Sunday, September 28, 2014

Bon Bree Brick Comes Back From the Brink

Several years ago, when I was a guest on Wisconsin Public Radio talking cheese with Larry Meiller, a caller asked me (on live air) if I knew anything about Bon Bree Brick. I had to admit that I didn't, and soon thereafter, the phone lines lit up with callers sharing fond memories of Bon Bree, an old family favorite once made in Mapleton, Wisconsin.

Well, today, Bon Bree Brick is back, baby. The current issue of the Center for Dairy Research (CDR) Dairy Pipeline (if you don't subscribe to their free e-newsletter, sign up here), profiles several extinct cheeses brought back from the brink of long lost legend, including the infamous Bon Bree.

Up until the mid 1980s, Bon Bree Brick, a Brick cheese with a unique name, was well-known for its firm, mozzarella-like texture and creamy taste. It was crafted by a cheese factory in Mapleton, but when the plant closed in the mid '80s, the cheese disappeared from the market.

Luckily for all of us, Lloyd Williams, a dairy farmer in Delafield, loved the cheese so much he decided to bring it back to life with the help of Mapleton cheesemaker Terry Shaw and the now-closed Dairy Business Innovation Center (DBIC). Williams met with Shaw, who manufactured Bon Bree at the original facility, and Shaw provided Williams with a few Bon Bree recipes. Additionally - and this is crucial - Shaw gave Williams some of the original mother cultures that once produced Bon Bree in Mapleton.

After more than 16 batches and a few years of trying to re-create Bon Bree with the expert help from the Center for Dairy Research, Williams Homestead Creamery began selling Bon Bree under its trademarked name last year. Clock Shadow Creamery in Milwaukee now manufactures the cheese, which is made solely from the pasture-fed cow's milk produced on Williams' farm near Waukesha. In just the last year, Bon Bree has grown into three new varieties: dill, chive and caraway, and is available in more than 30 grocery stores throughout Wisconsin, including Metcalfe's Market-Hilldale in Madison.

"After three years we have an identical product - except ours is all natural, so we do not dye it yellow like the early cheese was. People don't miss that," Williams says.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

2015 American Artisan Cheese Class Schedule Announced

Hey there cheese peeps! If you live in Wisconsin and you're looking for a monthly night out, tasting and learning about fine artisan cheese, I'm doing another year-long class series in 2015.

We meet at the Firefly Coffeehouse, a fantastic space that serves as the living room of my town, Oregon, Wis., about 10 minutes south of Madison. Each class includes a tasting and storytelling of artisan cheeses, a glass of complimentary wine, beer or beverage and general merriment. Classes begin at 7 p.m. and are limited to 25 attendees. Each class costs $22 and seats must be reserved in advance. Classes generally sell out two to three months ahead of time. I often have special guest cheesemakers and speakers, too.

I'm offering something special through through January 1, 2015: purchase a season pass to all 12 classes and get two classes for free. Makes the perfect gift for your favorite cheese geek! All classes are of course available for a la carte purchase, too.


Here's the 2015 line-up:

January 20
Cheese 101: Tasting the Eight Categories of Cheese

Start out the year with a refresher course on the eight different types of cheese – fresh, semi-soft, soft ripened, surface-ripened, semi-hard, aged, washed rind, and blue. Learn and taste your way through your very own cheese board of eight American artisanal cheeses, learning the story and characteristics of each.

February 19
Relishing the Rind

To eat or not to eat? ‘Tis the age-old question of cheese rinds. Explore the different types of cheese rinds: bloomy, ash, and washed, taste exquisite examples of each, and learn what cheesemakers must undertake to create a beautiful rind.

March 24
March Madness: American Originals

The United States is home to some of the most innovative cheesemakers in the world. We’ll taste four original cheeses dreamt up by cheesemakers either through sheer genius or, more often, by mistake. Hear the stories of what it takes to create an award-winning American Original.

April 21
U.S. Champion Cheeses

With the United States Championship Cheese Contest held in Wisconsin just one month prior to this class, we’ll taste and learn the stories of four American gold medal winning cheeses.

