I am going back to work today, so I give you a pictorial of curds along the way at ACS. State law says you must eat curds with every meal in Wisconsin.
Tag Archives: wisconsin
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.
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.
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.
I was thinking about what I should write about this year’s American Cheese Society conference since I am leaving for Wisconsin in 6 days. But then I realized I wrote everything out last year!
I had almost forgotten about “Gordonzola’s humble suggestions for getting the most out of the cheese conference” but I just re-read it and it’s pretty good advice, all things considered. I mean, considering it’s coming from me. If you haven’t gone to the conference before, check it out!
Also, If you are around Milwaukee 8/4 at noon, I will be doing a cheese talk at Gloriosos Italian Market. Follow the link for info. It’s Milwaukee’s “cheese event of the season” they say.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m pretty much at the end of promoting my book via readings – one can only milk this kind of thing for so long – but I really had to do some Wisconsin events before calling it a day.* I mean c’mon, Wisconsin… those people love their cheese. It means a lot to me when Wisconsin like me book.
Because really, I’m a Californian. Being a California cheese person among Wisconsin cheese people is like being a Californian in Oregon. At any gathering, someone in the Wisconsin dairy crowd will mock the “happy” California cows, a Californian will bring up the fact that California leads the nation in milk production, and it can get all West Side Story. Can’t we all just get along?
One person who I always get along with is Jeanne Carpenter of Cheese Underground and a million other cheese projects. She’s one of my favorite cheese people. How could she not be when she referred to me as the “Barbara Mandrell of the cheese counter”?** When I arrived at Fromagination for my reading she gave me an autographed copy of the Wisconsin Cheesemaker calendar. At the Cheddar Maker roundtable I had complained that we had been trying to get everyone’s picture signed at Rainbow but because we actively use the calendar, it had already gotten trashed. That’s the kind of person she is!
Fromagination is right on the Capitol Square in Madison, the site of all the huge protests against the coming corporate fascism. I spent the day in Madison walking around and having an old friend show me around the battlegrounds. “That’s where we snuck into the Capitol Building through the window…”***
My reading was full of friends and friends of friends… worker-owners of Union Cab? Hello! … WMMB acquaintance? Good to see you! … Quince and Apple? Welcome! … Writer friend of my ex’s sister? Great to meet you! My old cheese friend Steven was there too, working the counter. That was really special since I got to find out he worked for a company whose cheese book I mocked during my reading. It’s a small cheese world.
(If this entry seems a little out of date since I’ve been back form Wisconsin for a few weeks now, let’s just say that between losing multiple unposted blog entries and installing a new operating system on my computer, I’ve got a backlog of stuff. Timely writing is overrated in my opinion anyway. 😉 )
Written while listening to Flamingo 50
*Just for the record, I’m not seeking out more book events – 40+ is a lot – but I’m still happy to hear offers. I’m deeply sad that I can’t do this year’s Southern Festival of Cheese, for example, so Nashville, I owe you one. And NYC, I wouldn’t turn you down either.
**If I have a tombstone someday, this is what I’d like to have on it, please.
***It goes far beyond this – in every state in the union – but the Recall elections are coming. Do the right thing, Wisconsin.
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.
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.
The amazing thing about Wisconsin Cheesemakers is that there are so many great ones close together. The morning after the Gathering of the Cheddar Makers, I headed a half hour down the road to visit Uplands Cheese. Uplands is famous for being the only company to win the American Cheese Society Competition Best of Show more than once for the same cheese. Pleasant Ridge reserve has won three times, most recently last year.
Long time cheesemaker/owner Mike Gingrich is in the process of turning over the operation to Andy Hatch but the cheese is as good as ever. Last year Uplands introduced their second cheese: the seasonal Rush Creek, a Vacherin Mont D’or-like, bark-wrapped, oozy bit of amazing.
Unrelated to cheesemaking, Andy used to live directly below the infinity room* at House on the Rock. No one seemed happy when I brought up the proximity of Uplands and HOTR. C’mon dudes, embrace your culture!** Even if they are unwilling to acknowledge the camp-terroir of their region, the Uplands folks make great cheese. The Pleasant Ridge is Alpine style, nutty and grassy, more like a well-aged Comte than a Gruyere. Like Comte, it’s dry-salted instead of brined and it’s one of this country’s best full-flavored big cheeses. Being a grass-based operation, Uplands does not make cheese year-round and they sell all the cheese they make so, while not rare, you won’t find it everywhere.
*The Infinity Room really is awesome.
**Though this lack of interest in the local art forms perhaps explains the crappy “monument” to Cheddar that I wrote about in the “Ruminations” section the current issue of Culture Magazine
This is so awesome it deserves a post of its own… Master Cheesemaker Bruce Workman and Roelli Cheese’s Chris Roelli feed cheddared slabs into the mill to make Cheddar curds. Whether a cheese is cheddared (pictures in the last post) and milled determines — to many people — whether a given cheese is a “real” Cheddar. Many makers these days use a “stirred-curd” method which is less labor intensive.
These folks are traditionalists here:
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!
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.
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.