Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Goat Gouda in the Spring

Good news, Wisconsinites! We will have goat gouda in the spring!

Diana Murphy, Dreamfarm, made her first 18 baby wheels of goat gouda this past week. The lovely white wheels are curing nicely in her aging room on her farm near Cross Plains. Diana makes fresh goat chevre all spring and summer to sell in the Vermont Valley CSA, and now that the CSA season is over, she will make goat gouda with her milk until her 20 goats dry in up early December.

I visited with Diana on Monday of this week at what may be the prettiest farm in all of the Midwest. Situated on a bluff overlooking a lush valley surrounded by hardwood trees in the last throes of fall foliage, Diana, her husband, Jim, and four daughters truly have found their "dream farm" in the rolling hills of scenic southwest Wisconsin.

Each of Diana's goats are of course named and loved as individuals, and I was a little sad to see that Shiloh, Diana's signature white milking goat who sports two lovely long curved horns, had broken off one of her horns this fall. Oh well, it just gives her more character. To see the goat in mention, view this new Wis Public Television 7-minute short on the state's growing goat dairy industry: video.

Diana's been making farmstead goat cheeses for five years. She sells her cheeses not only in a local CSA, but also at Willy St. Co-op in Madison and at the Westside Farmer's Market -- just two weeks left to buy her cheese and fresh farm eggs (show up no later by 8 a.m. for the eggs -- last week she sold 72 dozen in an hour). Yikes.

In the high season, Diana makes cheese three days a week -- chevre on Mondays and Wednesdays, and feta on Fridays. Now she's making gouda twice a week until she runs out of milk for the winter. Then it will age all winter and make its official debut this spring. Ahh, something to look forward to through another long Wisconsin winter.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Water Buffalo Fresh Mozz

In exciting news, Wisconsin may soon have a fresh mozzarella made from the milk of local water buffaloes. Whooo-hoo!

A full-page feature in this week's The Country Today tells the story, and I must say it's an interesting one: a man by the name of Dubi Ayalon, an Israel native, decided to start a new career. He quit his job as a school principal, packed up his stuff and moved to a Wisconsin dairy farm he had only seen on the Internet. He then began searching for a herd of water buffalo to milk.

While it sort of sounds like a Saturday Night Live sketch, turns out it's true. Here's my favorite quote from the story:

"When I came here I didn't know that cows had four nipples, I swear to god." -- Dubi Ayalon

It appears to be a good thing that Mr. Ayalon is surrounded by people who do know that cows have four nipples, including Master Cheesemaker Bob Wills at Cedar Grove Cheese in Plain, who is excited to get his hands on some water buffalo milk to make fresh mozz. He's sure "there will be a clamoring for the product when we get it done" and I agree. I continuously have people asking me for a Wisconsin-made buffalo mozz and have to tell them it doesn't exist. In fact, there are only a handful of farms milking water buffalo in the United States -- one each in Vermont, California and Michigan.

I guess if it were easy to milk water buffaloes and make fresh mozz from their milk, someone in Wisconsin would have already done it. Apparently, it's even harder to get the animals to come into the barn for milking, as Mr. Ayalon tells The Country Today in my second favorite quote:

"Water buffalo are not like cows, you can't push them into the barn. You just cannot do it. They are stronger and full of muscles. You need to call them into the barn. Every morning and afternoon I go to the barn and sing a song in Hebrew, and they come. They make a connection between food and song."

Can't wait to eat some fresh buffalo mozz from singing cows. This will be another great Wisconsin story.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Size Does Matter

I read a fascinating column in yesterday's Fond du Lac Reporter, entitled: "Why have farms grown so large?" It was apparently written in response to an earlier column talking about a large, 7,000-cow dairy being proposed near Ripon, Wis.

No matter which side of the political fence you're on about large, medium-sized or small dairies, the following numbers are very interesting -- credit to Bob Panzer of Badgerland Financial for the below info:

According to the University of Minnesota, it takes an average of $74,804 annually to support the average farm family. The study involved 850 farms in Minnesota and the average family size was 3.5 people.

To generate a profit of that amount, the U of M looked at farm profits and determined:


  • It would take 948 beef cows to produce a profit required to provide for the average family.

  • A total of 10,717 hogs raised from weaning to finish would be needed to earn the amount required to provide for the average farm family.

  • The average farm family would need to milk 127 dairy cows. (The U of M research determined the average dairy cow - over the past five years - has provided a profit of almost $600 annually. Some years, the profit was much lower and some years higher but on average, the magic number for profitability is apparently 127 cows).
I know what you're thinking. Why should I care about the size of farms? Well, because the milk that goes into the cheese that we all love so much comes from the state's dairy farms.

And, because the state's traditional farms, like the one I grew up on, where our parents raised a few cows, a few hogs and some steers, and kids like me grew up baling hay, doing chores and generallly staying out of trouble — are no longer an option to support a family in the times in which we live.

That's why I continue to be such a huge advocate of the state's value-added dairy industry and our specialty and artisan cheeses. Because many of these products -- whether it's Sassy Cow Creamery bottled milk or Marieke Gouda or Caprine Supreme goat yogurt -- come from average farm families trying to make a living milking animals and producing a product from the milk that comes from their farm.

No matter the size of the farm, it's the quality of the product that matters the most to me, and Wisconsin makes some of the best value-added dairy products on the market today. There's room here for big, medium and small farms, and we've got the happy cows to prove it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ethel Jensen: Wonder Woman

Breaking news of the day: I have discovered that Wisconsin's newest dairy artisan, Ethel Jensen, is actually Wonder Woman.

Okay, so she doesn't actually wear the super cool red, white and blue outfit or boast bullet-deflecting bracelets, but she does make amazing cheese. She also milks five cows and 84 goats every day, will soon start milking 40 sheep, will open an on-farm retail store before the end of the year, grows her own wheat for her own bread that she makes in her own on-farm commercial kitchen, and has plans to build an on-farm cheesrie next year.

Whew. I'm tired just writing about it.

Ethel and her husband, Jim, and their extended family - 10 kids & multiple grandchildren -- hosted an educational field day at their farm near Mt. Horeb on Saturday. About 75 people showed up, many of them young and aspiring farmers, entrepreneurs, and even five UW Madison veterinary school students -- all wanting to know more about how Ethel manages to do everything she does.

Ethel compares herself to the tortoise in Aesop's Fable: The Tortoise & the Hare . "It's taken me 10 years to go through the process of earning my farmstead cheesemaking license. I've seen a lot of people come and go, and many of them are making some amazing cheeses. I hope it's my time now to get going."

Ethel first started experimenting with making cheeses 30 years ago on her stove top to feed to her family. Today, she's using nearby cheesemaking plants to produce fresh goat's milk chevre in plain, dill and caraway, has just started making a goat's milk farmer cheese, and is currently aging some mixed milk cheeses with high hopes of success. She hasn't yet designed a label, but is thinking the name of her farm - Gronndal Springs -- will likely be part of her brand.

And while I was first under the impression that Ethel lives on a winding road in the middle of nowhere, it turns out she lives on one of the busiest commuter county highways in the state. From 5 to 7 a.m., she says a line of traffic passes her house continuously, and many commuters have asked if she plans to open her on-farm store as early as 5 a.m. so they can stop and buy fresh, home-made donuts to take to work.

Fear not: she's working diligently to make it happen.

"I've really only ever needed four hours of sleep, so I usually sleep from 1o p.m. to 2 a.m., and then start milking at 2:30 a.m. First the cows, then the goats and then the sheep. Then it's off to the bakery to get the bread and donuts done for the day. Then I get the kids off to school."

So by 8 a.m., she's already got a six-hour day in. Sounds like Wonder Woman to me!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Smoking Hot

Here's an interesting tidbit that caught my attention this week: the USA Today reports that while smoking cigarettes may no longer be cool, smoking cocktails is extremely hot.

