Friday, February 05, 2010

Gingerbread Jersey Grows Up

Five years ago, a dairy farm couple and their children in Augusta, Wis., took a leap of faith and began making cheese from the milk of their own 50-cow Jersey herd. They started by crafting cheese curds, a few flavored jacks and cheddar. Today, they're producing more than 80 kinds of cheese and are winning awards in national competitions.

In short, Gingerbread Jersey is all grown up.

I first blogged about this farmhouse dairy back in 2006, and I regret to say that I haven't done an update in four years. I ran into owners Virgil and Carolyn Schunk last weekend at the Isthmus Beer & Cheese Fest, and bless their hearts, they still remembered me from when I attended their grand opening on behalf of the Dairy Business Innovation Center in June, 2005. This is why I love cheese people.

At that time, the Schunks were the first dairy plant in the state to make cheese with Darlington Dairy Supply's Cheese on Wheels, a mobile, state-of-the-art cheesemaking plant housed in a 53-foot semi-trailer. Five years later, they're still making cheese in the mobile unit, only it's not quite so mobile anymore. They've built a viewing area adjacent to the trailer, so visitors can watch Virgil make cheese, which he does several days a week, including making fresh curds every Friday. Click here for a short slide show on the Schunk's farm & cheese plant operation.

One of their newest cheeses is Taste of Sicily, a Monterey Jack with sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and garlic, which won a gold medal at the 2009 North American Jersey Cheese Awards. In fact, the Schunks won three awards at that conference, out of 77 entries from 29 different producers representing 15 states and Quebec. Not bad for a mom & pop operation making cheese out of a semi-trailer, eh?

In addition to Taste of Sicily, the Schunks are also expanding their cheesemaking repertoire and are making Asiago, Parmesan-style and Romano cheeses. Although Gingerbread Jersey is best-known for its cheddars and flavored jacks, its expanded line of cheeses are very high-quality and reasonably priced. Yum.

So, if you're ever in the Eau Claire area -- more specifically, right off Highway 12 eighteen miles east of Eau Claire (click here for a map), be sure and visit Gingerbread Jersey and say hi to the Schunks. They're good people making good cheese.

6 comments:

Edith said...

Jeanne, thank you very much for your blog.

Attending the Isthmus event, I was also able to talk to the Schunks. They were very friendly and gave me the time of day. I asked about the Manchego they produce and Carolyn said she hopes to have a batch ready in March or April.

Kevin said...

Jeanne:

Love the Schunks, love their cheese, they are real people.

It would be nice if the "high fiving" crowd from WMMB, DBIC, WDATCP and the like who have a casual relationship with the truth would get real and just tell the actual story, not the hyped version. Eighty kinds of cheese from a trailer, really?

When you make cheddar, its cheddar. Putting peppers in it does not make it another kind of cheese, its still cheddar. Adulterated cheedar, but cheddar none the less. The truth is good enough why do you always have to try to make it more then it is?

Cheers,

Kevin

cheese underground lady said...

The Schunks tell me they make 80 kinds of cheese in their state-of-the-art cheese plant which just happens to be a trailer, and I believe them.

Kevin said...

"The Schunks tell me they make 80 kinds of cheese in their state-of-the-art cheese plant which just happens to be a trailer, and I believe them." - Jeanne Carpenter

I'm sorry, I was apparently confused. I thought you were telling what you saw not telling what you were told.

A little realism, alittle good old journalistic skepticism would be in order here. It would be nice if just one person writing about cheese could be trusted to tell the actual story as they "researched" it, without the grandiose hype that is all the rage. Look into some of these claims. Ask Schunks what they mean by 80 kinds of cheese. Ask Tony how people can know, not just trust, that his cheese is 15 years old. Look into what happens to a product that is locked into a vacuum sealed, airtight bag at a temperature just above freezing. Maybe get really wild and ask how often Sid and Bob actually go down to the vat and make cheese. Wonder, if I hire Picasso to paint me a picture is it alright to then put my name on it and claim to be an artist (or master cheesemaker).

If you're not actually a journalist then that's fine as well if the public is aware that you are just reporting what you have been told, no questions, no research.


Cheers,

Kevin

Bill Anderson said...

Kevin-

One question for you here.

Do you really think Jamie Montgomery makes most Montgomery's Cheddar?

When I saw Montogmery's in Will Studd's Cheese Slices documentary series, I don't recall seeing Jamie behind the vat. Doesn't mean the Montgomery's Cheddar isn't an awsome cheese.

Kevin said...

Bill:

I know Jamie and I will assure you that he does not make all of the cheese. But he makes a lot of it and is involved in the actual cheese making on a regular basis, that means every week. I am told that several of the "Master Cheesemakers" never make cheese. One owns three cheese plants, several stores, a kitchen is involved in a bank and skiis on a regular basis in Utah. Where does the cheese come in. Another, I have been told by a reliable source, never, that is never makes cheese and yet I have seen his picture in a magazine with his sleeves rolled up (of course if your going to be working with cheese you would wear a long sleeve sweater)"helping" to turn cheeses. My only concern is telling the world that your are something that you are not.

Maybe its just me, but I like a little realism not just hype.

KP