Tag Archives: amnerican cheese

Wisconsin Whirlwind addendum

I just got sent this one last picture from Wisconsin. Here’s me smearing salt water and bacteria into a Rothkase “Gruyere”:

smearing gruyere

Totally fun! (when one doesn’t have to do it for 8 hours a day)

Wisconsin Whirlwind 5: Widmer’s Cheese Cellars

The last cheese factory on our trip was the smallest and most old-school: Widmer’s Cheese Cellars in Theresa, Wisconsin. Joe Widmer is a third generation cheesemaker, another Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker and is still operating out of the factory his grandfather bought 80 years ago. The family has finally moved out of the house above the factory, but that’s about all that has changed.

Here’s the “factory” with my trip mates in the foreground for scale

I had visited once before (on a road trip in 2005 and I actually can’t believe I didn’t write about it). Joe Widmer is one of my favorite cheese people: funny, friendly, and non-pretentious. Just look at him standing over the Brick Cheese brine tank!

What is Brick Cheese anyway? Why is it called Brick? If you are not from the Midwest you shouldn’t feel guilty about not knowing. Like real Colby, and fresh curds, it’s kind of a regional cheese. It’s another washed rind cheese, very stinky and strong if allowed to ripen to its full potential. Widmer actually makes two versions. They start the same, but one is annattoed up to differentiate it. That (orange) one is plastic wrapped and meant to stay milk. The uncolored one is aged longer and paper-wrapped. It’s as stinky as you want it to be.

Why Brick? Well, it’s because real bricks were/are used to weight the cheese and push out excess moisture. Here’s a third generation brick!

Here’s the process! (Germ-worriers please note: the brick lie on top of stainless steel forms.)

Plus the cheese – in a whole block – resembles a brick too. Here it is aging. Please note slimy bacteria on shelves. That’s what makes it great.

I don’t know why I started talking Brick cheese so early in this entry since we sell a whole lot more of his cheddar. Joe Widmer is one of the best block cheddar-makers in the country, managing to make very sharp cheddars that remain moist and creamy. Not brittle like Vermont cheddars, with (I hate to say this as a Californian) more flavor than any California blocks I’ve had. Some are scared of the orange annatto coloring to which I say, this is a Wisconsin tradition. Respect diversity!

Here it is being made:

And here is my favorite picture of the trip. Still life of bricks for Brick cheese at rest. Timeless, eh?DSC00252

American Cheese Society Conference: my favorite new cheeses

Finally, finally finally, Dear Readers, I have gotten around to mentioning my favorite new (to me) cheeses from the ACS conference. Blame my bad teeth. After a couple of crowns and a root canal, all I want to do is watch crappy TV instead of write anything. When I finally did get around to this, it longer than I intended so I will dole them out one at a time this week. In no particular order, here we go:

1. Prairie Breeze The not-so-nice side of me was almost upset that Prairie Breeze won best in its category and much acclaim. I had already tasted it and ordered 800 lbs planning to be first on my block and all that… Seriously though, I am happy for the father and son cheesemakers who I got to meet briefly at the conference. Basically it’s a big, sweet, sharp cheddar – that new cheddar flavor profile that everyone seems to love. I love it too. Every piece comes with a sticker that reads, “Made with milk from small family farms” — local Amish farm milk that you know is rBGH-free.

Oh look, here it is: