Thursday, September 29, 2011

On Location: Jean d'Alos

Of all of the cheese shops we've visited in France (and we still have another couple to go today in Dijon), Jean d'Alos Fromager-Affineur in Bordeaux has been my favorite. Home to 150 cheeses from southwestern France, 95 percent of them raw-milk, this highly-respected shop has developed special relationships over the years with many small, local producers to age their cheeses and take them to market.

On our visit this week, we were greeted by two lovely women: Patricia Dubourg and Delphine Loriot, who generously provided us with a 90-minute personal tour of the small upstairs shop and the three, 15th-Century aging caves below. Jean d'Alos has just remodeled its street-level shop into a modern, simple-chic retail space, with cutting-edge refrigeration methods that allow cheeses to seemingly float on open shelves, inviting customers to touch, smell, (and in my case, lovingly cradle) before buying.

After viewing Jean d'Alos' three different aging caves - one for goat cheeses, one for bloomy rinds, and the largest for cooked and uncooked pressed cheeses, Patricia and Delphine led us through a five-cheese tasting tour, first showing us the whole wheel aging in their caves, and then cutting up a wedge so we could taste with different wines.



Buche de Pussigny: We were delighted to taste this cheese, as it is made by the La Ferme du Bois-Rond farmstead goat dairy in Pussigny, France, where husband-wife team of Dominique and Marie-Therese Guillet provided us with an amazing tour of their farm and creamery earlier in the week. Jean d'Alos works exclusively with this farm to age this particular cheese to market, which is very much the same as the farm's AOC Sainte Maure de Touraine cheese without the AOC label.

St. Nectaire Fernier: Earning the first farmhouse AOC designation in France in 1955, this cheese is rightly considered one of France's national treasures. Made from the milk of Salers cows that feed on volcanic pasture lands of France, the cheese is aged by Jean d'Alos on straw mats, covered with breathable sheets of paper. While the rind gives off a pungent odor of straw and mushroom, the paste is soft, creamy and dreamy, with a lush nutty flavor. This could very well be my new favorite French cheese.

Tomme d'Aquitaine: Patricia told us this cheese, a recent creation, resulted from the marriage of two traditions: the production of pressed cheese made by migrating shepherds in the Graves region in spring before traveling back to the Pyrenees, and the production of the regional white wine. The rind is washed for at least four months in Sauternes wine to achieve the unique fruity flavor.

Ossau de Printemps: A classic sheep's milk cheese made in the French Pyrénées in the Ossau Valley province, this hard, naturally-rinded boasts a beautiful natural ivory paste with hints of hazelnut. One of my favorite sheep's milk cheeses tasted thus far in France.

Comte: Jean d'Alos hand selects wheels of Comte, ages the wheels in their caves, and sells between two and three wheels a week. Keep in mind that each wheel weighs about 110 pounds, and you'll understand how much cheese this shop moves. We tried a wheel of this famous AOC beauty from 2009, and after the cave tour and tasting, went upstairs and promptly bought our fair share for a lunch picnic.

Near the end of the tour, I caught Patricia's eye and thanked her profusely for all the time she had given our 20-member group from Wisconsin. I asked her how long she had been with the shop and she provided a surprising answer: 17 years. As she didn't look old enough to already have that long of a career, I jokingly asked if she had started when she was 10. She gave one of the most beautiful answers one could imagine: "It's from working so many years in the caves. They have preserved me."

Who knew spending your career aging cheeses is the secret to youth?

Thanks to all of my amazing Wisconsin Cheese Originals members for joining me on this tour. I am having so much fun discovering France with all of you. Just two more days until we board the plane back to Wisconsin. I wonder how much cheese we can take with us?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

On Location: Roquefort Caves

Day 7 of the Grand Cheese Tour of France: the Roquefort Caves. Oh yeah, baby.

Visiting the caves where the king of cheese is aged was on the bucket lists of quite a few people on this tour. Driving from our hotel in Montpellier to the tiny village of Roquefort was a journey unto itself. A steep ascent up a series of mountain tunnels, picturesque countryside, 17th Century villages and terraces of grape vines and olive trees brought us to the tiny village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.

