Sunday, May 22, 2016

New Cheese Geek Classes Announced

After teaching a small group cheese class last week, I discovered how much I enjoy sitting down with a few folks, cutting into some wheels of cheese, and taking a deep dive into a topic. So voila - a new series of what I'm calling "Cheese Geek Classes" have been born. Each class is limited to just eight people. We'll sit around a table, eat some cheese, study a topic in-depth and probably drink a beer or two. I hope you'll join me!

Here we go:

July 21 - Cheese Geek Class - The Art and Science of Aging Cheese
6:30 - 8:00 p.m. Firefly Coffeehouse, 114 N Main St, Oregon, WI

Join Jeanne Carpenter, American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional for a small-group study on the art and science of aging cheese. We'll explore four different types of cheese rinds and taste four of the very best artisan cheeses made in America today. Learn why cheesemakers add ash to surface ripened cheeses, why natural rinds are particularly tricky, and learn the difference between a cheese washed in beer and a cheese washed in whiskey. Tickets: $28 and seats must be reserved in advance. Limited to just 8 attendees. Includes glass of wine, beer or beverage of choice. Register at www.cheesetickets.com


August 23 - Cheese Geek Class - Learning the Lexicon of Cheese Flavors
6:30 - 8:00 p.m. Firefly Coffeehouse, 114 N Main St, Oregon, WI

Join Jeanne Carpenter for a small-group study on how best to describe the many flavors you taste in cheese. After this class you'll stop calling cheddar "sharp" (as Pat Polowsky, Wisconsin author of Cheese Science Toolkit would say: "A knife is sharp. Cheese is not.") We'll taste four unique American artisan cheeses and learn how to describe them using cheese descriptors such as brothy, roasted or herbal. Afterward, you'll be able to impress your wine snob friends with your new cheese lexicon. Tickets: $28 and seats must be reserved in advance. Limited to just 8 attendees. Includes glass of wine, beer or beverage of choice. Register at www.cheesetickets.com


September 29 - Cheese Geek Class - Understanding Crystals in Cheese

6:30 - 8:00 p.m. Firefly Coffeehouse, 114 N Main St, Oregon, WI

Join Jeanne Carpenter for a small-group study on how and why cheese crystals - those little flavor bursty bits from heaven - form in cheese. We'll study two types of crystals: calcium lactate and tryosine, learn why each forms in different types of cheese, and how cheesemakers encourage their growth. Plus, of course, we'll taste four different cheeses, with - you guessed it - crystal features. Is your mouth watering yet? Tickets: $28 and seats must be reserved in advance. Limited to just 8 attendees. Includes glass of wine, beer or beverage of choice. Register at www.cheesetickets.com

Monday, May 09, 2016

Beauty and Brains: Red Barn Cupola Wins Design Award

It's not often a cheese gets national recognition for its package design. But that's exactly what happened recently with Red Barn Cupola, a Wisconsin artisan cheese. Boasting both beauty and brains, Cupola is a 2016 American Package Design award winner along with brands like 3M, Target and Whole Foods. Pretty cool, huh?

This year's American Package Design Competition received 2,000 entries worldwide, placing Red Barn's winning entry among the best-designed and most innovative packaging in the food and beverage industry.

In case you're not familiar with Red Barn Family Farms, let me fill you in. The company was founded by Dr. Terry and wife Paula Homan in 2008. It consists of five farms in the Black Creek area, each selected for their ability to meet the “Red Barn Rules.” These rules revolve around rigorous quality, animal health, and operational requirements, linking excellence in what we used to call animal husbandry (but what today folks refer to as humane treatment of cows), to excellence in food quality.

Red Barn farmers are compensated with a pay rate for milk above and beyond the commodity market. This rate helps sustains their lifestyle of small, traditional dairy farming. Each farm must be family-owned and family members must perform the majority of the farm labor. Average herd size is 55 cows. Just like when I was a kid, cows are known and cared for by name and live longer lives than today's industry standard. Each farm is annually inspected and certified by the American Humane Association.

