An hour east of Minneapolis in the scenic town of Star Prairie, Wisconsin, sits a gem of history and a haven for delicious cold-water trout. Located on the bank of the Apple River, Star Prairie Trout Farm is a 150-year-old fish farming operation, raising rainbow trout in natural spring water.
Visiting in winter, it is impressive to see fish swimming in clear ponds that stay 48 degrees year-round. Cold water is the natural habitat for rainbow trout, allowing them to grow at a slower rate, which results in dense, flavorful meat. It also eliminates the need for additives.
“We don’t add any hormones, antibiotics or pesticides of any sort. We believe in raising them in an environment as close to their own as possible,” farm operations manager Nate Wendt said.
Looking at the beautiful view of the river — scenic conifer and birch trees and white snow all around — it’s hard to remember that Star Prairie Trout is a working farm.
A true Wisconsin outdoorsman, Wendt, along with his staff, do everything from controlling stock populations to managing a healthy diet of natural insects and high-quality feed to filleting and smoking the fish on-site at the farm.
Throughout the year, Wendt and his team move fish from the on-site hatchery to the waiting ponds where they grow and move up the maze of shaded, clear-water ponds to the large fish area. Trout that survive the hungry eagle population, which are native to the area, are harvested for some of the best markets, co-ops and restaurants in the area. Every Star Prairie trout is smoked the day it’s caught in the farm’s on-site smoking facility.
Whether you need an indulgent dip for your veggie tray, a new appetizer (bacon-wrapped trout, anyone?) or an elegant salad like the one below, local smoked trout is perfect for your holiday menu. Star Prairie Trout Farm will be at the Mill City Farmers Market’s winter market inside the Mill City Museum (704 S. 2nd St.) from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 14, and the first Saturday of every month between January and April. Wendt offers fresh trout as well as several varieties of smoked trout, including garlic peppercorn, dill, brown sugar and, of course, original.
Learn more at millcityfarmersmarket.org.
— Jenny Heck
Smoked trout, apple and fennel salad with cider vinaigrette
From the Mill City Farmers Market
Smoked Star Prairie Trout, crisp local apples and horseradish-nipped cream
make a pretty appetizer, a side dish for holiday meals or a light salad lunch.
For the salad
- 2 small smoked trout (about 1 pound) from Star Prairie Trout Farm
- 1 head fennel
- 1 tart, crisp apple, cored and diced
- 4 cups mixed dark greens (salad mix, spinach or chopped kale)
- For the cider vinaigrette
- 2 tablespoons maple vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons apple cider
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 3 tablespoons hazelnut or vegetable oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Remove the skin from the trout and pick the flesh off the bones. Toss with the fennel and apple. Arrange on a bed of greens.
In a small bowl or jar with lid, shake or whisk together the ingredients for the vinaigrette. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if desired. Drizzle over the composed salad. Pass any additional dressing while serving.