Monday, August 31, 2009

Low Milk Prices Hurting Farmers

Those of us who like to eat, talk and write about funky cheese have a pretty good gig in Wisconsin. With 88 of the state's 127 cheese plants today making at least one type of specialty cheese, (600 in all), there's never a shortage of material.

Meanwhile, down on the farm, times aren't so good. In fact, our dairy farms are folding up shop, dispersing cows, and moving to town to try and find jobs, one by one. A colleague at the Department of Agriculture told me last week - his head in his hands - that Wisconsin may lose 1,000 dairy farms by spring.

Ouch.

Since mid to late 2008, the price to produce the milk we all drink, eat in cheese and enjoy in ice cream, yogurt and various dairy products, has far outweighed what farmers are getting paid for it. This is not new news. Historically, milk prices paid to dairy farmers have always fluctuated - sometimes hitting peaks of more than $20 per hundredweight like they did in 2007, and then sometimes hitting $10 a hundredweight, where prices are hovering around now.

But never has the price paid to the farmer stayed this low for this long, and never has the price of input materials - food, fertilizer and fuel - stayed so high. Farmers I talk with say they're losing $100 per cow every month. That means Farmer Wayne and his family down the road who are milking 80 cows are losing $8,000 a month. I can't imagine working 18 hours a day only to dig myself deeper into debt.

Farmers are a hardy bunch. For the most part, they're not complainers. They take the lumps as they come. But low pay prices, partnered with high cost prices, combined with never-changing relatively high retail prices are really beginning to stick in the craw of the average dairy farmer.
Why? Because retail prices for dairy products haven't dropped in accordance with the prices paid to farmers, so consumers on average aren't even aware of what farmers are being paid. No matter the price, only about 23 percent of the price of a gallon of milk ever makes it to the farmer. That means for a $3 gallon of milk, the farmer gets only 69 cents.

Pat Skogen, a small organic dairy farmer near Loganville, Wis., emailed me this week. (You know dairy farmers are getting desperate to get out information when they even track down the cheese bloggers for help). Pat says they sell their milk to a small local cheese plant and she's thinking of starting a butter/cheese arm to the farm "because dairy prices really STINK right now."

Pat says that milk prices paid to farmers today are at 1975 levels. A lot of things have changed in the last 30 years. In 1975, Pat started teaching school at $8,000 a year. A new Ford F250 for the farm cost between $7,000 - $10,000. Today, she's a retired schoolteacher and a new farm truck can cost up to $40,000. Yet, the price being paid to a farmer for 100 pounds of milk is the same, at around $10.

"The cost of production of milk is around $18 per hundredweight. For a family living wage, we should be receiving $25 - $35 per hundredweight of milk. We are losing thousands of dollars each month. It is not the weather, floods or poor business sense. It is not supply and demand. If we received HALF of the $3.69 you might spend for a gallon of milk, we would be at over $21/hundredweight. So where is the other half going?"

Good question, Pat. I am not an economist, so I don't know or pretend to know the answer. But a quick Google search shows the following:

1. Dean Foods Inc posted a 31 percent increase in quarterly profits this month, "helped by lower costs for raw milk." -- according to Reuters, Aug. 5, 2009.

2. Kraft Foods Inc reported a higher-than-expected 11 percent rise in quarterly profits this month as "the largest North American food maker benefits from price increases and cost cuts" -- according to MSN Money, Aug. 4, 2009.

3. ConAgra's consumer foods business is growing. In June, ConAgra said "earnings from continuing operations rose to 41 cents, compared to 18 cents last year, as the food maker benefited from lower manufacturing and supplier costs." -- according to the Wall Street Journal, June 25, 2009.

As the suits in corporate America and Wall Street reap the profits of low milk prices paid to Wisconsin dairy farmers, the farmers themselves are not the only ones suffering. The rural businesses who depend on dairy farms are already feeling the loss of farmer cash flow and payments.

Ralph Reeson, Pat's husband, recently told the Reedsburg Times Press: "What happens out here impacts what happens in town. When we don't have money, we don't buy new trucks, we don't buy more feed, and some stop even paying their insurance." Even though Reeson, like most every dairy farmer is losing money right now, still plans on farming and milking as long as he can. His neighbor, Darrell Myers, agrees: "Most of us care enough where we don't want to give up. We'd like to hang on. That's the question a lot of us are asking. At what point do I give up?"