Apparently, "pyro-inclined mixologists on both coasts are smoking ingredients — liquor, mixers, even glassware — over aromatic woods such as cherry or apple to add a robust dimension to fall/winter drinks. At Absinthe Brasserie & Bar in San Francisco, bartenders smoke rum or brandy over cherrywood chips, mix the liquor into a cocktail and serve the drink in a glass that has been inverted over a lit wood chip. Across town at Bacar, full-bodied whiskey is smoked in-house over applewood, then mixed with pineapple juice, lemon juice and house-made sassafras simple syrup."

Alrighty then. This makes me ponder that perhaps we should creating a smoking cheese.

Oh wait, somebody already beat me to it: it's called Juustalepia, a specialty cheese with Finnish and Swedish origins. The name Juustalepia (HOOstah-lee-pah) translates as “bread cheese,” an apt description since its appearance and aroma is similar to toasted bread.

Its characteristic sweet caramel crust is produced through a slow baking process and its unique flavor is most pronounced when served warm. It can be heated in the oven, microwaved or grilled.

Several Wisconsin companies are making their own versions of Juustaleipa, including:

  • Brunkow Cheese, Darlington, Wis. -- they call theirs "Brun-uusto"

  • Carr Valley Cheese, LaValle, Wis. -- they call it "Bread Cheese"

  • K&K Cheese, Cashton, Wis. -- they call it "Juusto"

  • Bass Lake Cheese, Somerset, Wis. -- they break it into two words: "Juusto Leipa"
So the next time you're thinking about smoking a cocktail, stick some cheese in your frying pan to go with it!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Best Potato Salad Ever

Next to cheese, my favorite food in the world is potato salad. Weird, yes, but it is what it is.

So you can imagine my utmost delight when I attended Slow Food Madison's annual Celebrate Autumn event on Sunday and one of the featured dishes of the afternoon was potato salad.

Slow Food Madison has hosted an autumn event for the past three years at the Jane and Andy Crawford farm near New Glarus. Chef Tracey Vowell - for many years the managing chef of the famous Frontera Grill kitchen in Chicago -- comes up every year with an amazing menu consisting of a different slow-roasted meat, soup, salad, bread, various sides and dessert from ingredients mostly found locally.

While everyone was ooohing and ahhing over the slow roasted goat - and let me just say that yes, it was good, as it had been cooked in a below-ground fire pit right on the farm - the highlight of the meal was for me: potato salad.

This was no ordinary potato salad. It featured fresh baby red potatoes, Butler Farms Farmstead Sheep's Milk Feta (I didn't even know Janet was making a sheep's milk feta -- good to know), piquillo peppers, carrots & onion, dressed with red wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic and green onions.

Wowsers. This was the best potato salad ever. I actually scored my own serving bowl and just kept it within arm's reach. In fact, this may be the first and only potato salad that was worth sacrificing dessert for -- and it was a fruit compote with Basque-style creme anglaise flavored with cinnamon (it should be noted that I didn't actually sacrifice dessert, but I should have, as I wasn't hungry until about noon on Monday).

This was also a potato salad worth freezing my tush off, as it was about 50 degrees and raining the entire time we sat sideways on a hill on folding chairs in an open-sided tent. No worries, however, as my friend Sue had brought along a pair of winter gloves. Luckily she is left-handed and I am right-handed, so we each donned a glove on our non-eating hand. It pays to have left-handed friends.

Sue and I also decided that we should have brought containers for the extra food, but then decided that probably would have been tacky. But just let me say that if this potato salad is served next year, I'm pulling a ziploc bag out of my purse and saving some for later. I don't care how many dirty looks I get -- don't get between me and good potato salad, especially one that includes fresh farmstead sheep's milk feta.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Best New Cheeses in the World

A Wisconsin company makes two out of three of the best new cheeses in the world, according to the 20th World Cheese Awards held last week in Dublin, Ireland.

Sartori Reserve Raspberry BellaVitano - one of the best new cheeses I've tasted so far this year -- took gold for Best New Cheese with additives. This is the same cheese I raved about at July's ACS contest -- where it also took a blue ribbon.

