Sterling Reserve is a raw milk, cave aged goat cheddar brand new to the market. Available just this week at Fromagination in Madison (and hopefully elsewhere soon), this naturally-rinded, complex flavored beauty is crafted by Mt. Sterling Cheese Cooperative in tiny Mt. Sterling, Wis.
The cheese has been a long time coming. Marketing Director Pat Lund (who is also a dairy goat producer and member of the Mt. Sterling Cooperative) first presented the idea of making an artisan cave aged goat cheese to her board of directors back in 2003. She calls it a "producer inspired" cheese, and it is, in fact, just the first of what will be an entire line of artisan goat cheeses dreamed up by the cooperative members.
"We wanted to reflect the original intent of forming a co-op, so we produced a goat cheese simple in nature, powerful in presence and complex in flavor," Pat says.
That's a pretty good description of Sterling Reserve. Crafted by cheesemakers Al O'Brien and Bjorn Unseth in 2-pound daisy wheels, the raw milk goat cheddars are aged at the plant for about 30 days, and are then shipped to a farmstead cheesemaker in northern Wisconsin, where they are washed and aged in a true cave environment for another 60 days.
The result is a cheese that can hold its own on any cheese board in any restaurant or cheese contest anywhere, any time. It recently earned a gold medal at the 2009 Los Angeles International Dairy Competition in the ripened goat's milk cheese competition, beating out three cheeses crafted by the venerable Redwood Hill Farm in California. In fact, when Pat recently presented the cheese to some accounts on the West Coast, she says they were all blown away.
"When they asked me where Mt. Sterling was from and I told them Wisconsin, they simply nodded as if to say, 'Of course, where else?"
If you're interested in tasting the magnificent Sterling Reserve, Pat will be at the Wine & Dine in Milwaukee on Oct 10-11, and at the Meet the Cheesemaker Gala at the Wisconsin Original Cheese Festival in Madison on Nov. 6. Until then, call your local cheesemonger and tell them to order it - one taste and they'll be hooked. And no, I'm not sharing what's left of the wheel in my fridge. You'll have to find your own.