Let's not make our dairy farmers give up, people. Talk to your farm neighbors and friends. Imagine what Wisconsin would look like without our farm green spaces and grazing bovines. Talk to your legislators and ask them to support Wisconsin dairy. Let's do whatever it takes to keep families on their farms, milking cows, and producing the product most of us take for granted every day.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Cheesemonger For A Day

Slinging cheese for a living is hard work. At least, I'm pretty sure it would be if I did it full-time.

As it is, the folks at Fromagination humor me one Saturday every month by letting me come in and pretend I'm a cheesemonger for about 4 hours. It's great. I stroll in around 10 a.m., don an apron, stretch on some plastic gloves, start talking cheese with customers from behind the counter and attempt to cut the correct amount of cheese ordered.

Besides being on your feet all day, the hardest part I find about being a cheesemonger is actually wrapping the cheese. Fromagination, like most cut-to-order cheese shops, uses a special paper with layers of plastic film that allow the cheese to breathe. While the paper is good for the cheese, in the hands of an inexperienced cheesemonger (i.e. me), it can become a giant wad of paper and tape that is not attractive. (I once wrapped a piece of cheese, only to have the customer hand it back to me and say, "Um, could you ask somebody else to do it?")

In good news, I have found a new mentor in the art of cheese wrapping. Matt, resident cheesemonger at Fromagination, showed me today his super cool way of wrapping cheese, called the French Pleat. I first saw this method a couple of weeks ago at the American Cheese Society competition in Austin, Texas, where cheesemongers from four different stores competed in a cheese wrapping duel. They did it so fast, however, I couldn't study their method.

Fear not, however, amateur cheesewrappers of the world. We may now unite, as Matt gives us an example of how to wrap a wedge of cheese using the French Pleat:


Okay, so now we know how to wrap a wedge of cheese. What about a square shape? Here's Matt again:

And, just because I asked him to, Matt shows off a bit by wrapping a piece of cheese using the French Pleat method in 10 seconds flat.

Personally, I think the best part about these videos are my incredibly inane sounds at the end -- from the "Yayyyyyy" to the "Whoaaaaaa" to "Wow". If I were more technically adept, I'd edit these to make myself sound better, but, hey, you're stuck with me. It is what it is.

So, many thanks to Ken, Bill, Matt, Paris, Tyler, Sandy, Kristi, Ryan, Gisele, and all the folks at Fromagination for humoring me by letting me pretend to be a cheesemonger for a day. See you all behind the counter next month!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Inaugural Cheese Festival

In exciting news, tickets to my first annual Wisconsin Original Cheese Festival went on sale last night at midnight. Some events have sold out, but there are still plenty of seminars and tours to choose from, and tickets are still available for a Meet the Cheesemaker Gala Reception on Friday night.

Here's the official scoop:

Held at the Monona Terrace in downtown Madison on Nov. 6-7, the festival will offer attendees the chance to meet dozens of Wisconsin cheesemakers and taste more than 100 of the state’s finest artisan, farmstead and specialty cheeses.

The two-day festival will feature a variety of events, including a Friday night Meet the Cheesemaker Gala Reception, Saturday morning guided tours and educational seminars, and a Saturday evening Artisan Cheesemaker Dine Around. Advance tickets are required. Visit www.wicheesefest.com to purchase tickets.

Hosted by Wisconsin Cheese Originals, a new member-based organization that I launched in March, the festival will be a premier destination for cheese enthusiasts and food buyers from across the nation. As Wisconsin becomes nationally recognized as a mecca for original artisan, farmstead and specialty cheeses, I wanted to create a festival that would be the perfect venue to learn more about, celebrate, and taste hundreds of the original cheeses our cheesemakers are crafting.

So, with all that said, here are the festival events:

Friday Night Meet the Cheesemaker Gala Reception: Shake hands and talk shop with the current generation of rock star cheesemakers. Sample 100 different Wisconsin original cheeses, network with foodies and enjoy your favorite wine or microbrew. Tickets: $25 per person.

Saturday Morning Tours: Choose between a private coach bus tour of Green County cheese factories, including Chalet Cheese (the only Limburger cheesemaker in America) and an elegant fondue lunch at Roth Kase USA; or partake in a personal guided tour of the largest producer Farmer’s Market in the nation, with lunch at Fromagination on the Capital Square. Tickets range from $35 - $55 per person.

