Monthly Archives: September 2009

Wisconsin Whirllwind 2: Edelweiss, Maple Leaf, and robots

I thought I would be bored at the slicing and shredding factory. This part of the tour was definitely organized for Lunardi’s, not us. As a one store operation, we aren’t big enough for private labels or custom blends. Still, I love factories so I was happy to go. Plus we were promised cheese robots!

First though, we got to meet more master cheesemakers. Jeff Wideman from Maple Leaf Cheese Cooperative and Bruce Workman from Edelweiss Creamery*. We carry the Maple Leaf smoked Gouda because it’s a natural cheese (unlike most smoked goudas) and I have always admired the Edelwiess Emmenthal, made in copper vats and in 180 lb. wheels like the real Swiss version.

However, the most exciting thing about the visit was the revelation that Workman had helped start the Edelweis Grazier Co-op, made up of five farmers doing rotational grazing for pasture-based milk. I had actually already ordered a cheese of theirs without knowing the whole back-story because it tasted so good! In the absence of regulation for “grass-fed” dairy** the Edelweiss Grazier Co-op members agree, by being members of the co-op, to such restrictions as 1.5 acres of pasture for every cow and to not milk at all in the winter, non-grazeable months, giving cows a much needed rest that lets them produce high quantities of milk and live , for much longer than the average dairy cow.

While grass-based dairy has obvious health benefits for the cheese-eaters, the farmers, and the farmed, the lack of any unified definition leaves is ripe for abuse in the future. Hopefully we are a few years away from Jack in the Box offering “grass-fed” *** cheese on their “local”,“artisan” ciabatta bread, but that is only as far away as the creation of a sizable market that desires “grass-fed” cheese. I hope the grass-based dairies all over the US can create some kind of agreed upon definition before this concept gets abused.

But you don’t want to hear that negativity… Look ! Robots!!!! (Unfortunately, I realized too late that you can’t rotate videos on flickr. Put your computer on its side!)

((Hmmmmm, I can’t seem to get this video to embed at all here actually, try looking for it here on my flickr It’s only 9 seconds long))

*OMG, I love the slogan “You know it’s real when it’s cut from the wheel!”
**”grass-fed” meat is regulated, just not dairy. Meat animals and dairy animals have some different needs.
***there wouldn’t be any fine print since there is no regulation, but perhaps if there were it would say, “Grass fed cheese comes from cow that get at least 1% of their daily feed through grazing (or silage).”

Wisconsin whirlwind cheese 1: Limburger

I have a hard time turning down free trips so when the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board offered to take to take me and another Rainbow worker to Wisconsin to tour some dairies, I said yes right away. Meeting with ten cheesemakers in three days… no problem.

I agreed before knowing who we were going with and it turned out we were add-ons to a tour already scheduled for a local chain of supermarkets: Lunardi’s. What a pleasure it was to travel with a down to earth group of people instead the snobs we could have been paired with! In fact, the first question more than one asked me was, “So, is Rainbow union?”* This wasn’t going to be an elitist who-cares-about-the-labor-conditions-if-we-get-fancy-food group. In fact the Lunardi’s folks were almost all 40-50 year old union women, one of my favorite subcultures.

The most absurd part of the trip was that the 12 of us got a whole 60-person bus to ourselves. Fancy! DSC00197

The first stop on our trip was the Chalet Cheese Co-op, the only maker of Limburger left in the United states.

They have a master cheesemaker** and a small old-school cheese factory set up: a rabbit warren of rooms and an unpretentious atmosphere. While they also make baby Swiss and a few other things, the Limburger is their well-deserved claim to fame. It’s no joke that Limburger is a strong smelly cheese, but only when aged long enough. We did a vertical tasting and only the oldest was the type of cheese that some people would fear.

Pre-smeared Limburger:

To make limburger, you take an otherwise innocent square of cheese curds and smear it with salt water and bacteria. This bacterial action makes the rind pink and sticky and the cheese pungent and, stinky.


Limburger is all about the bacteria, in fact they use the same wood boards to age the cheese they have been using for generations. The better to grow good cheese-loving bugs with!