A series of ancient landslides in this "Combalou" plateau generated the unique site of Roquefort, creating the famous first ripening caves, which of course have been enlarged and enhanced by people in the centuries since.

The Combalou plateau region is home to seven Roquefort producers, but the largest is Roquefort Société, made by the Société des Caves de Roquefort, which owns several caves and opens its facilities to tourists like us. These folks have invested a serious amount of time and money into giving visitors a unique educational experience with several "wow" factors, such as showing us a brief film in French on the sides of the original caves describing the traditional legend of how Roquefort came into being.

Legend has it that the cheese was discovered when a youth, eating his lunch of bread and ewes' milk cheese, saw a beautiful maiden in the distance. Abandoning his meal in a nearby cave, he ran to meet her. When he returned a few months later, the mold (Penicillium roqueforti) had transformed his plain cheese into Roquefort. Who knows if it's true or not, but it sure gives a romantic start to one of the world's most famous cheeses.

Because it's September, and the region's Lacaune ewes are not producing milk, the caves were not filled with wheels of Roquefort. We knew this going in and expected it to be a huge disappointment. It was not. As it's open year round, and the caves are only filled six months of the year, Societe fills the caves with thousands of life-like wheels of cheese to give visitors a sense of how the cave looks when it is full. (You'll notice I don't have any photos inside the caves - pictures are not permitted, and we snapped this one just as we were starting our tour, walking through passageways to reach the caves.

In its series of three caves, each with a different natural temperature and natural humidity that can range by up to 10 degrees, (the air in each is naturally renewed by fleurines, or natural faults in the earth), Society produces three types of Roquefort:

Societe L'Excellence: probably the best known Roquefort in America, this cheese is exported to more than 100 countries around the world.

Societe Caves Baragnaudes la Delicatesse: this cheese is often exported to American in time for Christmas shopping. A creamier, milder blue, it boasts a pleasant lingering flavor. Our guide encouraged us to taste it with a bit of gingerbread, which was an excellent pairing.

Cave de Templars: accounting for only 2 percent of the company's production, this little-known Roquefort is distributed locally, which alone might make it worthwhile to move to the South of France. It is incredibly strong and tangy and lingers in your mouth far longer than its better known sisters. It was amazing to try this cheese after the tour, as most of us never even knew it existed.

Our guide did a superb job in demonstrating how Roquefort is produced and aged. Roquefort starts with unpasteurized, full fat milk from the region's Lacaune ewes, collected from farms in a 90-mile radius of the village, six months of the year. The milk is taken to neighboring dairies, where it undergoes an 8-day make process. While there are more than 200 strains of Penicillium roqueforti, Societe uses just three different ones to produce its three different Roquefort cheeses.

The cheese is then transported to the caves and pierced once with 40 needles. A work force of 30 people - 15 men and 15 women work in the caves. The men place the wheels by hand on salted wooden shelves, where the cheese sits, untouched and unturned, for a period of 14 to 25 days. During this time, the Penicillium roqueforti rapidly develops inside, while the salt melts and is diffused, lending to the the cheese's creamy interior.

At some point between the 14th and 25th day, the cellar master determines when each wheel is ready to take the next step. It is then wrapped by one of 15 women, who have been hand-wrapping Roquefort wheels for generations. Each wheel is wrapped in a sheet of tin, which is very malleable, but strong. Each lady wraps 750 wheels a day during the aging months. To give you an idea of how big these caves are, we saw three different levels, and one level alone held 23,000 wheels. Wowza.

After the wheel is wrapped in shiny silver tin, it goes to the man-made cold rooms, kept perfectly at 32 degrees F, where it completes its aging process slowly. It is this deep-cold aging process that allows Roquefort to be distributed throughout the year, with masters taking each wheel out when it reaches perfect maturation. The tin is then removed, the wheels are cleaned, wrapped in foil or cut and placed into special plastic containers, and sent to market. The cheese must be packaged in the village to retain its special Roquefort AOC status.