Saturday Afternoon Seminars: Choose from a stunning line-up of six seminars. Enjoy wine, beer & cheese pairings, learn the art of crafting cave-aged and pasture-grazed cheeses, or the science behind “stinky” cheeses. You’ll be a cheese geek by the end of the day. Tickets range from $20 - $35 per seminar.

Saturday Evening Dine Around: Experience a culinary sensation at one of six participating Madison Originals restaurants. Each chef will partner with a local cheesemaker and host a one-of-a-kind three-course dinner. You’ll join the featured cheesemaker at a private table for 12. Tickets: $75 per person.

Additional sponsors of the First Annual Wisconsin Original Cheese Festival include: BelGioioso Cheese, Fromagination, Dairy Business Innovation Center, Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, and World Import Distributors. Thanks to everyone for their support and I hope to see all of my Cheese Underground readers at the festival!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Making Cheese with Brenda Jensen

Cheesemaker Brenda Jensen is the kind of person you like more the longer you know her. Passionate, innovative and dedicated to growing Wisconsin's sheep dairy industry, Brenda is a world-changer.

She's my kind of gal.

I had the utmost honor to spend two days with her and her husband, Dean, this past week, learning more about their sheep dairy farm and creamery in the heart of Amish country in western Wisconsin near Westby. (The Jensens just added a guest bed & breakfast suite to their farmhouse, which they plan to make available to people who want to stay overnight, see the farm, and milk sheep or help make cheese).

In addition to being sustainable land stewards in their farming practices, as well as heightening the reputation of Wisconsin quality cheeses (Hidden Springs just won 8 awards at the 2009 American Cheese Society for fresh and aged sheep's milk cheeses), the Jensens act as THE local liaison between the area's growing Amish population and the rest of the county's residents.

Over dinner Wednesday night, I learned they've taken countless Amish women to the hospital to have babies, transported many an Amish broken bone to the local doctor, and even spent hours making pancakes for out-of-town Amish families that magically appear at their neighbor's farm for weddings and funerals, expecting to be fed. Most people would look on these duties as burdens, but the Jensens don't - they know they have the honor of being asked by the Amish to do these things for them. It's hard to garner the trust of an Amish farmer, but the Jensens have done it.

Being part of the Amish community has also helped the Jensens. Each morning and night, Amish neighbor John Henry and his 5-year-old daughter, Lydia Ann, walk to the Jensens to do the morning and night milking. Little Lydia Ann runs barefoot out to the pasture to fetch the sheep while John Henry sets up for milking inside the parlor. No bigger than the sheep she is rounding up, Lydia Ann does an amazing job -- I caught a picture of her as she walked back to the parlor Wednesday night, trying to respect the Amish custom of not taking pictures of their faces.

In the morning, I got the chance to see John Henry's farm, as I rode with Dean to pick up milk for morning cheesemaking (Brenda buys sheep milk from John Henry to supplement her own herd's production). Dean piled a half dozen stainless steel cans in the back of the pickup and we drove about 1/4 mile to John Henry's farm, where his wife and six children were finishing the morning milking. We (and by we, I mean Dean and John's oldest son) loaded100-pound cans of milk onto the pickup and we were off. Then it was back to Dean & Brenda's creamery to transport their milk from the parlor in stainless steel cans to the creamery, about 40 feet away.

This trip was special, as my daughter, Avery, decided to come along. Turns out she's a pretty amazing apprentice cheesemaker. While we were waiting for the milk to heat up in Brenda's micro 200-gallon vat, Avery helped do all of the milk testing and then helped measure the cultures and mix the rennet. We were making a batch of Ocooch Mountain, an aged sheep milk cheese that just won a second place in its class at ACS.

The first few hours of cheesemaking consists of a lot of waiting around for milk to heat, cultures to work, and rennet to set. To keep us busy (and to keep Avery awake), Brenda had us wash and flip cheeses in her cave until it was time to cut the curd. Then we all took turns using the knives to swoop through the pudding-like curd mass, breaking it up into chunks of curds and whey. (I attempted to relate this process to Avery via the "Little Miss Muffet" nursery rhyme, -- "Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey" -- but alas, was greeted only with an eye roll from my soon-to-be-teenager. Oh well, I tried.)

