Tuesday, August 29, 2006

American Originals

Wisconsin cheesemakers not only are creative in crafting cheeses, but more and more are beginning to creatively name their cheeses. They're realizing that original cheeses deserve to be branded with orginal names.

Sid Cook at Carr Valley Cheese is probably the master of naming American Orignals, but coming up fast is Tom Torkelson at Natural Valley Cheese, located in a village called - I am not making this up - Hustler, Wisconsin - population 112.

Tom's been a licensed Wisconsin cheesemaker for 25 years. His father was a dairy farmer in New Glarus, Wis., and two of his cousins have cheese plants. His roots in Wisconsin dairy run deep.

Tom makes several original cheeses from the milk of about 80 nearby Amish dairy farmers and their pasture-fed goats and cows. Farmers bring milk to Tom's cheese plant in traditional milk cans that have been cold-water cooled. Because the animals are on pasture, the milk varies with the season and the type of grasses and foliage available.

All this makes for some pretty interesting cheese, which lends itself to some pretty interesting names, including:

Lemonweir Gold --an award-winning artisan cheese named for the beautiful Lemonweir River Valley where it was created. This is a semi-soft goat cheese, mild with a hint of Swiss flavor and a smooth creamy texture. A true American Original.

Lindina -- Handmade with milk from hand-milked pasture-fed goats from the Lemonweir Valley. This is a semi-soft, mild, sweet early flavor goat cheese; multi-colored rind and aged 60 days in a natural cave. Yummy.

Petenwell Reserve -- This cheese won second place in the 2006 World Cheese Championship in its class. It's a semi-soft, cave-aged goat cheese with an earthy flavor - the rind is made up of distinctive Trade Lake molds.

Redstone Robust -- Formed in a wheel and finished in a special curing cellar near the Wisconsin River. It's a semi-soft, washed rind goat cheese, hand washed for 60 days to produce a red-orange rind with a creamy white interior and hardy, robust flavor. Very unique.

Castle Rock Reserve -- Formed in a bandage-wrapped wheel for aging in a natural cave for 90 days, this semi-hard goat cheese has a medium to robust flavor and smooth, firm texture.

Although some of Natural Valley's cheese is marketed locally, the majority finds its way to such places as El Paso, Texas; New York; Denver; and Los Angeles. In distant cities, it's likely to be found at many times the price it's sold for in the little Hustler plant's store. So the next time you're driving I-90/94 through western Wisconsin, take the short jaunt off the interstate to Hustler. It will be well worth your time.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Goat Bacchanal

We Wisconsinites love our cheddar. Put an orange piece of cheese in front of the average America's Dairyland Cheesehead, and we don't think twice about eating the entire block and asking questions later. But what does the average Wisconsin consumer know about goat cheese? Not enough.

That's all about to change, thanks to Goat Bacchanal: A Celebration of Wisconsin's Artisan Goat Cheeses - an event planned for Thursday, Sept. 21 from 6-9 p.m. at the Milwaukee Center Atrium at the corner of Water and Kilbourn.

This event is your chance to taste a wide variety of goat milk products - from artisan goat cheeses like Fantome Farm's fresh chevre, to goat cheddars from Mt. Sterling, to goat yogurt from Caprine Supreme. It's shaping up to be a modern-day "tribute to the goat" in downtown Milwaukee. Best of all - attendees will get the chance to meet some of the state's most celebrated cheesemakers.

Participating Wisconsin dairy artisans include:
  • Sid Cook, Carr Valley Cheese, LaValle, Wis.
  • Felix Thalhammer, Capri Organic Creamery, Blue River, Wis.
  • Todd Jaskolski, Caprine Supreme, Black Creek, Wis.
  • Diana Murphy, DreamFarm, Cross Plains, Wis. (pictured above)
  • Anne Topham, Fantome Farm, Ridgeway, Wis.
  • Al Bekkum, Mt. Sterling Cheese Cooperative, Mt. Sterling, Wis.
  • Arnaud Solandt, MontChevre, Belmont, Wis.
  • Tom Torkelson, Natural Valley Cheese, Hustler, Wis.
  • Mike Watters, Sunshine Farms, Portage, Wis.
Event co-coordinator Larry Hedrich, president of the Wisconsin Dairy Goat Association, says the evening will not only be a decadent celebration of great food, but several cheesemakers will showcase newly released cheeses giving attendees the first taste.

Cost is $20 per person and includes all tastings, wine, hors d'oeuvres and desserts. Attendance is limited, so contact Steve Ehlers at Larry’s Market, 800-236-1307 or email
steve@larrysmarket.com now to reserve tickets.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Grand Master Cheese Maker

A cheesemaker at Sartori Foods in Antigo, Wis. was named the 2006 Grand Master Cheese Maker at the Wisconsin State Fair this week. And although Joel Pagel -who competed against 21 other cheesemakers for the coveted "Grand Master" title - does not get an official fez with gold tassel, he does go home with a shiny plaque and the status of being one of Wisconsin's top cheesemakers.

Pagel earned the honor for Asiago, a well-known cheese made by the former Antigo Cheese Company, which Sartori Foods purchased in July. However, Antigo - now Sartori - is probably much better known for its Stravecchio Parmesan, a continually rising star in specialty cheese that's been well-decorated in contests for years, including a gold medal and the prestigious accolade of “Best U.S. Cow’s Milk Cheese” at the World Cheese Awards, an international competition held in June 2006 in London, England.

I've never had the privilege (few have) to see Antigo's one-of-a-kind cheese curing room - one of only two such in the nation and a Wisconsin treasure. Many millions of dollars of inventory flows through that room with a huge impact on the local economy. The cheeses in that room develop their distinct and award-winning flavors through the company's unique curing methods. Obviously they're doing something right - awards keep flowing their way.