An amazing process and experience to witness, the Caves of Roquefort do not disappoint. I have the feeling I'll be smiling every time time I request Roquefort on my salad at a restaurant in the States, remembering the craftmanship that went into the cheese and the beautiful region responsible for its creation.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

On Location: Sainte Maure de Touraine

Today, on day 4 of the 10-day Wisconsin Cheese Originals' Grand Cheese Tour of France, we toured the largest castle in the Loire Valley, learned how to make Sainte Maure de Touraine, nearly got crushed by a hay loader, and sang along to French show tunes in a tiny restaurant in downtown Tours.

You know, just the usual day in the countryside of France.

After an amazing morning tour of the Chateau de Chambord, its double-helix five-story central staircase, 282 fireplaces and 426 rooms, our Wisconsin cheese bus wound its way to the La Ferme du Bois-Rond farmstead goat dairy in Pussigny, France, where the husband-wife team of Dominique and Marie-Therese Guillet provided 20 members of Wisconsin Cheese Originals with a remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime personal experience of the making of Sainte Maure de Touraine.

Sainte Maure de Touraine is an AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controlee) designated cheese, made only in the Loire Valley, about 30 miles south of Tours, in the central region of France. It gained AOC status in 1990, and today about 240 goat dairies in the region are authorized to make this raw-milk, whole goat's milk, soft-ripened beauty.

Dominique showed us the farm, while Marie-Therese provided an amazing tour and cheesemaking demonstration in the farmstead creamery. But like any farmstead cheese, the story starts with the milk. And this is a story best told in pictures. So here we go.


A herd of 340 dairy goats, made up of eight different breeds - Poitevine, British, Toggenburg, Alpine, Nubian, Boer, Saanen and La Mancha, are milked twice a day at the farm. Quick science lesson: in order to give milk, goats must have babies. In order to have babies, goats must be bred. With a five-month gestation period, and a due-date of February 15, guess what time we arrived at the farm? That's right, breeding season. 

For three weeks every year, Dominique puts a group of bucks (male goats) in with the does (female goats). When we visited, the bucks were only on day 4 of their 21-day breeding season and already looked tired. Dominique said some of the bucks had already lost 20 pounds due to "being so busy," which our translator had trouble saying with a straight face.

To give a good amount of milk, goats need to eat well. Dominique feeds his goats a mixture of grains and hay everyday, and the goats get two hours on fresh pasture each morning. He couldn't wait to show us his barn's super-nifty hay-loading/unloading roller-coaster machine, made by French manufacturer Griffe a Foin. After a demonstration of its cab that runs on rails attached to the barn ceiling, with attached giant hay-scooping hook that he arced out above us, threatening to scoop us all up (with a smile of course), we decided we all wanted one, whether we needed it or not. It's amazing technology that I have not seen in the U.S.


When he's not playing with his super cool hay unloader, Dominique milks the goats twice a day. The evening milk is combined with fresh, warm morning milk, and placed into 58-gallon mini vat tubs in the farm cheesrie where it is warmed to 68 degrees F. Rennet is added and the milk is then left to coagulate for 24 hours.

The next step is hand-ladling the curd into specially curved forms, where it drains naturally. 


After it is set, the new cheese is removed from the form, and a rye straw that is marked with the AOC seal and a number indicating the producer is inserted into the middle of the cheese log. This helps the log keep its shape for the next step of the process.


Once the straw is in, the log now has enough stability to be rolled in a mixture of salt and charcoal ash, which gives it its unique grayish/blue color and contributes to its taste.


The cheese is then allowed to dry overnight before being placed in an aging room, where it is hand-turned daily for a minium of 10 days, as outlined by AOC regulations. Marie-Therese actually ages her St. Maure de Touraine for 12 days. Once a week, she ships wooden boxes, each holding 12 precious logs, out to a host of retail shops, who then have the option of aging it longer or selling it immediately. Marie-Therese told us she believes the peak time for her cheese to be eaten is at 45 days.