After a 10-minute "healing" period for the curd, we all got elbow deep in the vat, scooping and breaking up curd by hand as the paddles slowly made their way from one end to the other. Here's a short video of Avery getting her hands into the curds and whey for the first time in her life (she at first thought it was slimy, but after a couple of seconds, really got into it):

From here on out, cheesemaking is pretty exciting. After pressing the curd under the whey, it was time to drain it, cut the curd mass into squares and then squish curd into 3-1/2 pound forms. It took us about an hour to fill more than 60 cheese forms, weigh each one to make sure it was exactly 3-1/2 pounds, and then top, flip, and put them on the press. Here's a video of that process:

After another 30-minute wait, then it was time to release the weights, flip the cheeses inside the forms once more, and then put the rounds back into the press, where they were pressed overnight. (As a write this, Brenda is probably taking the final product from the forms and salting the rounds -- bummer that we're not there!).

Making cheese with people like Brenda reminds me of how amazing it really is that a big tub of milk can be transformed into cheese in less than 8 hours. Very cool. Thanks, Brenda & Dean for a great couple of days. I'll send Avery your way in a few years for her apprentice cheesemaker hours. :)

Friday, August 07, 2009

ACS Best in Show

The world of American artisan cheese has a new reigning king. Winning Best of Show out of 1,327 cheeses at the 2009 American Cheese Society annual competition tonight in Austin, Texas, is ... insert virtual drum roll ... Rogue River Blue, crafted by by David Gremmels and Cary Bryant at Rogue Creamery in Central Point, Oregon.

Made seasonally from autumn into early winter from the milk of grass-fed cows, Rogue River Blue is as beautiful as it is delicious. This raw-milk cheese is aged for up to a year in the creamery's special aging rooms, which were constructed to simulate the ancient caves in Roquefort, France. The beauty of Rogue River Blue, however, is that it reflects its own region's terroir, with flavors hinting of sweet woodsy pine, wild ripened berries, hazelnuts, morels and pears.

To preserve the cheese, the folks at Rogue River hand wrap each wheel in grape leaves harvested from nearby Carpenter Hill Vineyards. The leaves are soaked in Clear Creek’s Pear Brandy and tied with raffia. Bryant and Gremmels say the grape leaves add additional complexity to the terroir-driven flavors of the cheese and preserve its moist, creamy texture. They're absolutely right. Rogue River Blue is an exceptional cheese and I'm so happy for Bryant and Gremmels.

Rounding out the Best in Show awards were Cowgirl Creamery, California, which took Second Place Best in Show with its Red Hawk, a perennial favorite and a previous overall Best in Show winner at the 2003 ACS Show. Tying for third-place Best in Show were Carr Valley Cheese, Wisconsin, with its mixed milk Cave Aged Mellage, and Consider Bardwell Farm in Vermont, with its Rupert, a raw Jersey cow's milk cheese.

Overall, Wisconsin fared quite well in the competition. Of 1,327 total entries, Wisconsin cheesemakers scored 92 awards, more than any other state, including 24 firsts, 34 seconds and 34 third places. Cheesemakers from 197 companies in 32 U.S. states, Canada and Mexico were represented.

In addition to taking Third Place Best of Show, Carr Valley's Master Cheesemaker Sid Cook landed 19 ribbons. Cheesemaker Brenda Jensen of Hidden Springs Creamery, Westby, captured the second most ribbons for Wisconsin, with a total of 8 awards for her fresh and aged sheep's milk cheeses. Holland’s Family Cheese took home the next most awards with six ribbons for its range of Dutch-style Goudas.

In summary, first place ribbons for Wisconsin cheesemakers went to:

BelGioioso Cheese Inc., Denmark: Burrata
Carr Valley Cheese, LaValle: Four-Year Cheddar, Cave Aged Mellage, Cocoa Cardona
Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese: Les Frères Reserve
Edelweiss Creamery: St. Mary’s Grass-Fed Gouda
Hidden Springs Creamery, Westby: Driftless Honey Lavender, Farmstead Feta
Holland’s Family Cheese, Thorp: Marieke Gouda Clove
Klondike Cheese, Monroe: Dill Havarti, Lowfat Feta
Meister Cheese, Muscoda: Roasted Red Pepper Mozzarella
Montchevre-Betin, Belmont: Mini Log Flavored with Honey
Organic Valley, La Farge: European Style Cultured Butter, Pepper Jack Cheese
Pasture Pride Cheese, Cashton: Redstone, Guusto
Roth Käse USA, Monroe: St. Otho, Gran Queso, Valfino
Sartori Foods, Plymouth: Merlot BellaVitano, Black Pepper BellaVitano, SarVecchio Asiago, Pastoral Blend

