Tag Archives: wisconsin cheese

Saxon and Henning’s — just photos

I know I haven’t had a chance to update here much but I was kind of shocked when I saw my last update was from the ACS. That feels like a million years ago. I mean, geez, the holiday pre-orders are rolling into the store already.

So, I think I’m going to just photo dump on you all this week. Here are some cheese highlights of the last few months:

Let’s start with Saxon Creamery in Wisconsin:




Hennings in Wisconsin. We get our Cheddar curd from here:

They have an awesome cheese equipment museum too!

ACS 2013: Montchevré visit


I didn’t realize I was going on the unauthorized bus trip until I arrived at 7:30 in the morning and was told so. No, the ACS volunteers didn’t know where my bus was. No, they had no information. I couldn’t, for the moment, reach the rep who set me up on the trip because she was coming from Iowa which, it turns out, is very close to Wisconsin. Eventually a number of us who had signed on found each other and then the bus, tucked behind the bus for the beer and cheese tour.

I guess I should have realized it was unauthorized when I was told it was free.

I have never been to a goat cheese plant like Montchevré outside of France. It really is something. If you can appreciate factories, and I can, it is a brilliant model of organization, planning and efficiency.

You may think I am being sarcastic or damning with faint praise. I am not. Before one criticizes a cheese factory for being a factory, one should examine oneself. My first goat cheese, being a Californian of a certain time period, was hand-made and fresh, but I would imagine most people’s first goat cheese these days is likely Montchevré.* Even though my first punk album** was on a major label, it did not prevent me from searching out more obscure and, as the years went on, more artisan, bands. Think of Montchevré as a gateway cheese.

This is necessary because many people are scared of goat cheese. C’mon, we can admit it here. This is a safe space for real cheese talk. I still get people asking at the counter for “the mildest goat cheese you have.” Montchevré often fills that niche. Also, as one likes to say when one buys for a retail store, the price point is very good. Don’t be snobby. This country needs cheese factories as well as cheese artisans.

I will add also though that their Bucheron and goat blue are also very good cheeses. And when we replaced the Montchevré Bucheron for the one made in France we were just replacing one factory cheese for another. Because when I said I had not seen this scale of goat cheese production outside of France, I meant it. Many American cheese-fanciers would be shocked to see the scale of production of the companies that make their fancy not-quite-A.O.C. goat favorites. While French factories like Sevre et Belle still have some women ladling curds by hand for a few specific cheeses (because the phrase “hand-ladled” has a distinct meaning in France), French-owned Montchevré has created a similar model of efficiency. I was surprised to see that much of the Montchevré is actually packed by hand as well.

They even have the curd hammocks that Molly and I could not stop making fun of while on our tour of France. Curd Hammock or Kirk Hammett: You don’t have to choose. You can love both.

Montchevré does have the annoying policy, like Emmi USA, of not allowing pictures in their factories. Fear not, lawyers for Montchevré, that picture linked above is from France. Montchevré did allow us to take picture of the anerobic digester though. This little baby produces power for hundreds of neighboring homes. Mmmmm. Sludge.

We also got to visit a multi-generational farm that won the award for top farm in the Montchevré system. In fact, this is the farm where their goat cam is set up. What is not to love about goats and cute kids who love kids?

And check out the goat paparazzi:

They also served us cake. I love cake.

They also have the best HACCP-inspired head covering in the business. Everyone was required to wear these, beard or no beard. It makes a great Facebook icon too.

* Montchevré re-packs until many different labels and names, just fyi. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just that it may have been your first and you didn’t even know it.

**The Clash, The Clash, even though it was Americanized by the major label it is still one of the best albums ever made.

Cheese Spring Break

Greetings from Cheese Spring Break.* The conference starts today and I’m already exhausted.

Since I got here on Sunday I have tasted 200+ cheeses, visited two farms, seen one huge cheese factory and a matchingly huge anaerobic digester, eaten two orders of fried cheese curds, and talked to hundreds of other cheese professionals, some sober, some not.

It is exactly what CheeseCon in Wisconsin promised to be.

fried curds

Best new thing: they did not tell the judges who won the Best of Show. This means, cheesemakers, that if I am acting weird around you, I am just being socially awkward, not that you won the Grand Prize.

cheese spring break

P.S. cheese-identified individuals, remember I am doing a reading/tasting at Gloriosos Italian Market in Milwaukee on Sunday at noon. $35 includes book!

*Laurie loves to call it this, but I swear we do not throw necklaces of BabyBel at cows for showing us their udders.

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.

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

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.

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) 😉

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.

Widmer Brick

Got a new computer so I am organizing files. Look for some awesome pictures in the coming days because I am finding some misplaced and forgotten photos.

Here is Widmer Brick Cheese being bricked into shape. 2009

Wisconsin vs. California

My favorite thing about the Niners annihilation of Green Bay last weekend was an email from a certain Wisconsin cheesemaker who shall remain nameless. When former dairyman and Niners QB Colin Kaepernick threw an interception that Green Bay returned for a touchdown to go up 7-0 I received this: “Don’t feel too bad…there’s always next year for you guys.”

Since I was watching the game, I didn’t see this until the next morning after the dairy farmer-led Niners scored 45 points and Green Bay only scored one more touchdown that mattered. Arthur over at Wisconsin Foodie had also bet me over the result of the game. The loser would have to proclaim the other state’s cheese as the best on their facebook page. That poor guy had a lot of angry readers when he posted that California cheese is the best in the country. Not sure if there were death threats but it wouldn’t have surprised me.

I love our cheese and football rivalries. Especially when California wins.

Go Niners!

Wisconsin Day 4: I love Milwaukee

I love Milwaukee.

I have loved Milwaukee since I went to the ACS conference there. Sheana and I stayed in the Presidential Suite, put on a party, went to the Spy Bar, we saw the pre-scandal John Edwards, I got food poisoning from someone’s bad cheese the night before I had to be on a panel… Good times!

As much as I love Milwaukee, I was worried about my reading there. The only two people who I am good friends with in the whole town (besides the folks putting on the event) couldn’t come so I was resigned to it being Steve and Patty from Larry’s Market and whoever would be trapped in the store when I started reading. I was counting on the Midwestern Nice thing to obligate people to stay and watch me so as not to be rude. After all, Madison was good, but there was only one person there who wasn’t a friend, or friend-of-friend.

Instead, Milwaukee was one of the best book events I’ve done.

Good product placement or editorial comment?
garbage only

Steve and Patty did a great job of promotion and lots of local food writers came out for it. Lucy Saunders, Jeanette Hurt (and her lovely child), Pam Percy and Martin Hintz were there. I got a nice blog post from Thomas Geilfuss. Arthur Ircink from Wisconsin Foodie interviewed me about Wisconsin Cheese and taped my whole reading (Boy I hope those California cheesemakers don’t hear what I said about them!).

US Champion Cheesemaker Katie Hedrich was even spotted in the audience. Someone managed to get a grainy paparazzi-like photo of her and her brother Greg.
Katie and Greg Hedrich @Larry's

But the whole crowd was fun. They asked interesting questions and laughed at all the right places. Since I had pretty much decided this would be my last reading, I just read the funniest parts of the book. I figured they could read the more narcissistic and political bits in the privacy of their own homes.

I can’t think of a better way to end my year of self-promotion.