Keep in mind that this is a raw-milk cheese, and you'll understand why we don't see this cheese very often in the U.S., as American laws dictate a raw-milk cheese must be aged at least 60 days before being sold to consumers. 


After the farm and creamery tour, Marie-Therese and Dominique set up a wonderful tasting session for us, where we got to taste both fresh and aged Sainte Maure de Touraine. What a treat! Thank you so much to the Guillets for opening their farmstead dairy to a cheese geek group from Wisconsin. We appreciate you!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

On Location: Paris, France

It started with a bucket list, made long ago: visit Paris and taste a raw milk Camembert before age 40.

Check.

This week, five months before my 40th birthday, I'm in Paris with 20 members of Wisconsin Cheese Originals, visiting cheese shops, tasting endless rows of bloomy rind cheeses and touring the City of Lights. Tomorrow morning we leave for Loir-et Cher to tour Chateau de Chambord and to taste goat cheese in Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine. More about that later in the week - first I have to tell you about the cheese we discovered in Paris.


Our trip started Thursday night with a visit to Sacre-Coeur Church (I can also check singing nuns off the list), a tour of the artist community in Montmarte, the Bohemian heart of Paris, and a four-course welcome dinner at  La Bonne Franquette.

Several bottles of wine, an appetizer of snails in garlic and butter sauce, onion soup, duck in orange sauce and a healthy serving of chocolate mousse later, we were a very happy bunch. There's nothing like a stomach full of French food to help you catch up on sleep after a way-too-long overnight flight from the U.S. to France.

Friday was cheese shop day. We started with a visit to the fabulous indoor/outdoor Marche d'Aligre, a farmer's market on steroids. There, we caught up with Gigi Cazaux, who is now living in Paris, and who, in May, published a 135-page report titled: "Application of the Concept of Terroir in the American Context: Taste of Place and Wisconsin Unpasteurized Milk Cheeses." Gigi joined our group for the next couple of days, helping us with rudimentary functions such as ordering cafe au lait in corner bistros and navigating the interesting French world of same-sex restrooms. Thank, you Gigi!

Then it was off for two private tours of cheese shops. First, we visited Androuet, a shop with 250 cheeses, 85 percent of them being raw milk (hello to my first raw-milk Camembert!). Shop manager Jean Yves was amazingly gracious, offering us a tasting of five different French cheeses, ranging from sheep to cow to goat to raw to pasteurized.

The second stop was at Fromagerie Dubois & Fils, where the fabulous owner herself, Martine Dubois, welcomed us with a private tour and tasting of three different French cheeses. Madame Dubois has run her cheese shop for more than 40 years and carries 300 different cheeses between the retail space and her affinage caves. She specializes in carrying different cheeses cheeses from EVERY region in France. I discovered cheeses here that I never even knew existed.

As if that weren't enough, Madame Martine then called her affineur, Hubert Quinque, who gave us each a tour of the shop's underground caves: a catacomb of three different spaces that have aged cheeses for the last 200 years. Hubert showed us his meticulous record-keeping system, which consisted of six notebooks full of labels and hand-written notes with information on when/where and from whom each and every round of cheese had been purchased. Cheesemaker Brenda Jensen of Hidden Springs Creamery, was jealous of Hubert's cave, admiring the stone walls, straw mats and wooden shelves. I could see her mind already thinking of new cheeses to make once she gets back to Wisconsin!

When we weren't eating cheese, we were touring and shopping our way through Paris, with stops at the Eiffel Tower, a boat ride on the Bateaux Mouches on the Seine, and an amazing guided tour of Notre Dame Cathedral. Hearing the bells ring in Notre Dame wasn't even on my bucket list, but I checked it off anyway. Paris is a magical place and deserves all the credit it gets. Looking forward to six more days of France and eating cheese in Tours, Bordeaux, Montpellier and Dijon. I will keep you posted!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Meet Your Favorite Wisconsin Cheesemaker: Tickets Now on Sale

Alert readers of The Cheese Underground might know that for fun, every year I run a little event called the Wisconsin Original Cheese Festival.