Congrats to all the winners!! Can't wait to sample all of these cheeses at Saturday night's Festival of Cheese. I've got a pocket full of Lactaid and I'm not afraid to use it.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Live from ACS: Mexican Cheeses

While the American Cheese Society is routinely touted as showcasing cheeses from all of North America, rarely does a Mexican cheese make an appearance. While the ACS does have a category for Hispanic Style Cheeses, the furthest south a winner's ever been declared is from Texas, and even that happens rarely -- for example, Roth Kase in Wisconsin won the category last year with its Gran Queso.

That's why I jumped at the chance to attend today's Mexican Artisan Cheese session, featuring three Mexican cheesemakers (a total of seven were scheduled to attend, but four were denied visas). Each cheesemaker told their story in Spanish and an interpreter translated for the room of about 150 attendees. Turns out the Mexicans are making some pretty interesting artisan cheeses, and we got to taste five of them -- all shipped to Austin, Texas, special for this session.

Maria De Jesus Lopez of Lacteos Acatic brought her Adobera, which we Americans typically label as Queso Fresco. It is fresh cheese with a mild, slightly salty flavor. Maria says this is the most commonly used Hispanic-style cheese in Mexico. It has a soft, crumbly texture that softens, but does not melt when heated. This cheese is based on the Spanish cheese Burgos. Soft and breakable rather than crumbly, it has a grainy feel and very mild, fresh acidity. The cheese is typically used for topping or filling in cooked dishes.

Maria and her family started making Mexican artisan cheeses in the state of Jalisco, Mexico in 1998. Jalisco is in the western part of the country and is the nation's largest dairy farming region. She makes "Old World recipes" honoring the cheeses her mother and grandmother enjoyed, including quesadilla cheese, Panela and Adobera. Mexico has two markets for cheese - a) commodity cheese for the masses and b) artisan cheese for the locals, says Dr. Guadalupe Rodriguez-Gomez, who worked with moderator Laurie Greenberg to host the panel.

But Maria's family-owned company and others like it are facing competition, and that competition is -- yep, you guessed it -- us. Global corporations including Kraft and Nestle are pumping out millions of pounds of imitation Mexican cheese made with milk protein concentrate instead of raw fluid milk, and undercutting the national artisan cheesemakers. Last year alone, the Mexican government imported 24 million tons of American-made cheese into their country -- most of it commodity Hispanic cheese manufactured by corporate giants.

One local cooperative in Jalisco is trying to compete. The Centro Lechero Cooperative de Los Altos consists of 62 local dairy farms and was incorporated in 1990. They produce between 80,000 and 100,000 liters of milk a day, with 50,000 liters going into daily cheese production (the rest is sold as fluid milk).

We had the honor of trying this cooperative's Cotija cheese, a hard, crumbly Mexican cheese used as an all-purpose grating or crumbling cheese. Jesus Duron, cheesemaker, said his dairy farmers banded together to create cheeses in an effort to obtain more value from their milk. Their Cotija cheese is excellent - just the right amount of salt and it crumbles beautifully.

The third and final Mexican cheesemaker we heard from was Rodolfo Navarro, third generation cheesemaker at Quesos Navarro, his family's dairy plant in Jalisco. Founded in 1958, this is a large operation, even by American standards. We tried two of Rodolfo's cheeses -- a six month Cheddar and an Adobera. I had never heard of Mexican cheddar before and didn't realize it was being made south of the border.

Turns out Rodolfo's grandfather originally had a contract with Kraft Foods way back when Kraft actually was interested in making Mexican cheese in Mexico. Eventually the relationship ended, but the Navarros kept producing Cheddar. Today, they are the largest Cheddar producer in Mexico. Rodolfo describes his cheddar as being made in the British-style and it is quite good.

Overall, similar to America, cheese consumption is up in Mexico. Dr. Gomez reports a 12 percent increase since 2000 in the amount of cheese Mexicans are eating. "We prefer cheeses that taste like the old times," Dr. Gomez said. "We're seeing a revival of traditional cheeses here in Mexico. It's very heartening."