Sartori also took gold in the Best New Cheese - hard or semi-hard category with its Sartori Reserve BellaVitano. The only best new cheese it apparently does not make is the Best New Blue Cheese in the world, which went to a company in Switzerland.

The cheeses are made in Antigo, Wis., and Sartori has heavily reinvested in the plant since it purchased it in 2006 from Antigo Cheese. You may better know the company by its SarVecchio Parmesan (formerly Stravecchio Parmesan) cheese -- which routinely wins awards in every contest it's entered. In fact, it won Best American Cheese at least year's World Cheese Awards.

This was the first time in the 20-year history of the World Cheese Awards that the judging was held outside of the United Kingdom. More than 2,400 cheeses from every continent except South America were entered in the contest. Judging by 140 judges took place on September 29, with winners announced on October 1.

Rounding out the Wisconsin winners are:

  • GOLD -- Semi-Hard Cheese Produced on Farm or Dairy with a Total Output Not Exceeding a Weekly Average of 2 Tons -- Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese

  • GOLD -- Rind-Washed Cheese Not in Any Other Class -- Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Les Freres

  • SILVER -- New Cheese with Additives - open to any new cheese first marketed after April 1, 2007: Sartori Reserve Black Pepper BellaVitano, hand coated with cracked peppercorns

  • BRONZE -- Rind-Washed Cheese Not in Any Other Class -- Roth Kase USA, Roth's Private Reserve

  • BRONZE -- Semi-Hard Cheese Not in Any Other Class -- Roth Kase USA, Gran Queso

  • BRONZE -- Mozzarella, Fresh, Cow's Milk in Ball -- BelGioioso Cheese, Burrata

  • BRONZE -- Two-Year Aged Cheddar, Widmer's Cheese Chellars

In case you were wondering -- the cheese taking the overall "Best in Show" at the World Cheese Awards was a cooperative of 50 partners from the Canary Islands, the Sociedad Canaria de Formento, which won the World Champion crown for its Queso Arico curado pimentón cheese. I have no idea what kind of cheese this is, but it must be good. :)

Congrats to all!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

20 Under 40

The October issue of Gourmet News unveils the 2008 class of "20 under 40." This biennial feature recognizes 20 people in the gourmet food and kitchenware industries that are 40 years of age.

In exciting news, Rolf and Marieke Penterman, of Hollands Family Cheese, are featured in the issue! Marieke is a licensed cheesemaker and makes some of the best gouda I've ever tasted -- my all time favorite is still her Foenegreek Gouda -- yum!

Here's the excerpt about the Pentermans, courtesy of Gourmet News - interview is with Marieke:

Describe how you got involved in the gourmet/specialty food/ business:

My husband Rolf and his brother both wanted to farm. Rolf came to the United States in 2002,and I followed in 2003. While Rolf was farming, I was looking for something to do. At first I wanted to make children’s furniture, but I had trouble finding someone to carry out my designs. At the same time, we were missing the cheese from Holland and we were having friends and relatives bring it with them in their suitcases. But the weight restrictions on luggage was getting to be a problem. So I decided I would try to make it on my own. I took classes and got my cheesemaking license and went back to Holland where I worked with a woman cheesemaker with 10 cows and a man with 200 cows. And between them, I found a method that would work for me.

Most valuable lessons learned:

There are so many different aspects: learning to make the cheese, learning the marketing and running the store. I was afraid I would be too focused, but I discovered I can find solutions to the problems. If it doesn’t go the way you want, you have to innovate.

Describe how your business has grown and what your plans are for the future:

We were lucky to win all those awards (eight at this year’s American Cheese Society Competition, including first place in Dutch-Style Cheese and Smoked Cheese). That put us on the road to expanding our sales. We also go to the food shows, which is very important, so more people know about our cheese. And we’re expanding the line with a gouda that is strongly connected to Wisconsin.

Of course, I (and this is Jeanne talking again) am still eagerly waiting to find out what the new gouda is that Marieke's working on -- hoping to find out before the end of the year!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Go to Switzerland with Felix

I got the most interesting email today from Wisconsin cheesemaker Felix Thalhammer, creator of the award-winning "Bear" line of cheeses, goat's milk feta, and my all-time favorite: St. Felix. Turns out Mr. Felix is organizing nine days of winter fun, skiing, and hot springs in Switzerland in February.