In exciting news, tickets to this annual shindig, set for Nov. 4-5 at the Monona Terrace in downtown Madison, are now on sale to the public. While almost all of the dinners, tours and seminars have already sold out to members of Wisconsin Cheese Originals, those of you looking to attend the festival's signature event: the Meet the Cheesemaker Gala, are in luck, as many tickets are still available. That's because, in an effort to reduce the number of hate emails I receive from hostile would-be-ticket-buyers after the event annually sells out 6 weeks in advance, I'm ticketing it a bit differently this year and offering two different time slots, from 6 to 8 p.m., and 8 to 10 p.m. Each session will be limited to 250 attendees, allowing everyone to personally meet and greet cheesemakers in a relaxed and enjoyable setting.

For those of you who've never attended the event, the Meet the Cheesemaker Gala is one of the only opportunities in the nation to personally meet nearly every Wisconsin artisan, farmstead or specialty cheesemakers and taste more than 150 of their cheeses.

Also new this year (another attempt to limit hate email), cheese will be offered for sale at the event. Now you can taste and then purchase your favorite cheeses, all in the same venue! The fabulous Metcalfe’s Market will set up shop in a room adjacent to the Gala, offering many of the night's cheeses and accompanying foods, including Potter's artisan Crackers and Quince and Apple small-batch preserves.