May 21
You Be the (Cheese) Judge

American Cheese Society Judge Patty Peterson from Milwaukee joins this class and walks attendees through an official cheese judging session. She’ll teach the basics, and then let YOU be the judge with a blind tasting, official score sheets, and lots of fun. Taste both Wisconsin and American award-winning cheeses.

June 16
American Sheep’s Milk Cheeses

Nutty, rich and rare: sheep’s milk cheeses date back thousands of years, with perhaps the most famous sheep’s milk cheese being Roquefort. Taste four American and International sheep’s milk cheeses and learn what makes this category of cheese extra special.

July 21
Brie & Bubbly

Summer is high season for artisan brie and bloomy rind cheeses, as animals are in full milk production mode and cheesemakers have plenty of milk to create luscious, creamy beautiful bloomies for us to enjoy. Taste four brie and camembert-style cheeses and enjoy a glass of bubbly with each!

August 18
Perfect Pairings

From chocolate to spiced pecans to honey, more artisan food makers are crafting perfect accompaniments to cheese. We’ll taste four different perfect pairings and learn why certain foods pair better with cheese than others.

September 24
Stinky Cheeses

Americans are become more sophisticated when it comes to big, bold cheeses that can smell up a room and washed rind cheese is one of the fastest growing categories of artisan cheese. We’ll taste four washed-rind beauties whose bark is often much different than their bite. Get it past your nose, and stinky cheese may just become your new favorite.

October 22
Virtual Road Trip: Cheeses of Switzerland

Having just returned from leading a 10-day tour exploring the cheeses of Switzerland, Jeanne will introduce you to four of her new favorite Swiss cheeses and tell the stories of Alpine cheesemaking.

November 10
Charcuterie & Cheese

Artisanal cured meats and hand-crafted cheeses are a natural pairing in the world of good food. Taste three original pairings of local, award-winning charcuterie and Wisconsin cheeses.

December 8
Ultimate Cheddar Cheese Flight

End the year on a high note, with a vertical cheddar cheese flight. You’ll learn about a new era of Wisconsin Cheddar emerging, with cheesemakers crafting aged and bandaged Cheddars. Taste three aged Cheddars from one to 15 years, as well as a reserve Bandaged Cheddar.

You can purchase tickets online at www.wicheesestore.com. I look forward to seeing you there!

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The Results Are In: I'm an ACS Certified Cheese Professional

And it's official: I am an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional. Say it with me: whoooooo-hooooo!

Jane Bauer from ACS emailed me yesterday, with a note that a press release will go out today. I am interested to see how many other folks from Wisconsin are on the list. Up until now, there's only been two other CCPs in the state, so I am honored to be in their company!

Of the more than 250 people who sat for the test this year, 153 people passed. A total of 406 individuals throughout the United States and Canada are now official ACS CCPs.

So what is an ACS CCP? 

The ACS Certified Cheese Professional Exam is the first and only exam of its kind. It was established by the American Cheese Society to encourage high standards of comprehensive cheese knowledge and service for professionals in all areas of the industry. The exam is based on the knowledge and skills required to successfully perform cheese-related tasks in jobs across the industry. Testing encompasses a broad range of topics including raw ingredients, the cheesemaking process, storing and handling cheese, selecting distributors, marketing and communicating about cheese, nutrition, and regulations and sanitation.

In other words, you have to know everything about everything. For six months prior to the test, I read nothing that was not cheese-related. Cheesemaking books and cheese industry tomes made up a permanent stack next to the couch in our living room. I promised myself that if I passed, I'd reward my self with a Mountain Dew and a People magazine - which other than the Sunday New York Times, is about the only non-cheese related publication I've read in 2014.

A huge, huge thank you to Metcalfe's Market-Hilldale in Madison, who two years ago, took a chance on someone they had never heard of, who had NO retail experience, and then hired her anyway to help work the cheese counter. Today, I am blessed to manage a department with three full-time staff and 300 cheeses, 90 percent of which we cut and wrap ourselves, and cut to order for a growing number of clientele. I literally get to smell, touch and taste cheese all day. I get to work with Wisconsin cheesemakers and be the first to sample and sell their new cheeses. This is the dream, baby. And I love it.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone for your support, especially my husband, who refers to himself as "Cheese Junior" but works just as hard as I do. I look forward to continuing to attend industry classes and keep up on my studies to recertify in 2017. But first, I'm going to hit the library, check out a juicy novel, drink a non-diet soda, and hit the hammock for an hour.

