Monday, August 04, 2008

All Hail St. Felix

I don't know too many cheesemakers who name cheeses after themselves, but then again, I don't know too many cheesemakers like Felix Thalhammer.

For those of you who live close enough to Madison, Wis., and attend the Dane County Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings around the Capital Square, you know Felix (pictured to the right of my friend, Norm Monsen) as the short Swiss guy at the Capri Cheesery stand who wears a t-shirt saying, "Dude, where's my cheese?" For the rest of you, here's a brief introduction before we get to the real story.

Felix, who with his family, lives on a farm in the middle of nowhere near Blue River, Wis., began making goat's milk cheeses in the mid 90s. It all started innocently enough when his son, Leif, was born and couldn't digest cow's milk. So Felix and his wife bought a few goats. Soon they had more milk than they needed. You can guess how the story goes from here ... drawing upon his Swiss cheesemaking roots (he also trained as an office product mechanic in Switzerland before moving to the U.S.), Felix began making cheese with 20 gallons of milk in a rigged-up soup kettle over his stove. Soon, he began sharing his feta cheese with family and friends.

Turns out Felix is a pretty good cheesemaker and soon he had more cheese than he could give away. So in 2000, he made a business plan, got his cheesemakers license and "started seriously making cheese." Today, he makes a whole line of goat's milk cheeses, including: Feta -- French, Bulgarian, Greek, Marinated and Mediterranean -- Felix does them all. Feta has been the mainstay of Felix's business since he started.

Then there is Felix's line of "Bear" cheeses. Bear cheeses are made with traditional Muenster techniques. The fresh young version of the cheese is very mild, great for those of you who have only recently come to enjoy goat cheeses. For more advanced tasters, Felix has successfully apple-smoked the same cheese (Smoky Bear™) and produced a washed rind version called Washed Bear™.

He's also making a stick bear cheese, which is a traditional muenster with an orange skin and made with goat milk. Since it comes in a stick shape, he calls it "Stick Bear™." Felix's new muenster made with cow milk is called "Moo Bear™." And for the record, "Yes, it's hard to milk the bear."

And finally, we come to where I started: St. Felix. This American Original is an inventive combination between Havarti and Gouda created by Felix. He uses only raw milk for full flavor. The milk is inoculated, cut, washed and pressed into Gouda molds from Denmark. These cheeses are then dry salted for two days and cured on cedar boards. They are washed every day for two weeks, then every other day, schmeared with additional culture during the first two weeks, turned, and kept at high humidity until they find a happy home. This whole process takes two to three years.

Early versions of this cheese are ready now, and it has been named St. Felix™ cheese, not to be confused with the actual St. Felix. And Felix is making a mixed milk -- half goat, half cow milk -- washed rind cheese, called St. Pauline™. It's aged for four to eight months and it has notes of Limburger cheese.

I asked Felix how it came to be that he named this particular cheese after himself, and even inserted Saint before it, no less. Turns out Felix has a pretty simple answer: "Nobody's going to elevate me to sainthood, so I have to do it myself." Fair enough.

Seriously though, Felix says he comes up with different names so he has stories to share with his clientele. "Customers always like something to smile about, so I figure why not make them laugh with cheese?"

Nobody's joking when they eat this cheese, however, as St. Felix is as nice as an aged goat's cheese as I've had in a long time. I highly recommend it. If you can't find it in a store near you, ask them to consider carrying it. Yum.

1 comment:

Resident_Cheesemonger said...

St. Holly cheese has a really nice ring to it, don't you think? If I could name a cheese after myself (which isn't likely since I am not, in fact, a talented cheesemaker, merely an amateur cheese EATER), I think I'd like it to be a fresh gourmet mozzarella. It's soft, smooth, sought after, a great thing to invite to dinner, and it gets better with age!