Tag Archives: dunbarton blue

Wisconsin Day Three: Bleu Mont Cheddar

After hanging out at Uplands Cheese I got back in the car and in less than an hour was at one of the most impressive human-made cheese caves I’ve ever been to. What an embarrassment of riches Wisconsin has! I said this at both my readings and it’s true: The Dunbarton Blue, Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Blue Mont Cheddar are not just good Wisconsin Cheeses, not just good American-made Cheeses, but stand up with any cheese in the world. And you can visit them all before lunch if you leave early enough in the day!

Willi Lehner makes a great traditional Cheddar even though he doesn’t even have a cheesemaking facility on premises. Heck, there’s plenty of places to make Cheddar in Wisconsin, but there’s only one cheese cave built into the hill of Blue Mounds, Wisconsin.

I just wish I had moved the shelf out of the way before I took the picture.

And check out the inside! It’s beautiful!

Longtime readers have seen me mock the use of “cave” (or “caaaaaaaav”) many times. It’s hard to resist when “cave-aged” often means “aged in a modern, strip-mall, temperature-controlled warehouse where the cheese may be cryovac’d anyways.” But caves — even ones built, not found, by cheese-agers — do have a lot of value. They prevent excess airflow, thus maintaining the environment of beneficial microbes that help the cheese develop flavor, and they control the temperature and humidity efficiently.

Willi just makes and ages amazing cheese. His Cheddar is grassy, bright, earthy, sharp, shardy, and milky sweet… one of my absolute favorites. There’s not a lot available – it’s hard to find even in Wisconsin – but if you see it, grab it.

Plus it’s the only cheese aging facility I’ve ever been to where Crocs are mandatory footwear.

Wisconsin Day Two: Gathering of the Cheddar Makers

I went to Wisconsin mostly to attend the gathering of cheddar makers hosted by Chris Roelli of Dunbarton Blue fame. I went partly because Chris invited me, partly because I’m doing research for my next book and partly because I am too much of a cheese geek to turn down the opportunity to hang out with an estimated 350 years of cheesemaking experience when I get the chance.

This event was actually a follow up to the visit of a bunch of Neal’s Yard folks last year. Someone floated the idea of setting up another gathering where a couple of different vats of cheese — one clothbound, traditional-style Cheddar and one 40-lb block-style Cheddar — would be made so everyone could taste the differences. Slightly different cultures and recipes were used, but the milk was the same. Hopefully, a year from now, I’ll get invited to the tasting event as well!

Here’s Chris Roelli working while a bunch of master cheesemakers give him a hard time:

Watching people make cheese is awesome. Making the cheese is hard work. Cheddar is especially hard work if one does it the way it is traditionally done in the US, cutting up the coagulated curds into slabs and piling them on top of each other to press out more whey in order to give the cheese the texture we expect. The cheese room is humid and there is a lot of lifting, cutting, and pushing that needs to be done from non-optimal ergonomic positions.

I was lounging off to the side with my camera. I had a week off from non-ergonomic lifting:

Slabs of curd, Cheddaring in their vat

The thing that struck me, being in a room with so much experience and mastery of craft, is how California (my home state) lacks this kind of generation-to-generation passed down, hands-on knowledge. With the passing of Ig Vella recently, this issue is even more acute. Ig was the resource to cheesemaking history in California for many, many people. In Wisconsin, being a third generation cheesemaker isn’t common, but it’s not like finding a raw milk Brie either. Widmer Cellars, Roelli Cheese, Carr Valley, and Hennings Cheese come to mind right away and a google search reveals many more who I’m less familiar with, their cheese not getting out West regularly.

Spending a day with cheese people, eating steak sandwiches, drinking New Glarus beer and talking cheese? A pretty great way to spend the day.

*Here’s the group shot that I stole from Jeanne Carpenter, a much better journalist than I. She wrote about the event as well so check it out. What I love about this picture is that it’s color coded. With the exception of Willi Lehner, everyone who makes cheese is wearing white and only the culture sales people, the distributors and the retails are wearing colors.RoelliCheddarDaygroupshot.small

Wisconsin Day One: From urban to rural

My first day in Wisconsin was all about transportation. I got a direct flight from SFO-Milwaukee — on what I later saw was a kinda scary airline — and my trip was fast and pleasant. I got my rental car in my after-flight daze and just said no to all the scare tactic extras (“If you don’t spend $24/day more for supplemental coverage we will leave you and your car in whatever ditch you drive into. In fact, if this situation arises we will hire a local farmer with a backhoe to bury you alive in the rental vehicle and then sue your estate for a new car. Would you like to add the supplemental insurance so we don’t have to do this?”) and was on my way.

In fact, very soon after landing I was driving out of Milwaukee, listening to their local punk station, and heading west to Schullsburg which is in the South West corner of the state, closer to Illinois and Iowa than Madison or Milwaukee.

I wasn’t just going there so I could experience Gravity Hill, that was an added benefit:

No, I was going to visit Chris Roelli who makes the Dunbarton Blue and attend a gathering of Cheddar makers for a day of cheesemaking, fellowship, and education. Driving through small town Wisconsin was a great way to acclimate to a few days of cheese talk.

Unfortunately, as I got to Darlington, where I was staying I realized my big city ways had not prepared me for small town life. It was 9:15, I hadn’t eaten and nothing was open. Well, nothing except for the gas station McDonalds, and it was about to close too. I had to think fast… cobble together a meal of Pringles, powder donuts, and cookies from the gas station mini mart, or get my first McDonalds meal in about 20 years.

I’m an American. I did what I had to do. This may be one of the only food blogs in the US where the author will admit in print that they ate fast food but there you go. Oddly, or perhaps not oddly at all, the Big Mac tasted exactly the same as the hundreds of Big Macs I had growing up. Everything just seemed a little smaller than I remembered.

The mini mart did carry New Glarus beer so I bought a 6-pack of Spotted Cow to pair with my Big Mac just to prove I really was a snobby urbanite. It was terroirific.