This is the only Limburger plant around, but there are other similar cheeses available, I might as well put in a plug here for – in my opinion – the most underrated cheese in the country, Marin French Cheese Company’s Schloss. I would be hard-pressed to tell you the difference between Schloss and Limburger, they are both smear-ripened cheeses that are mild and uninteresting at a young age, then the most intense cheese around when aged to the “expiration date”.

When eating these cheeses, go native. Wait til you hit the “expiration date” then eat at least a half inch of stinky spreaded cheese on dark bread, with mustard, onions, and beer. Limburger deserves your full commitment.

*We are not union but rather a democratically-run cooperative. When I respond with that answer it’s usually met by union folks with an unsure “ok” then when we’ve built a little trust, we talk operational details.

**Wisconsin is the only state in the nation to require licenses for cheesemakers but also have a Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker certification program. After 10 years of making a particular type of cheese, a Wisconsin cheesemaker can take a series of biochemistry and food science programs and take a test. Very prestigious.

Wisconsin whirlwind

Since Monday I have flown thousands of miles, driven hundreds of miles, talked to ten cheesemakers, and visited four cheese plants, one farm, one manufacturing plant, and two worker co-ops. Today I am tired. I am also going to work soon so I don’t have time to write.

However, all next week expect entries about Wisconsin cheese. Whoo- and hoo!

rothkase cow

Wisconsin here I come!

Hey folks,

I will be on a whirlwind Wisconsin (cow milk) cheese tour so don’t expect any posts from me this week. Hopefully I’ll have good pictures and stories when I get back.

I will be back in town in time for the California Artisan Cheese Guild Benefit (held at the San Francisco Cheese School) on Friday night. If you want an evening of cheese eating, cheesemaker schmoozing, and/or something to do before the clubs open, this is well worth the $35. Reserve your spot through the Cheese School (and check out their other classes while your there!).

Wedge Fest in Portland!


Join us in Portland, Oregon on October 3, 2009 from 10am – 4pm in front of the Green Dragon Pub for a farmers market style street festival celebrating local cheese! Sample, buy cheese and meet the makers at the largest gathering of regional artisan cheesemakers in the Pacific Northwest.

While you’re there, watch cheesemaking demonstrations, try your hand at the build your own grilled cheese bar or go to an educational seminar (more about that below) and explore the possibiities of cheese friendly beverages and accompaniments. Kids are encouraged to attend and take our Cheese Challenge and win fabulous prizes!

For a complete list of cheesemakers that will be attending, click here.
Cheese Seminars

11am Beer and Cheese Pairing
Local experts will lead you through a series of parings of some of the region’s great microbrews and cheeses.

1pm Bring Local and Artisan to your Cheese Board
Cheesemongers demonstrate how easy it is to put together a cheese plate using local cheeses and delicious accompaniments.

3pm Spirits and Cheese Pairing
The next big thing – pairing cheese with local spirits. Local distillers and cocktail experts will lead the audience through this unique tasting experience.

Seminars are $10/each or $25 for the Dorkin’ Out Hard 3 seminar pass.
To register for seminars email:

The Wedge Festival will be held at 928 SE 9th Ave. between Belmont and Yamhill in Portland (Google map here) in front of the Green Dragon Pub.


Dairy Farmers of Oregon, Oregon Cheese Guild, Green Dragon Bistro & Pub,
Willamette Valley Cheese Co.


MEDIA: Amber Lindsey :: 503-221-2168 ::
EVENT INFO: Tami Parr ::


American Cheese Society: Favorite Cheese (Part 6- last entry)

You have to love a cheese company that makes it almost impossible to find out they make one of Canada’s best cheeses from their website. Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar is a cheese I actually first tried at last year’s Fancy Food Show. That was an odd experience because they didn’t have a booth. No, the cheesemaker was lugging around a 30-or-so lb. wheel and commandeering empty tables to give out samples when he found a potential buyer.

I like when people who try to sell me cheese actually feel comfortable lifting one, know what I mean?

