Sunday, November 15, 2009

New Book: WI Master Cheesemakers

By now, you've probably heard about a new book that's out called The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin, by James Norton and Becca Dilley. Although I pre-ordered a copy and it arrived a couple weeks ago, today was the first chance I've really had to sit down and take a look.

All I can say is that anyone who is curious at all to learn more about the people who make your favorite cheeses should buy this book, read it cover to cover, and soak in its captivating photography. I sat down this afternoon with the intention to skim it for notes and get ideas on future blog entries, and 90 minutes later, had consumed most of its 185 pages word for word. Wowsers.

And just to be clear, I'm not giving this book a favorable review because of page 52, although I find that particular page, titled: "The Legend of the Cheese Underground," to be exceptionally well written. Big smile.

Instead, I love this book because of its personal stories and testimonies from each cheesemaker, and its amazingly honest take and reporting of Wisconsin's dairy industry. I also admire the authors because they admit in just the third sentence of the introduction: "Up to a certain point, gaining knowledge about cheese only exposes how little you actually know about it." Ain't that the truth. The longer I write about cheese, the more I realize I need to learn.

Some of my favorite excerpts/quotes from The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin:

Page 20: Master Cheesemaker Bruce Workman, who crafts 180-pound wheels of Emmentaler says: "I wanted to be a culinary chef, and I am. I just use larger vessels."

Page 45: Master Cheesemaker Myron Olson lamenting about the bad rap that Limburger gets: "A few years ago we had a chef in Chicago and she loved Limburger. So she put 'Limburger and Dumplings' on her menu. Couldn't sell anything. Next week - same people, same restaurant - she put it back on her menu as 'Smear Ripened Cheese and Dumplings.' People went wild for it."

Page 61: Master Cheesemaker Sid Cook: "We make about 60 different cheeses. Quite a few of them are American originals. They're cheeses that ... well, we just make 'em up."

Page 65: In describing the countryside surrounding Cedar Grove Cheese: "The first thing a visitor to the Cedar Grove Cheese plant in Plain is likely to remember is how beautiful the countryside is. Legend is that Iceland and Greenland were misleadingly named in order to confuse invaders. It's possible that Plain was named according to a similar scheme; Cedar Grove's plant is nestled in among rolling hills, streams, dales and bucolic stretches of tree-bordered fields that recall rural Ireland more readily than the American Midwest."

Page 66: Master Cheesemaker Bob Wills: "This is probably the most exciting time in the dairy industry in Wisconsin that there's ever been. It's kind of like there's a renaissance. During history there have been these little periods when there'll be groups of writers in Paris or New York, or when Shelley and Keats and Byron and all those guys hung out together and all challenged each other ... it just feels like that's what's happening in Wisconsin ... people are just clamoring to see what we'll do next."

Page 76: Master Cheesemaker Tom Jenny worries about making his first vat of Swiss cheese in four years, now that he's working on American Originals with Sid Cook at Carr Valley. Sid wants Tom to make authentic Swiss for him: 'You want me to use a whole vat - 17,000 pounds of milk? What if it doesn't turn out?' Tom asks Sid, who answers: 'We'll just call it something and sell it in the store.' No worries.

Page 81: Master Cheesemaker Gary Grossen: "For 51 years, I lived above that cheese factory, until 2001. I'm the real McCoy cheesemaker."

Page 89: The authors describe the hum of activity at Master Cheesemaker Joe Widmer's plant in Theresa: "With the addition of the right music - something with a manic tempo - the action that takes place in Widmer's Cheese Cellars would resemble an elaborately choreographed dance number."

Page 90: Master Cheesemaker Joe Widmer, talking about crafting Brick cheese at his plant: "We're still using the bricks my grandfather bought in 1922. We're making cheese like the Flintstones."

And perhaps the best quote to sum it all up:

Page 164: Master Cheesemaker Bruce Willis at Burnett Dairy Cooperative in Alpha, Wis: "It all starts with the milk, farmers taking care of their cows. We've got the ultimate happy cows here."

If you happen to live in Wisconsin and want to meet the authors of the book, here are some upcoming opportunities:

Wine & Cheese and a Discussion at the Wisconsin Memorial Union
WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 19 at 5:30 pm
WHERE: Wisconsin Memorial Union, 2nd Floor Main Lounge, 800 Langdon St, Madison, WI

Launch Party with Reading and Signing & Cheese Tasting
WHEN: Friday, Nov. 20 at 5:00 pm
WHERE: Fromagination, 12 S. Carroll St, Madison, WI

Launch Party with Reading and Signing & Appearance by Master Cheesemaker Kerry Henning
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 21 at 3:00 pm
WHERE: Larry's Market, 8737 N. Deerwood Drive, Milwaukee, WI

See you there!

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