Milk from Red Barn farms is bottled and sold as fluid milk, or crafted into award-winning cheese at one of three Wisconsin creameries - Springside Cheese in Oconto Falls; Willow Creek Creamery in Berlin, and LaClare Farms in Pipe. Cupola is crafted at LaClare by U.S. Champion cheesemaker Katie Fuhrmann. The cheese is fruity and nutty with hints of caramel and toasted pineapple. In other words, it's amazing.

Cupola was named after the small structure at the top - or pinnacle - of traditional Wisconsin barns. A pinnacle cheese for Red Barn, Cupola is an American original that combines top-quality milk, a world-class cheesemaker, and a recipe perfected with the help of the Center for Dairy Research at UW-Madison over a three-year time period.

"Red Barn's mission is to honor and sustain excellent small family farms in Wisconsin," says company president Paula Homan. "We worked closely with Scott Mueller of Design Incites to create packaging that would communicate the tradition of excellence that our farms represent and the quality of the products they produce."

Congrats, Red Barn Family Farms, for dedicating your lives to rewarding dairy farmers for producing quality milk that's made into stellar cheese.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

For the Love of Grilled Cheese

Brooklyn Dairy Queen Kajal Russell, one of 13 Green
County Dairy Queens, is one of the most awesome
young women you'll ever meet. Plus, she likes cheese.
You go, girl!
What makes thousands of people gather in a park pavilion on a chilly April day in Wisconsin? Cheese, of course. And in this case, hot cheese. Grilled cheese, to be exact. Every year, the Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship comes to Dodgeville with the noble mission of determining who makes the best grilled cheese in America.

Contestants this year came from all over the country, including one guy from California who wore a Wisconsin flag as a superhero cape and brought a van of groupies and a bin of trophies from previous grilled cheese contest wins. He lined up his hardware in front of his frying pan to intimidate the competition, and indeed did win over more groupies amid cheers of "rattlesnake sausage" (yeah, I don't know what that means, either), but it was one of our own who took Best in Show for the second year in row. So, suck it, Mr. California (and I mean that in the nicest Midwestern way possible).

Best in Show went to Beth Crave, representing Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese in Waterloo, Wisconsin. Beth used a variety of cheeses from different Wisconsin companies in her innovative and tasty grilled cheeses. She entered all four different categories: classic, classic plus one, classic plus extras and dessert. I was lucky enough to be one of the judges for the professional competition this year, and I can tell you her sandwiches were the only ones that routinely earned perfect or near-perfect scores. They were also the only sandwiches that I wrapped up in a napkin to eat the rest later. It's official: this gal knows her grilled cheese.

In fact, my favorite grilled cheese of the whole day (and it was a six-hour day of judging) was Beth's "Sunrise Surprise," featuring Madison Sourdough bread layered with a blend of Saxon Creamery Snowfields and Emmi Roth Butterkase, piled high with smoked turkey, candied bacon, silvered avocado and farm fresh hard boiled eggs. It was grilled to perfection using Nordic Creamery Cultured Butter with Sea Salt. Oh yeah, baby.

Here's a picture of the sandwich (my apologies for the bite out of it - this is what judging looks like):



And here's a picture of the whole sandwich. Each sandwich was judged on presentation, taste and style, with a perfect score = 40. Guess how many points I gave this sandwich? You guessed it: 40.


Every year, event coordinator Matt Staver and his amazing team of volunteers improve the event to draw a bigger crowd of both contestants and attendees. This year, there had to be at least 1,000 people in the crowd, and every heat for the amateur categories was close to full. The event was founded five years ago by the late Lorin Toepper, a culinary instructor at Madison College and president of the Iowa County Area Economic Development Corp. Today, many of the volunteer judges for the professional division come from Madison College's culinary arts program.

One of the best moments of the day was when a sweet lady named Shirley Ritter won the amateur Classic Plus Extras category. Emcee extraordinaire Kyle Cherek (of Wisconsin Foodie fame) had been paging Shirley to no avail. Suddenly, Shirley appeared from the crowd, and when Kyle handed her the first place trophy, she nearly had a stroke and burst into tears. Because that's what winning a grilled cheese contest can do, folks: move you to tears.