Book your trip now, Felix tells me. He's even offering five different date windows, from February 2009 to January 2010. Cost is $3,499 per person with an early bird discount. Wow, this man is organized. So what all does the trip include? Let me break it down:

Flight, hotel & lodging, breakfast and dinner, skiing and equipment, lift tickets and "a few traditional dinners" -- Felix says, "We'll do some of our own Swiss cooking so you'll learn how to make Swiss dishes."

I feel like the announcer on the Price is Right (read to yourself in a deep, booming voice): "You and a guest will enjoy an eight-night stay in Switzerland with native Felix Thalhammer. Accommodations include an authentic Swiss chalet with day trips to hot springs and ski mountains."

Anyhoo, Felix assures me that if I go, I'll "have so much fun, I'll yodel about it." Not sure about that, but if anyone is interested in the trip, call Felix at 608-604-2640 or email him. Always happy to spread the word about an opportunity to spend time with the Saint.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Fall Seasonal Cheddar

How do you tell it’s autumn in Wisconsin? The evenings start to cool, the leaves begin to turn, and Otter Creek Organic Farm releases its raw milk Fall Seasonal Cheddar.

Even in Wisconsin, a state regaled for its cheddar heritage, Otter Creek Organic Farm’s seasonal cheddars stand out. Available in select retail stores across the nation, the farm’s raw milk Fall Seasonal Cheddar bears a striking label telling the story of this award-winning cheese. It starts with the beautiful clean grasses of Otter Creek's organic fields, where 180 farmstead Holsteins graze and produce flavorful milk. It ends with that same milk being used to make cheddars tasting like the seasons in which they were crafted.

Made locally by Master Cheesemaker Bob Wills at nearby Cedar Grove Cheese in Plain, Wis., and released just this week, Otter Creek’s Fall Organic Cheddar is now 11 months old (each season’s cheese is aged and released one year later for peak flavor). So how exactly does Fall Cheddar taste?

“The cows that produced this cheese grazed on Wisconsin pastures of mature rye, alfalfa, clover and late season annuals,” says Bartlett Durand, of Otter Creek Organic Farm. “As the grass peaks in flavor, so does the milk. Good milk makes good cheese, and although the strength of the seasonal cheddars depends primarily on the amount of time they are aged, the Fall is relatively the strongest flavor, and the one my cheesemaker most prefers."

Otter Creek Cheddar has gained recognition at several prestigious award competitions, winning ribbons at both the 2007 U.S. Cheese Championship Contest and the 2007 American Cheese Society Competition. Retailers have also recognized its unique taste, showcasing the remarkable Otter Creek Seasonal Cheddars in promotions and educational pieces, often pairing two seasons with the always-available Pesto cheddar.

So how does a seasonal cheddar come into being? It began with Otter Creek Organic Farm owners Gary and Rosie Zimmer, who started in the 1970s, raising their children on the land and instilling in them an interest in agriculture and conservation. In 1994, with their son, Nicholas, they purchased Otter Creek farm in the rolling hills of southwest Wisconsin.

Originally a crop farm, the family decided to move into organic dairy and bought 40 dairy cows. Nicholas Zimmer and three other families now run Otter Creek Organic Farm, a 1,200-acre farmstead that includes 180 Holsteins, pastured-raised beef and hogs, free-range poultry, and Local Choice Farm Market, where Otter Creek Farm products are sold locally.

In March, the Zimmers were named the 2008 MOSES Organic Farmer of the Year by the board of directors of the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service. In addition, the farm has been recognized by national environmental organizations for its role in protecting wildlife, caring for the environment, treating livestock humanely, and engaging in fair, safe labor practices. Gary Zimmer is today an international speaker sought after for his unique research in how to farm sustainably using mineralized, balanced agriculture.

So the next time you see Otter Creek Seasonal Cheddars in a store near you, check it out.