind of approach to food continues to enthrall us, and (B) we have no problem asking, without a shred of self-consciousness, “Is it local?”
The other question on our minds of late is how these age-old techniques are affecting modern cooking. We live in an age of click-of-a-mouse convenience, which makes endeavors such as hand-milling flour, aging and drying meat, paddling milk for cheese, and brewing beer with hot stones seem particularly curious. Is this obsession with our food-prep past a regression of sorts, a yearning for a time when we relied less on technology than on a mix of wits and manual labor? Is older necessarily better? (Answer: not always.) How does this era of old-fashioned cooking fit in with Chicago’s past 178 years of newfangled “innovation”? (In many ways it doesn’t, as you’ll see.) Can old-school methods be used to invent something new? (They can, particularly when it comes to fried dough.) And is the end result worth all the effort?
“It’s like peppercorns that are preground that you buy at the supermarket versus peppercorns that you buy whole and then toast and grind at home,” says chef Jared Van Camp, whose in-house charcuterie and flour-milling efforts at Old Town Social and Nellcôte, respectively, inspired and informed two of the subjects featured in this issue. “You can taste the difference.” —Mara Shalhoup
How can the Millers follow up on Bang Bang Pie? By making their own flour
Baker Miller revives the lost art of milling.
By Aimee Levitt
Four of our favorite spots for old-fashioned baking
Meet Billy Pork, the father of Chicago’s charcuterie revolution
A 77-year-old former sausage maker is behind all that salumi you’re eating in restaurants.
By Mike Sula
Three of our favorite spots for in-house charcuterie
Taking matters—and cheese and cured meat—into your own hands
When the Sofitel’s Café des Architectes had to undergo intensive certification, chef Greg Biggers decided to have some fun with it—and launch in-house charcuterie and cheese-making programs.
By Michael Gebert
Four of our favorite spots for house-made preserves
What can the wonut (and cronut and doughssant) teach us about history?
How the modern phenomenon of the pastry mashup takes its cues from the pre-industrial past
By Leor Galil
Three spots for doughnut lovers
How a pair of 19th-century cookbooks led to the rediscovery of a best-forgotten recipe
Tracing early-America culinary history through pork cake
By Julia Thiel
Chicago breweries are reviving long-forgotten beers
Four locally brewed beers from a bygone era
By Julia Thiel and Philip Montoro
Four spots for sampling age-old beer styles
Thirty of Chicago’s most important moments in food
Nearly two centuries of Chicago’s culinary milestones, from its first lunch counter to its first Olive Garden
By Aimee Levitt