Sunday, June 09, 2013
Ted Thuli and his wife, Angie, are about ready to open the doors of Thuli Family Creamery on the site of the old Ann Street garage in downtown Darlington. The creamery on wheels - one of Darlington Dairy Supply's claims to fame - has been customized to use solar power and craft an array of innovative dairy products, including:
1. Swiss Style Yogurt -- milk will be non-homogenized with 2 percent and whole milk versions. Smooth and naturally sweet.
2. Cream-line milk -- in white plastic 1/2 gallons.
3. Gelato -- the real deal, using pasteruized egg yolks instead of chemical stabilizers for smooth and thick consistency.
4. Drinkable Yogurt -- with three ingredients: milk, fruit and stevia.
While Ted designed the equipment and developed the recipes, Angie will be the primary operator and day-to-day manager of Thuli Family Creamery. After 28 years in the banking industry, she's "retiring" to work at the bank two days a week and will spend another two or three days a week crafting dairy products to sell in the creamery's on-site small retail store. Sons Blake, 27 and Kyle, 25, are also involved, helping their parents build the creamery and get it up and running.
"Of course what I'd really like to do is make Swiss cheese," Ted says with a grin. Both his grandfather and father were Swiss cheesemakers, and Ted is a Wisconsin licensed cheesemaker himself. "But this is the way to go right now. We're going to fill a product niche and see what we can do."
Already, the family's dairy logo is drawing second looks and smiles. The whimsical cow wearing a bell with a Swiss flag represents the family's heritage. Angie says they'll have a future contest to name her.
Of course with Ted Thuli - featured in 2010 on the hit History Channel show, American Pickers, nothing is ever done in a routine manner. Visitors will notice a giant shark head greeting them as they approach the creamery - the same shark head that was used at the 1974 premiere party of the movie "Jaws". Its missing front tooth will be filled with foam cheese. The creamery boasts an attractive wooden viewing deck for visitors, and the Thulis imagine school children and groups will visit often.
The family creamery marks a dream come true for Ted, who has traveled the world working at Darlington Dairy Supply with his mother and two brothers. The company was founded by his father in 1958, and since then, Ted has built cheese plants in China, Ecuador, Caribbean Islands, Mexico and all over the United States.
"It's pretty neat to do this in my own hometown," Ted says. "I think it will be good for downtown Darlington, and it will be good for us. Win-win." Congrats to the Thulis!
Friday, May 31, 2013
Located at 501 Tasman Street in Madison, GetCulture Inc. is connected to the main Dairy Connection building. It's a cute little shop with lots of awesome stuff for cheese geeks. Dozens of small, hard-to-find plastic cheese forms line one wall, along with stainless steel pots and pans, cheese cloths, and a whole cooler full of microbial, vegetarian and veal rennet. A nice supply of cultures - including those for yogurt, kefir and most any kind of cheese, are also available in small, easy-to-use and experiment-friendly sizes. It's like the dream shopping experience for a hobby or beginning cheesemaker.
The grand opening is today and tomorrow, May 31 & June 1, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Lots of door prizes - including two tickets to the August 3 American Cheese Society Festival of Cheese in Madison - are up for grabs. You'll also get to meet store co-managers, Katie Potter and Valerie Tobias, both experts in cheesemaking supplies.
If you can't make it to the open house, no worries! GetCulture Inc also has a website at www.getculture.com, where they sell everything online. Lipase? Check. Coagulants and rennet? Check. Fermented cheese cultures? Check.
"We're excited and a little nervous to see how the new store does," Valerie says. "We're off the beaten path, but people have already been finding us, plus we have an online store, so customers should find everything they need."
The GetCulture Inc store is a long-planned offshoot of Madison's renowned Dairy Connection, launched in 1999 by Dave and Cathy Potter. For nearly 15 years, the business has supplied ingredients to some of America's best-known cheesemakers, specializing in serving artisan and specialty cheese companies.
In fact, more than two-thirds of all awards handed out to American cheesemakers at the 2011 American Cheese Society annual competition went to companies that count on Dairy Connection for their supplies. That's a pretty good track record!
Congratulations to everyone at Dairy Connection on your new venture. I know I'm happy to have a great place to recommend supplies for small and beginning cheesemakers.
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
That's because, in an attempt to gain the 2,000 hours of paid work experience I need to qualify for and then take the ACS Certified Cheese Professional Exam (the only exam of its kind offering professionals in the cheese industry the opportunity to earn the distinguished title of ACS Certified Cheese Professional), I've started working three days a week behind the cheese counter at Metcalfe's Market, a family-owned group of specialty grocery stores in southern Wisconsin.
The upside: I get to open, cut, wrap and talk about 500 different cheeses with hundreds of customers a day, giving me WAY more respect for every cheesemonger whose job I thought I knew. My co-workers think I've lost my mind when the overhead announcement stating a pallet of cheese has arrived results in me jumping up and down like a kid on Christmas morning with a pile of presents under the tree.