Here's a run down of all the companies, cheesemakers and cheeses that will be in attendance at this year's Meet the Cheesemaker Gala:
  • BelGioioso Cheese – meet Gaetano Auricchio and taste Auribella, Crescenza-Stracchino, Crumbly Gorgonzola, Provolino, Ricotta Salata & Peperoncino
  • Bleu Mont Dairy – meet Cheesemaker Willi Lehner and taste Bandaged Cheddar & Alpine Renegade
  • Burnett Dairy Cooperative – meet Cheesemaker Bruce Willis and taste Alpha’s Morning Sun, Alpha’s Morning Sun with Rosemary, Hot Pepper String, Smoked Provolone & Aged Provolone
  • Capri Cheesery – meet Cheesemaker Felix Thalhammer and taste St. Felix, St. Pauline, Wash Bear, Smoky Bear, Fromag Blanc, Celestan, Hybrid Cheddar and Feta
  • Carr Valley Cheese – meet Cheesemaker Sid Cook and taste Snow White Goat Cheddar, Billy Blue, Mobay, Cave Aged Mellage, Cave Aged Marisa, Black Sheep Truffle, Bessie’s Blend & Apple Smoked Cheddar
  • Cedar Grove Cheese – meet Cheesemaker Bob Wills and taste Quark, Natural Rind Sheep Cheese & Sharp Cheddar
  • Cesar’s Cheese – meet Cheesemaker Cesar Luis and taste Queso Oaxaca, Quesadilla & Chipotle Quesadilla
  • Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese – meet Cheesemaker George Crave and taste Mascarpone, Fresh Mozzarella & Petit Frere
  • Dreamfarm – meet Cheesemaker Diana Kalscheur Murphy and taste Fresh Chevre, Feta, Rosebud & Arthur
  • Edelweiss Creamery – meet Cheesemaker Bruce Workman and taste Grass Fed Gouda, Grass Fed Emmentaler & Havarti
  • Emmi Roth USA – meet Cheesemaker Mike Green and taste Grand Cru Gruyere, GranQueso, Buttermilk Blue & Ostenborg Havarti
  • Harmony Specialty Dairy – meet owners Ralph & Sharon Bredl and taste Cheshire Rosemary, Abergele, Mushroom & Chive Abergele, Nut Brown Ale Caerphilly, Sage & Garlic Cheshire & Double Glouster
  • Hidden Springs Creamery – meet Cheesemaker Brenda Jensen and taste Driftless, Ocooch Mountain, Meadow Melody and Bad Axe
  • Holland’s Family Cheese – meet Cheesemaker Marieke Penterman and taste Marieke Gouda Plain, Marieke Gouda Smoked, Marieke Gouda Honey Clover, Marieke Gouda Foenegreek & Marieke Gouda Pesto Basil
  • Hook’s Cheese – meet Cheesemakers Tony & Julie Hook and taste 10-Year Cheddar, 7-Year Cheddar, 5-Year Cheddar, Original Blue, Blue Paradise, Tilston Point, Gorgonzola & Little Boy Blue
  • Koepke Family Farms – meet Owners John & Kim Koepke and taste La Belle
  • Klondike Cheese – meet Cheesemaker Adam Buholzer and taste Odyssey Traditional Feta, Mediterranean Feta, Fat Free Feta and Peppercorn Feta
  • LaClare Farms Specialties – meet Cheesemaker Katie Hedrich and taste Evalon, Evalon with Fenugreek & Evalon with Cumin
  • Lactalis USA – meet Cheesemaker Lenny Bass and taste Brie & Feta
  • Meister Cheese – meet Cheesemaker Vicki Thingvold and taste Eagle Cave Reserve Bandaged Cheddar & Wild Morel & Leek Jack
  • Montchevre – meet Cheesemaker Jean Rossard and taste Fresh Goat Cheese, Cabrie, Bucheron, Chevre Fleurie, Chevre in Blue & Feta
  • Mt. Sterling Co-op Creamery – meet Cheesemaker Bjorn Unseth and taste Sterling Reserve & Sharp Raw Milk Goat Cheddar
  • Organic Valley – meet Cheesemaker Phil Van Tatenhove and taste Pepper Jack, Raw Mild Cheddar, Blue Cheese & Pasture Butter
  • Otter Creek Organic Farm – meet Bartlett Durand and taste Seasonal Raw Milk Cheddars & Pesto Cheddar
  • Red Barn Family Farms – meet Cheesemaker Wayne Hintz and Owner Terry Homan and taste Heritage Weis Reserve, Heritage Weis, Heritage White Cheddar Reserve, Heritage White Cheddar & Weinlese Cheddar Blue
  • Roelli Cheese – meet Cheesemaker Chris Roelli and taste Dunbarton Blue
  • Salemville Cheese Cooperative/DCI Cheese – Taste Amish Blue, Amish Gorgonzola & Amish Smokehaus Blue
  • Sartori – meet Cheesemaker Mike Matucheski and taste SarVecchio, Bellavitano Gold, Espresso BellaVitano, Raspberry BellaVitano, Salsa Asiago, Rosemary Asiago, Extra Aged Fontina & Mediterranean Fontina
  • Sassy Cow Creamery – meet Cheesemaker Kara Kasten-Olson and taste Cheese Curds
  • Saxon Homestead Creamery – meet Cheesemaker Jerry Heimerl and taste Big Ed’s, Saxony, Pastures & Green Fields
  • Seymour Dairy – meet Cheesemaker Rob Richter and taste Weinlese, Ader Kase, Crocker Hills Organic Blue, Blue Crest & Ader Kase Reserve
  • Shepherd’s Ridge Creamery – meet Cheesemaker Vicky Simpkins and taste Oliver’s Reserve, Poplar Lake & Dresser Junction
  • Uplands Cheese – meet Cheesemaker Andy Hatch and taste Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Extra Aged Pleasant Ridge Reserve & Rush Creek Reserve
  • Widmer’s Cheese Cellars – meet Cheesemaker Joe Widmer and taste Aged Brick, Mild Brick, Authentic Colby, 6-Year Cheddar and Brick Spread
Of course, the Friday evening Meet the Cheesemaker Gala is just one of a wide array of events taking place during the annual festival. Other events include: creamery and dairy farm tours, private cheesemaker dinners, and tasting and educational seminars. All events require advance tickets and will sell out.

A HUGE thank you to all sponsors of the Third Annual Wisconsin Original Cheese Festival, including: Gold-Level sponsors Klondike Cheese, World Import Distributors, Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board; Silver-Level sponsors BelGioioso Cheese, Dairy Business Innovation Center, Emmi Roth USA, Fromagination, Organic Valley, Uplands Cheese; Bronze-Level sponsors American Cheese Society, Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Edible Madison, Fromartharie, and Meister Cheese, and Supporting Sponsors Hook's Cheese, Hy-Vee Madison and Widmer's Cheese Cellars.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hidden Springs Creamery Says: Name that Cheese!

