Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Weinlese: New Blue Cheddar

A new Wisconsin original cheese is a perfect example of what happens when you pair exceptional milk with exceptional cheesemaking.

Weinlese, which means “vintage” in German, is a new "Cheddar-Blue" made in 20-pound wheels by Mike Brennenstuhl at Seymour Dairy in Seymour, Wis. It's the result of a partnership between Seymour and Red Barn Family Farms, a group of small, sustainable Wisconsin dairy farms certified by the American Humane Association and founded by veterinarian Dr. Terry Homan and his wife, Paula. Each farm is certified for premium milk quality and animal care, and ships rBGH-free milk to Seymour to craft Weinlese.

“We aimed to create a Wisconsin original cheese with soul,” Brennenstuhl told me before he and his crew hit the road to debut the cheese at the San Francisco Fancy Food Show this week. “This is the kind of cheese that speaks to you.”

Featuring a sweet, very creamy and mellow blue flavor, Weinlese sports a unique appearance with its yellowish golden hue and etched green veins. While Brennenstuhl calls it a "Cheddar Blue," I'd say it's more of a Blue Cheddar, as the blue flavor dominates the palate, while its firm body more resembles a Cheddar.

When I first heard about Weinlese, I was afraid it would compete with my revered Dunbarton Blue, crafted by Chris Roelli at Roelli Cheese in Shullsburg, which is also marketed as a Cheddar Blue.

However, Dunbarton fans have no reason to worry. While both cheeses are exceptional, they are nothing alike. Dunbarton is first a Cheddar, with a few blue veins, and is cave-aged, resulting in a hard, natural rind, Cheddar flavor, and a blue finish. Roelli Cheese has traditionally made Cheddar, so it makes sense that its Cheddar Blue is more Cheddar than Blue.

Weinlese, meanwhile, is a Blue Cheddar without a rind, that tastes like a blue with a Cheddar finish, and and shipped in cryovac, so it's wetter and a bit sticky. This also makes sense, since Seymour Dairy is a Blue cheese plant - making such award winners as Ader Kase, a German-style blue, and Crocker Hills Organic Blue.

Cheesemakers tend to perfect what they know. Brennenstuhl at Seymour Dairy knows blue, so his cheese more resembles a blue. Roelli at Roelli Cheese knows Cheddar, so his cheese more resembles a Cheddar. Both cheeses are great examples of what can happen when a cheesemaker thinks outside the vat and puts a twist in a classic recipe. The result is two very distinct American Originals.

Weinlese should be available in most specialty cheese stores by May 1, and may be offered in Madison cheese shops as early as February. Brennenstuhl plans to make an extremely small batch this year to see how the cheese fares in the market, before launching nationally, perhaps next year. Look for Weinlese in Fromagination in Madison, before March 1.

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