Sunday, October 04, 2009

Farmer's Market Finds

Farmer's Market season may be winding down here in pre-winter Wisconsin, but our cheesemakers never stop creating new cheeses or finding innovative marketing strategies. A stroll through the Dane County Farmer's Market in Madison on Saturday resulted in the following discoveries:

1. Bleu Mont Dairy "Cheese du Jour" -- I'd provide a photo of this lovely little hunk of golden bliss, but my family consumed it within an hour of it hitting my kitchen counter. Cheesemaker Willi Lehner is a marketing genius. He apparently has a few wheels left of a Havarti-style cheese he made 2-1/2 years ago with milk from Uplands Cheese (the same milk used in the revered Pleasant Ridge Reserve), so he cut it up and is marketing it as his Raw & Unplugged Cheese of the Day. There should still be some left next week. I am not exaggerating when I say it's worth driving to Madison alone just to eat Willi's cheeses.

2. Fantome Farm "Moreso" -- Anne Topham, whose name I can never include without the accompanying my proclaimed title of "The Grand Matriarch of Wisconsin Goat Cheese", is still cranking out new stuff. Despite a tough year that included knee replacements and the usual bouts of fighting Wisconsin weather, Anne is a mainstay a the Saturday market. I picked up a lovely little disk of her Moreso, a fresh goat cheese rolled in ash. For a brief glimpse of the tranquility of Anne's farm and the milking of her goats, go here (video courtesy of Kate Arding, Culture Magazine).

3. Capri Cheesery "Celestesan" -- cheesemaker Felix Thalhammer (or as I often refer to him when describing to out-of-towners: "you know, that goat cheesemaker on the square - the short, Swiss quirky dude") has come up with yet another new creation. It's named after his daughter, Celeste, and is a Parmesan-style cheese with slight smoky notes. It is shredded, vacuum sealed, and then sold as a cooking cheese. Great on a burger or a fondue.

4. Hook's Cheese "Little Boy Blue" -- I've written about this cheese in its development stage, but this is the first time I actually got to see it and taste it. Oh. My. God. Amazing. To recap, this is the partnership between the Hook's and Brenda Jensen at Hidden Springs Creamery. It's a sheep's milk blue, crafted by Tony & Julie at their plant in Mineral Point. Afterward, the wheels are split up between both parties. Brenda ages her wheels in her farm cave near Westby and sells it a bit younger as "Bohemian Blue." Tony & Julie age their wheels in their cellars in Mineral Point, age it a bit longer (the piece I had was made in May) and sell as Little Boy Blue. They are two, very distinctively different cheeses and both amazing in their own ways. Highly recommended.

P.S. for an entertaining and highly-expletive-laden review titled: "10 Things I Love About Madison", including a spot-on review of the farmer's market, check out Salon.com's entry from Sept 6. (I totally stole their photo - thanks, Jessabelle!)

3 comments:

Kerry said...

I commented a few weeks ago about cheesemakers in other states and you promptly corrected me with a often quoted statistic about there being 1200 licensed cheesemakers in Wisconsin. I thought that was interesting so I looked into it to see what the facts were. It seems that Wisconsin is the only place in the world that requires that a cheese maker be licensed and that was started nearly a century ago to promote quality and to cut down on the quantity of cheesemakers. When the law was written it required that a cheesemaker "want to be" must work at a cheese plant so if the cheese plants just freeze them out their will be no additional cheese makers. Good idea and it worked. The state went from 2800 to 110. Now this is cheesemakers as defined by they Wisconsin Cheesemakers Association and it really is not cheesemakers but cheese producers. That is a 96% drop, quite successful. Now one would assume that to be a licensed cheesemaker you would have to take a test and that is correct but there is no requirement for any continuing education. Once a licensed cheesemaker it apparently requires $25 per year to remain a cheesemaker forever. If you are a teacher, contractor, plumber or even a master gardener in Wisconsin you are required to update your knowledge annually, but not cheesemakers. Doesn't that kind of make the concept a sham. I spoke with someone from WDACTP (hope I got that right) that suggested that about half of the licensed cheesemakers do not make cheese and if they required continuing education, as they would if they were really interested in a more educated cheesemaking community, that the number of cheesemakers would drop to around 600 which would be an average of a little under 6 per plant which still seems very high. Most of the "artisan" makers that you like to cover have one cheese maker which would require an offsetting plant to have 11 to hit the 6 average. Why don't you lobby for continuing education and see what the cheese making community has to say and then you will see how determined they are to maintain their professionalism. Maybe they would be for it, if not it would be very telling.

Kerry

cheese underground lady said...

Hi Kerry - sounds like you feel pretty passionate about this subject. I would encourage you to follow your passions and lobby for what you believe in.

I believe in assisting cheesemakers navigate the current system. For example, I, personally, plan to offer a $3,000 annual scholarship for beginning artisan cheesemakers, starting in 2010. That's about the amount I'll be making from my annual cheese festival, so I think it's a good way to give back to the dairy community. I plan to launch the scholarship program in January 2010. More details to follow.

Bill Anderson said...
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