The downside: I may be reaching the upper age limit of being able to to stand, bend, reach, pull, push and heave wheels of cheese all day, so it's a good thing I'm doing this before I get any older. Let's just say that at the end of each shift, ibuprofen is my friend. Oh, and I've lost 30 pounds since I started. Booyah!
Back in January, I began a crash course with an amazing team of co-workers, learning the ropes on how to stock, face, cut and wrap cheese. Nearly five months later, I feel like I've hit my groove, and can adequately answer almost any question a customer throws at me. I also know where the secret stash of super cool demo baskets live, have braved both the boiler room to retrieve giant green trash bags, and survived the cavernous underground walk-in cooler in a successful search for lost boxes of fresh sheep's milk cheese.
What's really surprised me, however, is how much I enjoy the customers. Some of my favorites continue to be the ones who are never really sure what they're looking for. They know they like cheese. They know they once had a cheese they loved. They just can't remember the name of the cheese, or anything about it. Challenge accepted.
Once in awhile, we get lucky and a customer will just mix up a name - such as: "Do you carry Pleasant Valley Gruyere?" Then we guide them to the Wisconsin section and hand them a piece of Pleasant Ridge Reserve with a smile.
The hardest questions are the ones like this: "I'm looking for a cheese that I sampled here a couple of weeks ago. It was white. I remember it being salty." Then the guessing game begins. More often than not, we're actually able to discern what we think the customer tasted and they leave a happy camper. To date, I've never had a customer get angry with me. I've come to the conclusion that cheese just naturally makes people happy.
Working with cheese - actually handling it day in and day out - is a much different beast than writing or talking about it, which I've done for most of the past 10 years. Thank you to the crew at Metcalfe's for putting up with me, and I look forward to the next two years (or more!) together. Who knows, I may never leave. :)
Monday, April 29, 2013
While Anne would never dream of taking credit for starting the Midwest's love affair with chevre, all credit surely does go to her and partner Judy Borree for introducing Wisconsinites to fine French-style goat cheese. The pair started milking goats at their Fantome Farm near Ridgeway in 1982, after Topham took a break from studying for her doctorate in education policy studies at UW-Madison.
At the time, no one else in the region was making goat cheese. So, like any good academic, she went to the library. She read cheesemaking books in French, took the University of Wisconsin cheese technology course, and visited pioneering California cheesemaker Laura Chenel. Then she and Judy started experimenting. A pet pig ate their first mistakes. Later, better cheeses went to the Dane County Farmer's Market, where the pair had to literally give it away in order to get customers to try it, because no one in Wisconsin had ever heard of goat cheese, much less eaten it.
“We cajoled people into trying our cheese at the market. We thought if they tried it, they would buy it, and we were right,” Topham said. She soon began to learn as much from her customers as she had from her books and expert advice.
“Sometimes, a customer might say last week’s batch was too salty so I would measure more carefully the next week. Others would tell us we were making a cheese that you could only find in the mountain farms in Puerto Rico, or that it was similar to the fresh cheese made by the nomadic people in Afghanistan. And here I thought I was only making a gourmet French-style goat cheese!” Topham laughed.
Although many would agree Topham has long since perfected the art of making cheese, she never stopped learning new techniques. She traveled to France in 2003 to study affinage – the art of ripening cheese, went to Italy in 2007 to study the making of Parmigiano Reggiano, and volunteered time in 2010 teaching cheesemakers in Ecuador how to add value to their dairy farms.
Along the way, she learned just as much as she taught, and after every trip, “It made me come back and want to tear up everything I had and start over,” she says. Her 2003 trip to France to study affinage was one of the first study trips by a Wisconsin cheesemaker on the subject.
“Seeing the mechanical caves in France definitely changed my advice to starting farmstead cheese owners," she said. "Building and planning for such spaces and learning ways to perfect ripened cheese really helped take farmstead and artisanal cheesemaking to the next level here in Wisconsin."
Thirty years after having to give away fresh chevre to customers in order for them to try it, it's a bit ironic that Cook's Illustrated dedicated an entire section to "The Best Fresh Goat Cheese" in its May/June 2013 issue. Editors compared nine different chevres from the United States and France, recommending Laura Chenel's Fresh Chevre Log as its overall winner. While Anne's cheese wasn't involved in the study (she makes only enough cheese to sell at the market each week), it's likely Fantome Farm chevre would have placed high on the list.
At age 73, Anne says she doesn't plan to stop milking a few goats or making a little cheese. She's just not going to make it for sale anymore. The next chapter in her life might include some consulting for beginning cheesemakers, something she's done quite often along the way, most of the time for free. With 30 years of cheesemaking knowledge, she's still got a lot to offer. Look for her walking - not working - the farmer's market on Saturdays, still talking and sharing stories with former customers.