Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The King of Stinky Cheese

Looking for a memorable Wisconsin cheese roadtrip? Visit the grand daddy of them all: Chalet Cheese Cooperative in Green County.

While many a career has been launched since 1885 from Chalet, current Master Cheesemaker Myron Olson can probably be considered the Grand Pooh-Bah of all Green County Cheesemakers.
As only the third manager of the cooperative since the 1930s, Myron oversees the only plant in North America still producing Limburger cheese - that famous surfaced-ripened cheese with a "pungent aroma." Or, as Myron says, Chalet "has the longest streak of making stinky cheese in the U.S."

Myron and the cheesemakers before him have used the same Limburger culture since the early 1900s, propogating it every day. This is the secret, Myron says, that makes his Limburger "not have that sweat-sock taste - you can taste the difference."

Limburger cheese started out in history as a "working man's lunch" - when you combine it with a couple pieces of rye bread, some onions, and wash it down with a beer - it is just about the best, inexpenisve lunch you can find (and it "sticks to your ribs" as my father used to say).

Today, Myron and his workers still hand package every piece of Limburger made at Chalet and they've implemented a new labeling system that tells the date the cheese was made. This way, if you want your Limburger young & not quite so smelly (relatively speaking), you can find the piece you want off the shelf. Or if you're an oldtimer, you pick the piece that's about 5-1/2 months old and running out of the package as soon as you open the foil.

Chalet isn't slowing down anytime soon. When I was there a couple of months ago, Myron had just ordered four new cheese vats - duplicates of the open vats he currently uses, where he and other cheesemakers still cut cheese by hand.

If you're not into stinky cheese, fear not. Myron & crew also make brick cheese and some of the best baby swiss in the country - Deppeler's Baby Swiss (Chalet aquired the highly reputed Deppeler Cheese Factory in 2004). This baby swiss has been rated first in the world at the World Championships.

You might notice something different in Myron's baby swiss vs. some of the other baby swiss you see on the market. "When we call it Swiss, we mean it. It really has eyes in it," Myron says. And Deppeler's Baby Swiss is full of eyes - they still make it the Old World way.

One note of caution: Chalet Cheese Cooperative is located in the middle of extreme rolling hill and curvy road country in southwest Wisconsin, so if you're prone to car sickness, don't be in a hurry to get there. The
retail shop located inside the factory is open Monday thru Friday 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Saturdays, 8 to 10:30 a.m.

And on a final note, if you're looking for good beer to go with your Limburger sandwich, I would highly recommend New Glarus Spotted Cow (hey - if you're trekking to southwest Wisconsin, you might as well get both good beer & cheese). Cheers!