Sunday, October 22, 2006

Grass-Based Cheddar

Master Cheesemaker Bruce Workman shipped the first batch of his new grass-based cheddar out of Edelweiss Creamery last week. After making cheese for 35 years and having earned his Master Cheesemaker's license in five different cheese categories, Bruce finally made his very first vat of cheddar in July using exclusively grass-based milk from the Edelweiss Graziers Cooperative.

I asked Bruce how he could have been making cheese since 1971 and have never made a vat of cheddar in life. Easy - he said - everybody else was doing it. Why follow the commodity crowd when you've got enough imagination and ambition to be the only cheesemaker in Wisconsin currently making 180-pound Big Wheel Emmentaler (that's him with the monster wheel above).

But when Bruce got the opportunity to make what is one of the first grass-based cheddars in the state, he stepped up to the plate. Now he's eagerly waiting to see how the market responds.

Today, Bruce makes several different kinds of cheeses at his plant near Monticello including gouda, monterey jack and the afore-mentioned grass-based cheddar. Since taking over the once-abandoned plant in 2003, he's put $1.2 million in renovations into the facility and now spends most days making cheese starting around 1 a.m.

In July, he sold the building and milk silos to the new Edelweiss Graziers Cooperative and in the summer months is making grass-based cheese exclusively for this three-farm organization. He said he's got about another four weeks of grass-based milk to make cheese and will then switch back to conventional milk from a neighboring farm for the winter.

Although making cheddar is new to this veteran cheesemaker, making big wheel emmentaler is not. He makes the 180-pound wheels in a copper vat that holds up to 12,000 pounds of milk that he hauled over from Switzerland two years ago. He currently ages the wheels in a small affinage room in the back, but in a few months plans to transfer them to a new affinage facility in Monroe. He'll then be able to expand his cut, wrap & package room to better accomodate increased production of grass-based cheeses.

So just when you think our veteran Wisconsin cheesemakers might be too set in their ways to learn a new make process, think again. Congrats to Bruce and his crew for launching a new product to the market. I can't wait to see it in stores.