Friday, March 30, 2007

Tasting Rooms Go Upscale

What's the hottest trend for Wisconsin artisan cheesemakers today? I've discovered it's creating an upscale culinary kitchen & tasting area to show off your cheese.

First there was Sid Cook (but then again Sid prides himself on his trend-setting ability). He built a beautiful kitchen/tasting area at his new Carr Valley Cheese retail space in Sauk City last year and has seen great success with his recent culinary classes featuring well-known chefs.

Then last fall, Roth Kase USA created a spectacular culinary center at their plant in Monroe - this one featuring glass walls looking out over a cavernous new affinage room with thousands of wheels of gruyere lined up on boards from floor to ceiling (if you ever get the chance to see it - it's well worth the trip).

The latest specialty plant to move on up to the east side is Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese near Waterloo. Their tasting room - which just opened this week -- is absolutely magnificent. Located in their new affinage addition - the "tasting room," as Debbie Crave calls it, comfortably seats 25 - 30 guests in an upscale cavern-like setting with cozy tables set with modern place settings.

The focal point of the room is an eight-foot rectangular fieldstone kitchen island with amazing commerical kitchen taking the width of the room behind it. (I would share a photo, but alas, I left my camera at home).

On the other side of the tasting room wall are two cellars housing hundreds of wheels of Les Freres and Petit Les Freres slowly aging and just waiting to be enjoyed. While we were there, Debbie shared a new recipe she's currently perfecting that she had baked that morning - a combination of pie crust, Les Freres cheese, craisins, walnuts & apricots. Yummy.

Debbie is a master of creating recipes for her farm's cheeses and has just about perfected a Chocolate Mascarpone Pie using Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese fresh sweet mascarpone made right at the farmstead cheese plant. She made a pie for us on Wednesday, and eating such a decadent dish in such a beautiful cavern environment was really amazing. Makes me realize how far our Wisconsin dairy artisans have come!

On a side note, the Craves also recently partnered with Roth Kase in producing a seven-minute DVD called "The Distinct Appeal of Cellar Aged Cheese." It gives a great overview of the aging process of artisanal and specialty cheeses in Wisconsin - just one more example of Crave Brothers going above and beyond.

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