Many thanks to the Mexican delegation for travelling to ACS this year and showcasing their cheeses! Maybe they'll even take home a few awards for their work ... we'll find out tomorrow night at the 2009 ACS Awards Ceremony. Stay tuned for the results!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Live from ACS: Meet the Cheesemaker

The Cheese Underground is coming to you live tonight from the American Cheese Society annual conference in smokin' hot Austin, Texas, where the high today reached 104 degrees. All I can say is thank God for air conditioning.

Today was Meet the Cheesemaker day, with more than 50 dairy artisans from North America each sampling their newest and best cheeses. This event, which is WAY smaller than the far-more-famous Festival of Cheese on Saturday night, is my favorite event of the entire show. It's not that crowded, you get to talk one-on-one with cheesemakers and company owners, and everybody is in a good mood because no one has yet overdosed on dairy products (still early in the week).

It took me 2-1/2 hours to get through the room, and I didn't even get to talk to every cheesemaker. With seven pages of notes of new products ranging from black pepper blue to a new Iowan farmstead gouda, here's what's new in the world of American artisan cheesemaking:

1. Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese, California: exciting news, people. The Giacomini family has brought on a new cheesemaker from Poland, named Kuba Hemmerling. Kuba is a jolly good fellow with a very cool accent. Now, Point Reyes has been making farmstead blue - and only blue - since 2000. They know blue. They eat blue. They breathe blue. For them to start making a new cheese is like adding another member to the family. But they're doing it. Kuba says he made his first batch of an alpine mountain cheese on Saturday. Whoo-hoo! The cheese has no name yet and the Giacomini gals are giving away NO hints, but with the reputation of this farmstead dairy, I'm thinking it's going to be big.

2. Zingerman's Creamery, Michigan: for some reason, I don't
associate the state of Michigan with making a bloomy little white mold-ripened delicate double cream. But the new Manchester cheese from Zingerman's is amazing. It has a wonderful buttery flavor with a touch of pepperiness at the finish. Cheesemaker Aubrey Thomason is also making a new goat milk cheese called Lincoln Log, that's based on a French Boucheron. This mold-ripened cheese has a delicate rind, slight citrusy flavor and a clean, fresh finish. These are two great new cheeses.

3. Sweet Grass Dairy, Georgia: perhaps best known for its award-winning Green Hill, this dairy has launched a new cheese called Gray's Goat. Named after owners Jessica and Jeremy Little's oldest son, Aidan Gray, this is another bloomy-rind goat cheese that is creamy and tangy. Aged around four weeks, and made from the family's grass-fed dairy goat herd, this one's a
keeper.

4. Seymour Dairy, Wisconsin: veteran cheesemaker Mike Brennenstuhl broke ground two years ago with launching a series of blue cheeses modeled after authentic German, Danish and Italian style cheeses. He's done it again with a new product called Crocker Hills, an organic blue cheese made from pasture grazed milk. The name of this cheese derives from a little-known settlement in Langlade County in northeast Wisconsin, where in the early 1900s, a group of Kentucky dairy farmers cleared tracts of woods and established a small farming community. The farms are long gone, but the clearings, known as the Crocker Hills, still exist.

5. Saxon Homestead Creamery, Wisconsin: owner Jerry Heimerl and cheese architect Neville McNaughton were on hand to debut Saxony, a true alpine cheese with notes of Swiss and a sweet finish. Only six months old, Saxony will keep getting better as it ages. It's made in a beautiful 12-pound wheel mold and painted a deep red color. This is a cheese that is easy to
love.

6. Sartori Foods, Wisconsin: cheesemaker Mike Matucheski is making two new cheeses to debut next summer. Pastoral Blend is a sheep/cow mixed milk cheese and Caprimenthe is an 8-month aged goat cheese rubbed with olive oil. It carries a nice mint finish. Both cheeses compliment Sartori's growing line of artisan cheeses, including my favorite, Raspberry Bellavitano.

7. Sapori d'Italia, Kentucky:
here's something to wrap your head around --cheesemaker Giovanni Capezzuto is making Italian goat's milk cheeses in Kentucky. You've got to wonder how that came about, right? Giovanni says he learned how to make his Old World Italian cheeses from a shepherdess in Italy when he was a boy. It must have been some teacher, because these cheeses are amazing. My favorite is the Caciotta al Noci, a Dolce-style cheese with walnuts. Watch these cheeses, folks. They're going to be award-winners.

