Monday, September 24, 2007

So You Want to be a Cheesemaker?

An aspiring Wisconsin cheesemaker has started her own So You Want to be a Cheesemaker blog, describing the life and times of what it takes to earn your cheesemaking license in this state.

Kara Kasten, a fifth year senior at UW-Madison, will earn a degree in dairy science and communications in December. Having grown up on a dairy farm 30 miles north of Milwaukee, she has obviously been involved in the state's dairy industry since she was a kid. But it wasn't until she started working part-time at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture a couple of years ago that she became familiar with the burgeoning opportunities available to Wisconsin cheesemakers.

Apparently, a trip last summer to Australia to learn more about their dairy industry sealed the deal, because she came back ready to begin taking her cheesemaking classes. Having finished her coursework, she is now spending several hundred hours at the Babcock dairy processing plant, working with Master Cheesemaker Gary Grossen and learning how to make several different types of cheese. At the end of it, she'll take a test, and if she passes, will be one of only a handful of female Wisconsin licensed cheesemakers.

Kara began her blog just two weeks ago, so it's easy to catch up on her experiences. My favorite one so far has to be the account of her first day, an amusing story describing what she thought would be a simple quest in finding appropriate clothing that would fit her.

If you're interested in what it takes to become a cheesemaker, I'd highly recommend Kara's blog. It's a good read. You go girl!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Some Wine With Your Cheese

After seeing an email last weekend about the opportunity to volunteer and harvest grapes at a local winery, I psyched up my family to spend the day with me and contribute to the local food economy by being a part of this year's grape crop. I figured, hey, I've drug them to enough cheese factories, let's try something different, right?

Well, turns out that picking grapes is fun for exactly 33 minutes. After that, your arms get tired, the mosquitoes start biting, the bees start hovering and your shirt is so wet from reaching in through a dew-covered canopy that you begin to realize your choice of wearing a white t-shirt may not have been such a good idea.

All in all, however, spending a morning harvesting grapes in a beautiful, peaceful setting at Botham Vineyards near Barneveld, Wis., was actually very educational.

We arrived at 8 a.m. and were briefed by co-owner Sarah Botham on the proper technique of harvesting grapes - glove on left hand and clippers on right - given a yellow tub, and set on our way. About every 20 minutes, Sarah (pictured above) would come by on her tractor and trailer, and we would dump our yellow tubs of grapes inside. All in all, a very organized operation.

I must admit that prior to the grape-harvesting experience, I had never tried any of Botham Vineyard's wines. Turns out that several of them are very good with cheese. Here are my recommendations:
  • Big Stuff Red -- a semi-dry red that goes well with blue cheese and Gorgonzola

  • Field III -- a dry red that is awesome with aged cheddar or harder washed-rind cheeses

  • Cupola Gold - a semi-dry white good with just about any mixed-milk cheese made by Carr Valley --- I had a whole bunch of goat/cow, cow/sheep and cow/goat/sheep cheeses of Sid Cook's in my fridge, and they all went well with this wine.

Also, if you're looking for a good website to learn about wine pairings, I can't say enough good things about Natalie MacLean's wine matcher. It allows you to pair wine with cheese, seasonal fall produce, game meats, pizza, egg dishes, TV dinners, breads and desserts. The site has more than 364,000 food and wine combinations, as well as thousands of recipes for planning holiday parties and Christmas turkey dinner. Very useful!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Shameless Self Promotion: Cheese Classes

I've been writing about Wisconsin artisan cheesemakers on this blog now for about a year and a half. In exciting news, I now get to talk about Wisconsin cheeses in a series of educational classes I'll be leading at a new artisan cheese shop opening in downtown Madison in September.

Fromagination, located at 12 S. Carroll St. in Madison, Wisconsin, will open on Friday, Sept. 28. Starting soon thereafter, I'll offer my first class showcasing exclusive Wisconsin artisan cheeses. In fact, the shop will offer only cut-to-order Wisconsin artisan cheeses for the first four weeks it's open -- a first for America's Dairyland. From opening date to the end of October, more than 20 of the state's finest artisan cheesemakers and dozens of cheeses will be showcased! Then, just in time for the holidays, Fromagination will add artisan cheeses from around the United States and world.

The shop will showcase a wide array of perfect companions paired specifically with each individual cheese, including select wines, beers, meats, breads, and other specialty foods. During the month of October, I will be offering a series of several fun and educational courses including:

Cheese 101 - an introduction into the pure joy of trying new cheeses. Offered Tuesday evening on Oct. 23.

