This is the sixth in a series of pieces profiling Colorado-grown products...and what some local restaurants do with them. Is there an ingredient that makes Colorado chefs salivate quite so much as Munson Farms corn? They simmer it into chowders. They bake it into biscuits. They sprinkle kernels, raw, over fresh salads. Given the chance, they might very well bathe in the liquid left after the corn is cooked.
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This golden treasure is farmed on 120 acres near Boulder, by two generations of Munsons: Bob Munson, the gregarious patriarch, and his two sons. Munson, who's been farming the land for decades, has turned over daily operations to his children and relegated himself to working the farm on Saturdays with his wife, monitoring the blooming produce and greeting the customers who flock to the farm-stand in the morning.
A former Ball Aerospace engineer, Munson is delighted to have the farm pass into capable hands. "They have good engineering careers, both Mike and Chris, but I think both of them are looking forward to the day when they can just farm, and have the whole day to do it right," he says. Munson started selling corn at a young age, pulling his red wagon door to door in rural Illinois. That entrepreneurial spirit led him to buy the first plot of what would become Munson Farms. "We set up a little stand on the corner, and people would come and buy sweet corn because it was sweeter than what they could get at the supermarket... nobody really thought about buying local," he recalls. The locavore revolution of the past decade, spurred by consumers and chefs alike, brought the news of Munson's stellar corn to more and more eager foodies.
And while corn fields all over the country wither under an intense drought, Munson Farms corn flourishes, thanks to a miracle rainfall in this part of Boulder and good planning. "In the whole state, we're the only one that's got this beautiful corn crop," says Munson.
He picks an ear of Peaches & Cream from the pile resting outside his stand, peels back the husk, and invites you to take a bite. "Taste how good it is," he says, beaming. "It was just picked this morning, you can eat it raw."
My, it is good. Even cold and uncooked, the kernels are tender, fresh and almost impossibly sweet. No wonder chefs are beating down his door to get cases of his corn. "It's pretty nice, because you don't get many nos," he laughs.
"I think it's awesome," says Luca D'Italia executive chef Hunter Pritchett. He may be understating his fondness just a bit; Luca's board looks like the work of a man obsessed. "You could actually have six courses of corn dishes...I use three cases of their corn a week, which for a restaurant our size, is a lot," Pritchett admits.
He makes a corn risotto with sea urchin, topped with fried corn silks. For dessert? Corn gelato or, even more indulgent, corn budino -- Italian pudding -- with toasted marshmallow gelato and pancetta butterscotch. But you may not have much longer to try that made with sweet Munson corn, as the end of the season is approaching. "I'll be sad to see it go," says Pritchett, wistfully.
As one of Denver's first chefs to truly embrace local and seasonal ingredients, Teri Rippeto, owner of Potager, has been using Munson's corn for over a decade. "We've been buying our produce from the Boulder Farmer's market for fifteen years," Rippeto says, and Munson Farms has been there to provide the quality and quantity that she demands. The Munson family recently came down to Potager to toast the end of the season and sample the last fruits of the harvest.
In tasting what Rippeto does with Munson's sweet corn, you find out just how much it truly pops, announcing itself in the flavor of the dish. Rippeto respects the angelic perfection of the kernel, keeping it whole and, when possible, raw. "That's how you know it's fresh," she says. A golden brick of corn "pudding," pillowy but crispy on the top to withstand the drippings of a rack of BBQ ribs, is studded with these nuggets. Anyone who's grown up on a farm will understand the synergy of taste between fresh corn and grilled meat, and Potager readily taps into that nostalgia.
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And a new generation of fans is emerging. The Munson family has a farm intern, Kristen Kron, who's a corn convert. "It's pretty simple, you know?" Kron says. "You plant something, you work hard, and you get amazing produce. And Munson has the best."