If you ever wanted to help create and name a cheese, this is your chance.

Cheesemaker Brenda Jensen, owner of Hidden Springs Creamery, a farmstead sheep dairy near Westby, is looking to create a new flavor of her Driftless cheese, a perennial award-winner. Deliciously simple, consisting of just sheep's milk, culture, rennet and salt, this wonderfully light, creamy and spreadable cheese is fluffy, lemony and finishes with just a hint of the wonderful grasses which sustain the farm's flock. Think of it as a sheep's milk chevre.

Currently available in an ever-evolving blend of flavors, including Basil & Olive Oil, Cranberry & Cinnamon, Tomato & Garlic, Pumpkin, Maple and Honey & Lavender,  Brenda is now looking to develop a new flavor. She's excited about partnering with Wisconsin Cheese Originals members and blog readers on suggestions.

Want to participate? Email me your suggestions for a new flavor and include your name and address so we can give you credit. Brenda will select the suggestions she likes, and then attendees at the Third Annual Wisconsin Original Cheese Festival's Meet the Cheesemaker Gala on will vote for the winner (tickets to the gala go on sale next week: click here for a preview of festival events).

Here are the guidelines to participate:

1. The new flavor should include ingredients that are available locally to Wisconsin, if possible. Brenda prefers to use local suppliers.

2. The new flavor must be shelf sustainable for at least 45 days, which means fresh fruits are out.

3. Get creative! The name of the cheese doesn't have to match the ingredients. If you come up with a good name for your suggestion, be sure to include it!

4. Email me your flavor and name suggestions no later than Friday, Sept. 30. This will give Brenda time to select her favorites and develop materials for voting at the Meet the Cheesemaker Gala during the Third Annual Wisconsin Original Cheese Festival on Friday, Nov. 4.

The winning entry will be announced in December and in my Wisconsin Cheese Originals member newsletter. Its creator will receive a free tub of the new flavor from the first batch Brenda makes. Good luck, cheese friends!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

New Roelli Cheese: Red Rock

Named for the local stone that surrounds the room in which it is aged, Red Rock is the newest creation from up-and-coming rock star cheesemaker Chris Roelli in Shullsburg, Wisconsin.

While technically a Cheddar-Blue, Red Rock differs significantly from Roelli's flagship cheese, Dunbarton Blue. Where the Dunbarton was designed to be an elegant table cheese, imparting the feel of an English cheddar, yet spiked with the delicate, subtle flavor of a fine blue, Red Rock is more of a working man's cheese. Where the Dunbarton is earthy and crumbly, Red Rock is creamy and sliceable. It's the type of cheese that will take a sandwich to the next level, yet you won't be able to stop peeking at it between the slices of bread because it's so strikingly beautiful.

"I view it as Dunbarton's little cousin," Chris Roelli says. "A few years ago at the American Cheese Society, I saw a super dark orange cloth-bound Cheddar and thought it was really striking. So that's the look I was going for."

Colored with twice the amount of annatto as a traditional Wisconsin Cheddar and aged between 3-6 months, Red Rock is more of a creamy Cheddar than a crumbly Blue. Roelli uses five different starter cultures to frame the flavor profile of the cheese, placing curds into 40-pound block forms to set. Once the cheese is pressed, he cuts the big blocks into smaller 5-pound loaves, hand spiking each individual loaf to let the blue mold breathe. Red Rock is then placed on racks for cellar-aging and allowed to develop a natural blue rind, while inside, deep spikes of blue mold grow through the center.

While Red Rock won't be sold at cheese shops until mid-October (it's still aging to perfection), early batches are currently for sale at the Roelli Cheese store between Shullsburg and Darlington. It's too new to be included yet on the company's online store, but will be available by Christmas.