Wisconsin vs. California


So, I did a class at the Cheese School that was a battle between Wisconsin and California. I figured it would be a fun class, because, hey, why not stoke the rivalry? I almost got a Wisconsin food blogger kicked out of his home state because (his idea!) we bet on the Niners/Packers playoff result. When my Niners won, he had to go put up “California Cheese is better than Wisconsin Cheese” on his facebook page. I felt so bad for him… he got hundreds of comments, many very nasty, and people were unfriending him in droves.

The Cheese School folks suggested a Super Bowl Cheese class but we had to cancel it when Baltimore got in from the AFC. There are some good Maryland cheeses, but none are available out here and it just didn’t excite people the way that a battle people the top milk and cheese producing states would.

No, Wisconsin vs. California is the real battle. Since they will never get to battle in the Super Bowl (Sorry Raiders fans), I decided that it would be fun just to have a battle at the Cheese School.

I didn’t hype the class at all because it sold out really fast. So, I was surprised when people started lobbying me about what cheeses should compete. I am known as a Californian, so it did NOT surprise me that the lobbying came from Wisconsin. Was I going to set up a California victory? Would I battle some cold pack cheese spread against Humboldt Fog? An Aaron Rodgers-shaped mild, waxed Cheddar against Fiscalini bandage-wrapped aged for 18 months?

From others I got dismayed reactions about having the cheeses fight against each other. Can’t we all just get along? My answer to that is that in a cheese case (or a buyers desk) these cheeses are in competition every day. This doesn’t mean we can’t cooperate and work together, but a customer, unless doing a horizontal tasting, does not want two traditional Cheddars, Two aged sheep cheeses, two blues etc and they are going to have to choose one. It’s my job, behind the counter, to help them figure out which one to choose, presenting them with tastes, stories and contexts. So really, this is a more real-life situation than my average cheese class.

I’m not the most prompt blogger, but I promised results to folks. I tried to pick categories that would be a fair fight. I conceded block Cheddar to Wisconsin. I claim ripened goat cheese for the Californians. Here’s what happened with the match-ups I chose.

Round 1:
Fiscalini Bandage-Wrapped 18 Month Cheddar vs. Bleu Mont Dairy Cheddar

I did my samples anonymously and switched the California/Wisconsin order around so people couldn’t stack the deck. I thought that there would be a lot of Wisconsin people there because the class sold out so quickly, but it was mostly because a law office was having a night out together. I was a little disappointed because I had planned a bunch of Wisconsin-baiting but there were only 3 Badger-Staters in attendance.

People loved both these cheeses. We were definitely starting out strong with two giants of the cheese world. The Fiscalini was the first non-English cheese to take home the award for Best Extra Mature Traditional Cheddar at the World Cheese Awards. Bleu Mont is an amazing traditional Cheddar from organic pastured cows aged in a cave made by cheese genius Willi Lehner. CheddarSharp or sweet.? Moist or shard-y? Who will win?

Me and Mariano from Fiscalini. At least Mariano looks good.
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I was shocked when I counted the hands. It was an absolute tie. It didn’t seem fair to go all Speaker-of-the-House and be the tie-breaker, so I let it stand.

California: 0, Wisconsin: 0, Ties: 1

Round 2
Bleating Heart Fat Bottom Girl vs. Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Co-op Dante

I love both of these cheeses, but let me start with the unexpected: This was the best piece of Dante I have ever tasted and we have carried this, on and off, since soon after they started making it. It was an incredible balance of sweet caramel, sharpness, and earthiness.

Here are some of the co-op members
IMG_2011

I love the Fat Bottom Girl a million different ways and think that it is one of the best versions of Basque-style cheese in the USA but its more subtle nuance, and grassiness could note compete with the hammer smash of this particular wheel of Dante. I don’t know how it would come out next time, but this time the winner was Dante.

California: 0, Wisconsin: 1, Ties: 1

Round 3
Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk vs. Crave Brothers Petit Freres

A washed-rind stink off. Who would win? Our local hero and past ACS Best of Show winner? Or the little, underrated washed rind from the family dairy with one of the biggest methane digesters in the US cheese business?

I like the Freres a lot, but Red Hawk may be unbeatable in this category. Red Hawk, I should note, just keeps getting better and better. It’s another cheese I have eaten pretty much since it was invented and every time I try it, it seems better than the last. I should note, that this was the only cheese of the evening that people could recognize.
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California: 1, Wisconsin: 1, Ties: 1

Round 4
Pt Reyes Farmstead Bay Blue vs. Roelli Dunbarton Blue

To decide it all two cheese that have little but blue in common. Bay Blue is the new Blue from Pt Reyes Farmstead which has been a huge hit since we started carrying it. Natural rind, richer than Original Blue and with more depth of flavor despite being pasteurized. The Dunbarton is basically a traditional Cheddar with Blue veining. Pretty original as cheeses go, and made by one of my favorite cheesemakers. This was the only category where some folks said that they might actually buy both for a cheese plate (eve if we cheesemongers know that only about .01% of customers would actually buy two blues at one time) ;)
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This one was close, and I thought we might have another tie on our hands, but when everyone was counted Dunarton Blue was victorius, bringing home the overall win for Wisconsin.

California: 1, Wisconsin: 2, Ties: 1

It was a close one. I hope to schedule a rematch soon with different cheeses. After all, I am a Californian.

*I do have an upcoming class at the Cheese School, if you are interested.

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13 responses to “Wisconsin vs. California

  1. Over the weekend (at our D&D game, actually) we got into a conversation about strong-scented, washed-rind cheeses and how Red Hawk has a distinctively, um, let’s say “yonic” smell. Appreciation of it may have mapped to sexual orientations around the table, but blind taste tests will be necessary. Wonder what two other cheeses should be the controls for that? (i.e., one also distinctively the other direction and one powerful but not having any automatic associations with anything covered by undergarments).

    • I was cooking with a 1 yr Swiss Gruyere one day and my old housemate walked in and said, “It smells like yeast infection in here!” The actual answer to your question is that it varies by ripeness and what a monger has in stock. let me know when you want to have your ‘tasting” and I will set you up!

  2. I love this idea, Gordon! Maybe there needs to be a rematch in states other than CA and WI. Get a couple cheese shops to participate using the same cheeses and see what the people think. Either way, these are wonderful cheeses. Thanks for sharing. ^Katie

    • That would be great. Availability would be the only issue. I do think that another crowd may have voted differently though. They also feed off each other. One person thought one cheese was too strong and it encouraged others to feel the same way. When someone is adamant, there is only so much an “instructor” can do.

  3. Love to send up some Southern cheese for a Southern v. CA. We could also pick one state, probably NC or GA at the point. But since we’re not as dense with makers, maybe you’d alloe for a region-off? :)

  4. Hey Gordon, interesting piece that shows the (sometimes) fine line between winners & runners-up. Similar format for goat cheeses from different regions could be interesting too. Your upcoming gig at the Cheese School sounds fascinating, for a behind the scenes look at ACS.
    Cheers~

  5. Interesting to see the Dunbarton win. Can you get the Mareke Gouda out there? I would love to see that set against something that is a CA Gouda style.

    • Yeah, we carry the Marieke. I kind of ceded that category to Wisconsin, honestly. She’s a tough one to beat. I actually think Dunbarton won partly because it is less blue and there is always a faction of blue-haters, even in a cheese class.

  6. What a great set of tastings! I need to sign up for Cheese School class updates – don’t want to miss your next competition class!

  7. Great fun- Love that you including Willi’s! I am headed to the ACS in Madison – first timer. Looking forward to it!

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