Shirley Ritter accepts the first place trophy from Emcee Kyle Cherek and Molly
Hendrickson, Iowa County Fairest of the Fair.

Keeping the event on a steady beat were the fabulous musicians from Point Five, a Mineral Point band featuring Cheesemaker Andy Hatch on mandolin. Their Americana music was a perfect fit for an event celebrating an iconic American food.

Point Five band from Mineral Point. And yes, that's Cheesemaker Andy Hatch
from Uplands Cheese smiling at me while playing the mandolin.

For all of her efforts on Saturday, Best in Show winner Beth Crave won a super cool hand-made wooden chest that was actually a beer cooler with built in speakers. Fellow judge and Master Cheesemaker Chris Roelli told me he thought it would look great in his garage, but I have a feeling Beth is keeping it.


Here's a full list of winners from the 2016 Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship. Congratulations to all!

Amateur Classic (any type of bread,  real Wisconsin butter, and only one kind of real Wisconsin cheese. No additional ingredients)

First Place: Ann Thompson, Dodgeville, WI
Second Place: William Koepcke, Verona, WI
Third Place: Matthew LaForest, Los Angeles, CA

Amateur Classic Plus One (a savory - as opposed to sweet - sandwich with any type of bread, a grilling aid that includes butter, margarine, or plain or flavored oils, only one kind of real Wisconsin cheese, plus one additional ingredient. The interior ingredients must be at least 60% cheese)

First Place: Brenda Plantino, Delavan, WI
Second Place: Roberta Jake, Elgin, IL
Third Place: Robert Pappas, WI

Amateur Classic Plus Extras (a savory - as opposed to sweet - sandwich with any type of bread, a grilling aid that includes butter, margarine, or plain or flavored oils, real Wisconsin cheese - multiple cheeses accepted - plus unlimited additional ingredients.  However, the interior ingredients must still be at least 60% cheese)

First Place: Shirley Ritter, Highland, WI
Second Place: Matthew LaForest, Los Angeles, CA
Third Place: Ann Thompson, Dodgeville, WI

Amateur Dessert (any kind of bread, a grilling aid that includes butter, margarine, or plain or flavored oils, real Wisconsin cheese - multiple cheeses accepted - plus additional ingredients to create an overall sweet - as opposed to savory - flavor that would be best served as a “dessert” grilled cheese sandwich. However, the interior ingredients must still be at least 60% cheese)

First Place: Cara Wallner, Menomonee Falls, WI
Second Place: Kimmy Cleary & Morgan Weirich, Fennimore, WI
Third Place: Brenda Plantino, Delavan, WI

Youth Chefs (A special heat for competitors aged 12-17, all prepared a sandwich in the category of their choosing and were accompanied by an adult during the competition)

First Place: Olvera Rocio
Second Place: Joey Curtis
Third Place: Jalene Pierick

Professional Classic (any type of bread, real Wisconsin butter, and only one kind of real Wisconsin cheese. No additional ingredients)

First Place: Zach Washa, Carr Valley Cheese, Highland, WI
Second Place: Beth Crave, Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Waterloo, WI
Third Place: Anna Thomas Bates, Landmark, Creamery, Albany WI

Professional Classic Plus One (a savory - as opposed to sweet - sandwich with any type of bread, a grilling aid that includes butter, margarine, or plain or flavored oils, only one kind of real Wisconsin cheese, plus one additional ingredient. The interior ingredients must be at least 60% cheese)

First Place: Beth Crave, Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Waterloo, WI
Second Place: Thomas Heller, Monks Bar and Grill, Wisconsin Dells, WI
Third Place: Amy Pohle, The Lunch Bus, Platteville, WI

Professional Classic Plus Extras (a savory - as opposed to sweet - sandwich with any type of bread, a grilling aid that includes butter, margarine, or plain or flavored oils, real Wisconsin cheese - multiple cheeses accepted - plus unlimited additional ingredients. However, the interior ingredients must still be at least 60% cheese)

