Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Gingerbread Jersey

A little more than one year after taking the leap to open their own cheesemaking facility and retail store, an Augusta dairy farm family is responding to growing demand by opening a second retail outlet and kicking off a new product line.

Virgil and Carolyn Schunk of Gingerbread Jersey Cheese opened a second retail store this week in the Awards and More mini-mall just east of the intersection of Seymour and State Hwy. 53 in Eau Claire to sell their full line of cheeses and other Wisconsin products.

Their original store and modular cheesemaking facility with observation deck for customers in Augusta will continue to operate - it's quite a sight to see Virgil making cheese in what is basically a mobile, semi-truck trailer that has been converted into a cheesemaking plant. The unit was developed by Darlington Dairy Supply and is affectionately known as "Cheese on Wheels."

The Schunks told me they are excited to kick off a new fresh mozzarella line with the opening of this new store, as well as offering goat cheeses and their full line of Gingerbread Jersey cheese. Carolyn said her goal is to keep their fourth-generation dairy farm in the family and to provide hope and a future for her children in agriculture.

The Schunks make a variety of cheese from the milk of their own family's dairy cow herd, including specialty cheddars, colbys, monterey jacks and specialty line of European-style Gouda and Swiss. Virgil also crafts goat cheeses, including chevre, cheddar, monterey jack, gouda and parmesan from the milk of a local dairy goat farmer. Their cheeses have been featured in several fine restaurants and are gaining popularity state-wide.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

New Goat Cheese for Wisconsin

The big news in dairy world this week is that Woolwich Dairy, Canada's largest goat cheese producer, has selected Lancaster, Wisconsin as its U.S. headquarters. CEO Tony Dutra announced at a press conference on Tuesday that Woolwich will build a 30,000 sq. ft. plant and employ 30 when the facility opens in Lancaster's industrial park in summer 2007. (The above photo was taken at the event - pictured from left is Tony Dutra, Secretary of Ag Rod Nilsestuen, Olga Dutra and Governor Jim Doyle).

This is a big deal for Wisconsin. We have about 145 goat dairies and the industry is rapidly growing. Woolwich will be sourcing all of its milk regionally around Lancaster, which means farmers will now have another source for their milk, and Wisconsin will need to start developing more goat farms.

Tying into the announcement, the Wisconsin Dept. of Agriculture just kicked off a goat milk initiative here in the state. Interest is at an all-time high, as last week they had more than 50 people including UW-Extension agents, veterinarians, technical college instructors and cheesemakers attend workshops on dairy goat production, processing and marketing.

Many people are under the impression that goats are really just small cows. You would think this is obvious, but the make-up of goat's milk and the process in which it produces high-quality milk is entirely different. Plus, goats are smarter than cows. I've been in both a goat-milking parlor and a cow-milking parlor and you really have to sweet talk the goats into doing what you want. There's got to be an incentive in it for them. Otherwise they basically look at you and go "Yeah, right. So exactly what are you going to do for me if I walk into that parlor?" Food is usually key.

So bottom line, you should be seeing Woolwich Dairy goat cheeses in Wisconsin stores next summer that are no longer imported, but made right here in America's Dairyland. My favorite Woolwich products include the Gourmet Goat and Madame Chevre varieties, and their Goat Brie.

Monday, June 19, 2006

WI Cheesemakers Kick Butt

In good news, Wisconsin cheesemakers can maintain their claim that they capture more awards than any other state and nation in national and international competitions.

The trend continued at last weeks' 2006 World Cheese Awards in London, where Wisconsin took home nearly one-third of all U.S. medals awarded, claiming 15 awards that included six gold, four silver and five bronze. The competition attracted more than 1,500 entries from four continents.

Winners from Wisconsin included:

Antigo Cheese Company: One gold medal -- Stravecchio Parmesan - specially aged with a creamy, sweet, nutty flavor.

Carr Valley Cheese: Three gold medals -- Marisa & Cave Aged Marisa, both sheep's milk cheeses and Canaria, a mixed milk cheese. Two bronze medals -- Gran Canaria, a mixed milk cheese and Billy Blue, a goat's milk cheese.

Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese: One silver medal -- Petit Frere, a new washed-rind cheese. One bronze medal -- Mascarpone, a cow's milk cheese.

DCI Cheese Company: One gold medal -- Great Midwest Smokey Jack. One silver medal -- Black Diamond Extra Sharp Cheddar Cold Pack Spread.

Roth Kase USA: One gold medal -- Granqueso, a Roth Kase original. One silver medal -- Rofumo, a hickory smoked cheese. One bronze medal -- Vintage Van Gogh, a full-cream gouda.

Uplands Cheese: One silver medal -- Pleasant Ridge Reserve, a Beaufort-style cheese.

Widmer's Cheese Cellars: One bronze medal -- Washed-Rind Brick Cheese.

On Wisconsin!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Read all about it

Just returned from the IDDBA (International Dairy Deli Bakery Association) conference in Orlando and am brimming with new product news. This conference shows off a lot of new dairy products - including the newest artisan products made by larger companies who can afford to exhibit at this huge tradeshow. One of the best new products I got to try was Crescenza (krih-SHEHN-zuh), made by Belgioioso in Denmark, Wis.

Belgioioso is a medium-sized Wisconsin dairy processor, but is turning out some truly artisan cheeses. Crescenza is no exception - it's a fresh, rindless cheese made from cow's milk with a mild, milky and somewhat yeasty flavor.

Crescenza has a soft, creamy consistency that makes it spreadable and easy to melt. Company president Errico Auricchio describes it as "very soft and buttery" and says it can be eaten as a dessert cheese, in Focaccia or as a pizza topping.

Errico Auricchio brings a strong history to Belgioioso - over a century ago, his great-grandfather started a cheese company in Italy. Today, the orginial Auricchio label is still probably the most recognized label in Italian cheeses.

In 1979, Errico moved his family to America to start his own company - Belgioioso Cheese Inc - with the goal of crafting great Italian cheeses in the United States. I'm pretty sure he's succeeded. Belgioioso now operates five cheese factories in Wisconsin, with each factory specializing in a specific type of cheese. Other good varieties to try include American Grana, Italico and Auribella.

Monday, June 05, 2006

New Cheesemaker

Wisconsin has a new cheesesmaker, and it's a guy making goat's milk yogurt. Go figure. Our dairy artisans can do it all.

Todd Jaskolski of Black Creek called today to tell us he successfully passed his cheesemaking test, so he's an official licensed cheesemaker. In Wisconsin, this is a big deal. That's because we're the only state to require its cheesemakers to be licensed, and it's about an 18 month process that includes lots of classroom time and at least 240 hours of apprenticeship in an actual cheese factory.

Todd and his wife Sheryl milk about 400 dairy goats. About two years ago, they started down the path of crafting Wisconsin's first goat's milk yogurt. It was a long process, but they're finally starting to see success. They're now selling their Caprine Supreme goat's milk yogurts in several natural food stores and co-ops across Wisconsin. Regional stores are also rolling it out on trial periods to see how it sells - so be sure to pick it up and try it if you see it on a shelf.

Todd & Sheryl have aspirations to perhaps one day build their own farmstead yogurt and cheese factory (right now, they're sharing another artisan's yogurt facility), so we'll watch with interest just when and how he puts that cheesemaker's license to use. We can always use another signature artisan goat cheese!