Looks heavy, doesn’t it? DSC00137

Avonlea is an awesome cheese in a segment of the cheese world that is rapidly glutting. It’s a clothbound cheddar, different than typical supermarket cheddar because it is wrapped with lard-lubed cheesecloth and aged with hands-on care. Most cheddars in the supermarket (and certainly most cheddars we sell) are made in 40-640 lb blocks and aged in plastic, sitting in cold storage until someone buys them.

The standard bearers for traditional cheddars are the phenomenal English ones like Montgomery’s Cheddar or Keen’s Cheddar, both cheeses made with generations of tradition. New, non-English, versions keep popping up that are also amazing like the Cabot Clothbound (aged by Jasper Hill), The Fiscalini bandage-wrapped, and, at times, the Beecher’s Flagship Reserve. The clothbound cheddars have different flavors than the block cheddars. They may never get that bitter-sharpness one associates with extra sharp Vermont cheddar, but they have a lot more complexity. I tend to use most of my cheese adjectives for these cheeses: the great ones are grassy, milky, sharp, sweet, and earthy. These are some of the best cheeses in the world and, from what I’ve tasted so far, Avonlea is a great addition to this list.

American Cheese Society Favorite Cheeses (Part 5)

This one is cheating a little – since I knew about this cheese for the last few months — but I was extremely happy to see the Labne from Karoun Dairies (beware cheesy flash website!) take first place in the cultured milk product category. I love this tart, creamy, kefir cheese. My pantry – I just counted – has ten empty Karoun Labne containers in it as I write this. I have been going through more than one a week for most of the last few months!

Here it is:

I love it for breakfast with berries and our bulk, dark honey. For lack of a better description, it’s like a less rich and dense, more tart, cream cheese.

American Cheese Society Conference: Favorite cheeses (part 4)

Another great Pacific Northwest cheesemaker is Oregon’s River’s Edge Chevre. We’ve carried their Valsetz, Humbug Mountain, and Up in Smoke, but I’d never seen the Jupiter’s Moon until the Festival of Cheese

I mean, just look at this cheese!

This batch was a little firmer than I would like, but the cheese is still good enough to get mentioned here. It’s like a firm, domestic Cabri Ariègeois! (basically a goat milk version of the heavily washed Vacherin Mont D’or/ Winnimere/Forsterkase style). Big, complex, earthy flavor: richness, tang, grassiness, and a little smokiness. I can’t wait to try this again under better conditions.

American Cheese Society Conference: Favorite cheeses (part 3)

Hidden Springs Feta I have raved about Brenda’s Ocooch Mountain previously, but I hadn’t actually tried her feta. I don’t know why. She was even making it when I visited her farm last year. Let that be a lesson, even if the fancy and unique catch the eye first, there is a reason some styles of cheese are so popular.

While walking around the judging room I saw the sheep feta winner and thought, “you know, I’ve never had a good American sheep feta.” Oh man, this cheese – which I later found out was the Hidden Springs Feta – was everything you want in a feta: creamy, rich, tangy, and salty. I wanted it with bread! I wanted it in salad! I wanted more!

Here are some of her sheep (because they are cuter than a picture of white cubes in a plastic tub):

And here’s Brenda, the cheesemaker, last year at her farm:

yeah, I never did get time to write about that visit.

American Cheese Society Conference: Favorite cheeses (continued)

I am proud to call the Pure Luck Dairy folks friends. (I guess I have a weakness for Texas hippies since I am dating one…) They make some of the best goat cheese in the country. I just wished I lived close enough to buy it! I would recommend all of it, but I was reminded at this conference that their Hopelessly Blue is a stunning cheese.

I took an awful picture of it:

(I hope this is the worst cheese photo I ever post here. In my defense, I was only taking the photo so I could look up the cheese afterwards to see what it was. Next year I won’t slack so much on the photos.)

Hopelessly Blue is my favorite domestic goat blue. It’s got that goat tang, but a richness that other goat cheeses often don’t have. And they didn’t skimp on the Penicillium. Many blue cheeses seem to be ashamed of being blue, treating it like a flavoring or afterthought. In fact, I’d probably say this cheese is hopelessly devoted to blue* except that the way the cheese biz is going, someone has probably already copyrighted that phrase. If you are anywhere near Texas, find this cheese.