Cheese for life!!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Rush Creek Reserve Production Stopped By FDA Rule Uncertainty

Andy Hatch with one of his first experimental batches of
Rush Creek Reserve on May 20, 2010. The cheese was
officially released that fall to great acclaim. Photo by
Jeanne Carpenter
Uncertainty over how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will rule in regards to a number of pending raw milk cheese regulations has claimed its first official victim: Rush Creek Reserve by Uplands Cheese near Dodgeville, Wisconsin.

In an email to industry professionals this morning, Uplands co-owner and lead cheesemaker Andy Hatch broke the sad news that he will not be making Rush Creek this year.

"It's disappointing news, I know, and we hope that it's not permanent. Food safety officials have been unpredictable, at best, in their recent treatment of soft, raw-milk cheeses, and until our industry is given clear and consistent guidance, we are forced to stop making these cheeses," Andy said.

Andy added it's not a decision he and his team came to easily. "Hopefully, our government officials will soon agree on how to treat traditional cheesemaking, and we can all return to the cheeses that are so important to us."

So what would make one of America's most awarded cheese companies stop production of a cheese that debuted four years ago to great acclaim and that the New York Times described as "fluent and satiny, with a rich, slightly grassy aroma and a mild flavor that hints of smoke and pork."?

Let us count the ways:

1. The FDA is currently reviewing the 60-day aging rule it imposed in 1949 on American cheesemakers making raw milk cheeses, with many academics speculating the rule will be increased to 90 or 120 aging days within the next year. For an excellent recap and history of how the current 60-day raw milk cheese rule came into being, check out this article by Bill Marler. Remember, Rush Creek Reserve is a raw milk cheese aged 60 days. It is patterned on the magnificent Vacherin Mont d'Or, of which I consumed an entire wheel at one sitting while in London on April 4. No regrets.

2. The newest focus of FDA food safety officials appears to be enforcement of non-toxigenic E.Coli levels in raw milk cheese. Unbeknownst to almost anyone in the industry, in 2010, the FDA changed the standard (see top of page 7) for non-toxigenic, E.Coli in raw milk from  less than 10,000 to  less than 10 MPN per gram. This happened even after the FDA's own policy review team (see top of page 7) in 2009 suggested lowering it to only "100 MPN per gram in two or more subsamples or greater than 1,000 MPN per gram in one or more subsamples." The FDA has begun to enforce this new policy by purchasing raw milk cheeses from distributors, testing them for pathogens, and then showing up at cheese factories for a 3-day investigative inspection. Every cheesemaker I talked to says it is virtually impossible to consistently produce a raw milk cheese with less than 10 parts of non-toxigenic E. Coli per gram. Goodbye, raw milk cheese.

3. Aging cheese on wooden boards may or may not be a dead issue. Two months ago, after a mid-level FDA bureaucrat declared the agency would no longer permit American cheeses to be aged on wooden boards, the entire U.S. cheese eating population erupted in an uproar that made the FDA back down just three days later. In Wisconsin alone, 33 million pounds of cheese are aged on wooden boards, including Rush Creek Reserve.

So to recap, between raw-milk aging rules, new pathogen policies, and the threat of whether the FDA is really backing down on the use of wooden boards, one of America's great cheeses is no more. The death of Rush Creek Reserve should act as the canary in the coal mine for all American raw milk artisan cheeses, because just as our great American artisan cheese movement is in serious full swing, the FDA has basically declared a war on raw milk cheese.

P.S. Mind you, of course, the FDA pubicly insists they have nothing against raw milk cheese. At the American Cheese Society conference in Sacramento in July, a total of seven - yes seven - officials from the FDA politely attended a public luncheon after meeting privately with the ACS board of directors. Their fearless leader, Mike Taylor, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, spoke to us industry professionals for 45 minutes at the luncheon. What he said can best be summed up with his opening words: "We are from the government and we're here to help you."