8. Mozzarella Company, Texas: cheesemaker Mitchell Whitley came up with a brand new cheese just 30 days ago, and debuted it tonight at ACS. This is embarrassing to say, but I was so struck by this cheese after I tasted it that I didn't write down the name. I was too busy eating it. It's a combination of fresh cheese curds and creme fraiche. Oh. My. God. This could be my new favorite addiction. Now if I can just hunt it down and remember what it's called ...

9. Frisian Farms, Iowa: in exciting news, a new cheesemaker has popped up in Iowa and his name is Michael Bandstra. He and his brother milk about 75 cows near Oskaloosa, Iowa, and built a farmstead creamery in 2008. They're currently specializing in farmstead Gouda. This is one to watch.

10. Faribault Dairy, Minnesota: cheesemaker Jeff Jirik continues to innovate and is now partnering with several cheesemakers by aging cheeses in his natural sandstone caves off the Mississippi River. One of these cheeses, crafted by Master Cheesemaker Jeff Wideman at Maple Leaf Cheese in Wisconsin, after being aged in the Faribault caves for just two years, tastes like a 7-year cheddar. Named Fini, it's labeled as a "cave-finished, extra sharp cheddar cheese."

11. Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Wisconsin: cheesemaker George Crave has just rolled out a new marinated fresh mozzarella, featuring Italian seasoning, crushed red peppers, garlic powder, black pepper and salt. It's marinated in a blend of olive oil and canola oil. This cheese carries a nice fresh taste with a kick of flavor. It will really perk up a salad.

There are always more cheeses to talk about, but these were tonight's highlights. Stay tuned for more breaking cheese news and a daily update on how hot it is in Texas, courtesy of Cheese Underground. Until tomorrow ...

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Doing it "teraswhey"

Just one year after breaking ground to build the nation’s first facility to process whey specifically from organic cow, goat and sheep cheese, Wisconsin Specialty Protein in Reedsburg has launched a new line of whey protein products in flavors ranging from fair trade dark chocolate to yumberry, a fruit sourced from southeast Asia.

Made with all-natural ingredients, “teraswhey™” protein products are available in 12-ounce cans and single serve pouches and retail online for $19.99 and $1.99. The product can be added instantly to water or milk, shaken and drank right from a water bottle. It includes only five ingredients, sourced from sustainable dairy farms and small local cheese plants in southwestern Wisconsin, and infused with “super fruit” flavors from ecosystems around the world.

The amazing part about all this? The drinks actually taste good. Tera Johnson, CEO and brainchild behind Wisconsin Specialty Protein, says that's because she's engineered them to taste smooth and fruity, instead of chalky, like most whey protein drinks.

Not only are the products designed for professional athletes, but also for real people (like me) who need to replace their daily Mountain Dew with a high protein, low carb drink.

The best part about the product is it's completely traceable, sustainably produced and local. "When I say I know where our whey comes from, I mean I know the cheesemakers, the farmers, and the communities,” Tera says.

Each serving of “teraswhey™” contains 20 grams of protein and only 5 grams of carbs from fruit and “low glycemic index stevia,” meaning a consumer’s blood sugar will not spike (this is obviously important for folks with diabetes). The drinks are formulated using “super fruits” known for their extremely high antioxidants, and the best tasting vanilla and chocolate on the planet – the same varieties that French pastry chefs demand. Flavors now available in r-BGH free cow’s milk include:
  • Acaí – a tropical fruit of Brazil
  • Wolfberry – from the Tibetan Plateau
  • Yumberry – sourced from Southeast Asia
  • Fair Trade Dark Chocolate – from cacao beans in Brazil
  • Bourbon Vanilla – sourced from islands in the Indian Ocean

In addition, goat’s whey protein concentrate drinks should be online by year’s end, Tera says.

A bit of info about WI Specialty Protein: it's been on a fast track since breaking ground in Reedsburg last July. The $14 million, 20,000 sq. ft. facility currently employs a staff of 13 and is in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification process. The facility incorporates passive solar design elements, rain gardens, recycled water, and heat. It uses 40 percent less energy than a typical whey drying plant. The building’s only air emissions are steam.

Pretty cool. Time to start drinking something healthy!