Wisconsin Cheeses - explore Wisconsin's stunning diversity from aged cheddar to washed rind originals. Offered Tuesday evening Oct. 9.

American Craft Beer & Cheese - have you heard that beer and cheese is the new wine and cheese? Beercook.com author Lucy Saunders joins me in leading this class in which we'll pair a flight of six craft beers and artisanal cheeses. Offered Tuesday evening on Oct. 16.
Email me if you'd like specific class descriptions, information on how to sign up and a 25 percent off coupon (the cheese shop website isn't quite up to full speed yet).

If nothing else, you really must visit Fromagination when it opens to truly appreciate what owner Ken Monteleone has done with the space: drawing from the landscape of Wisconsin's countryside, Fromagination is rustic redefined.

Inside, the shop uses 85 percent sustainable and recycled vintage materials including barn wood, American earth plaster, milk protein paint, and corrugated tin. The absolutely stunning floor is crafted from reclaimed slate tiles from an abandoned warehouse in Chicago. In addition to amazing cheese, visitors will find one-of-a-kind gifts and cheese accessories, books, vintage items and a made-to-order sandwich counter. There's literally a surprise behind every corner.

I look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones during cheese classes in the next few weeks!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Congratulations to Brunkow Cheese

A Wisconsin cheese plant better-known for its 40-pound blocks of cheddar, colby and jack for the past 100 years has this week won an Editor's Pick from Progressive Grocer Magazine for its artisan cheese, Avondale Truckle.

Brunkow Cheese in tiny Fayette, Wisconsin, launched a line of artisan English cheeses about a year ago after third-generation owners Karl and Mary Geissbuhler realized their family-owned plant might not be around for another 100 years if they continued only making 40-pound blocks of commodity cheeses.

"We were fighting for pennies two years ago on the 40-pound block market, and now we're wholesaling artisan cheese for $7-$8 a pound," Karl told me during a visit last week. "That's a big change for us."

A mighty big change, indeed. Not only is the Geissbuhler's new "Fayette Creamery" line of four English-style cheeses putting them back in the black, it's also putting them on the map of Wisconsin award-winners. On Sept. 15, Progressive Grocer Magazine will feature Brunkow's Avondale Truckle as one of it's "Editor's Picks" of the year out of 200+ product entries.

The Avondale Truckle is absolutely a beautiful cheese. The Geissbuhlers worked with Neville McNaughton, a New Zealand native and world-renowned expert cheesemaker, to create the recipe and a special mold for this elegant, tall, drum-shaped cheese. A cloth-wrapped cheddar, it is aged in Brunkow's hand-dug cellar for 6 to 18 months and is made from raw milk sourced from Lafayette County dairy farms.

Round and buttery in its youth, Avondale Truckle develops a full, layered flavor and wild, earthy aromas as it matures. It goes great with a full, fruity red wine, dark beer or brown ale. Its label is absolutely beautiful, as well -- as are all the labels for Brunkow's English-style line-up that includes: Little Darling, Pendarvis & Argylshire -- all named after area landmarks and all aged in the Brunkow cellar.
All are pictured above -- from left, that's Karl Geissbuhler holding a 20-pound wheel of Pendarvis, cheesemaking partner Greg Schulte with the 1.5-pound Little Darling, cheesemaker and marketing manager Joe Burns with the 35-pound Argylshire, and Mary Geissbuhler with the Avondale Truckle.

Demand for these Brunkow English-style cheeses has been so great, in fact, that the Geissbuhlers are building a new 21 x 50 foot cooler in which to store their cheddars, colbys, and flavored cheeses they've become so well-known for over the years.

The new cooler will also hold the Brunkow's new favorite: Brun-uusto, a baked cheese patterned after Juustalepia, commonly enjoyed in Finland and Sweden. The cheese is baked to form a tasty crust similar to toasted bread and carries a mild buttery flavor. It's great as an appetizer (you can warm it on a griddle in front of your guests) and I've even heard of people dipping it in their coffee or serving with jam and maple syrup at breakfast. (Brunkow sells 700 pounds of this cheese every week at farmer's markets in Madison and Chicago, lest you doubt its consumer appeal).

All of Brunkow's cheeses, including its English-style line-up can be found in their retail store and at the Dane County Farmer's Market in Madison, Wisconsin on Saturdays. The Geissbuhlers are slowly building up inventory (have patience - amazing artisan aged cheese takes time) and are working with a couple of Midwest distributors to hopefully garner the cheese some more national exposure.

Bottom line: if you're lucky enough to find any of their cheeses in a store near you, snap them up. They won't last long.