First Place: Beth Crave, Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Waterloo, WI
Second Place: Alyssa Marie, Dodgeville, WI
Third Place: Joseph Gustafson, Cuba City, WI

Professional Dessert (any kind of bread, a grilling aid that includes butter, margarine, or plain or flavored oils, real Wisconsin cheese - multiple cheeses accepted - plus additional ingredients to create an overall sweet - as opposed to savory - flavor that would be best served as a “dessert” grilled cheese sandwich. However, the interior ingredients must still be at least 60% cheese)

First Place: Alyssa Marie, Dodgeville, WI
Second Place: Joseph Gustafson, Cuba City, WI
Third Place: Zach Washa, Carr Valley Cheese, Highland, WI

Congratulations to all!!


Sunday, April 03, 2016

Healthy Cheese, Healthy People: Omega Valley Farmers Launches New Cheese High in Omega 3's

A small group of Wisconsin dairy farmers is seeking to change the way Americans get more nutritious fatty acids in their diets - a change that could potentially lead to less arthritis for older folks, less depression in children, and improved memory for the rest of us. And they're doing so by feeding their cows a patented diet that results in special milk made into pretty darned good cheese.

Omega Valley Farmers, headquartered in the thriving central-Wisconsin metropolis of Dorchester (population 872), quietly launched its line of Omega 3 Cheeses three years ago in several Heartland Cooperative convenience stores. Now the group is building momentum and branching out to larger retailers, meaning the cheese is now available near me in Metcalfe's Markets in Madison and Milwaukee. Whoo-hoo!

Crafted by Master Cheesemaker Ken Heiman at Nasonville Dairy in Marshfield, the Omega 3 Cheeses come in a line of Cheddar and flavored Monterey Jacks, but gouda, muenster, and provolone will be soon be available. The cheese is made from the milk of five family-owned dairy farms in central Wisconsin, four of which milk between 50 and 70 cows, with the fifth milking 500 cows. All are committed to producing rBST-free milk, meaning they do not inject their cows with artificial hormones to increase milk production.

All farms are are audited by a third party annually for humane animal treatment, and each feeds their cows a diet patented by Jerome Donohoe, who retired after spending 32 years with the Medical College of Wisconsin to start his own company conducting research on animal feeding systems. Donohoe's now-famous feed ration naturally increases the amount of natural Omega 3 fatty acids in cows' milk through a strategic balance of Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids, using only agricultural plant products and no fish meal or animal byproducts.

The result from the patented diet is a cheese that transcends the good-for-you labels of organic, grass-fed and GMO-free and actually delivers more Omega 3's per ounce than any other cheese on the market. An adequate intake of Omega 3 for an adult is about 1,600 mg per day. One ounce of Omega Valley Cheddar contains 390 mg and an ounce of Omega Valley Jack has 415 mg. Add a few crackers, and all of us could get all the Omega 3s we need every day just by eating 4 oz of Omega Valley cheese.

And, interestingly enough, not only is the milk produced by these special cows turned into cheese that is super healthy, the cows themselves are healthier, too. After just 100 days on a diet with balanced Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids, cows' hearts and livers measured higher in nutritious fatty acids, translating to longer, healthier lives. One farmer I talked to said his veterinarian bills were half of what they were before he started the feeding program.

Healthy cows, healthy milk and healthy cheese are all great, but as a cheesemonger, what matters most to me is flavor. Does the cheese taste good? The short answer is yes. The longer answer is Omega 3 Cheeses are made at a nationally-recognized factory supervised by one of only 50 Master Cheesemakers in Wisconsin, so of course they are going to be high quality. The cheeses are also less expensive than similar cheeses with trendier labels. For example, a 7-oz square of Horseradish & Chive Jack is $5.99 - not a bad price for a health-filled food.

So the next time you're watching for what's new in the cheese department, look for Omega 3 Cheeses. You'll be supporting a great group of Wisconsin dairy farm families, nutritionists and cheesemakers, as well as five herds of exceptionally happy cows. Win-win-win.