Monday, July 30, 2012

The Cheese Geek & Cheese Guru Present Fall Class Series

Two women (spoiler alert: one of them is me) dedicated to teaching, writing, and most importantly, eating Wisconsin artisan cheeses, are teaming up to lead a fun fall class series at Fromagination in Madison.

Sara Hill, of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, whose license plate reads CHZ GURU, and me, whose license plate says CHZ GEEK, will launch our “Cheese Geek and Cheese Guru” fall class series in September.

Attendees may sign up for all three classes at $90 per person, or for each class separately at $30 per class. Class size is limited to just 15 people, making this an intimate and informal setting, perfect for asking questions. Sessions start at 7 p.m. and seats must be reserved in advance at

The Cheese Geek and Cheese Guru Fall Session at Fromagination includes:

Tuesday, Sept. 25: Best Cheeses in America
Having just returned from the 2012 American Cheese Society Conference, Sara and I will bring back five of the best new cheeses made in America. Attendees will taste five award-winning cheeses from around the country, learn their stories, and get the opportunity to purchase up to one-half pound of each to take home.

Thursday, Oct. 4: Ocktoberfest, Wisconsin Style
Who does craft beer and artisan cheese better than Wisconsin? No one. Attendees will taste four Wisconsin craft beers, expertly paired with four Wisconsin artisan cheeses, hearing the behind-the-scenes-stories of each beer and cheese.

Wednesday, Nov 14: European Vs. Wisconsin Cheeses
Old World favorites vs. New World upstarts: attendees will judge whether Wisconsin cheesemakers are holding their own, or may we daresay winning, the race in crafting world-class original cheeses. Attendees will taste eight cheeses, four European and four Wisconsin, hearing the stories of each, with the opportunity to purchase each at evening's end.

I look forward to seeing you at the classes!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ziege Zacke Blue

Two of the fastest rising star cheesemakers - one specializing in goat's milk cheeses, the other in signature cheddar blues - jointly released a new cheese this week that's about to shake up the Wisconsin artisan cheese community.

Photo by Uriah Carpenter
Christened Ziege Zacke Blue (say zeegy zacky) by a group of Chicago chefs that enjoyed it so much, one night they started singing old German folk tunes while eating it, (Ziege means "goat" in German, Zacke means "wave" -- thus a "Goat Cheese with a Wave of Blue") the cheese is patterned after a Dry Jack, is part cow's milk, part goat's milk, and is cave-aged.

Wonderfully creamy, with a slight tang at the front and a sweetness on the finish, it boasts some extraordinarily rich earthy and bluesy notes I have never before tasted.

It's almost as if Cheesemakers Chris Roelli of Roelli Cheese and Katie Hedrich of LaClare Farms thought of all the current cool buzzwords in the cheese industry and then created a cheese to encompass them all.

The amazing part? They succeeded.

Ziege Zacke Blue, with its crazy catchy name, is made twice a month at Roelli Cheese in Shullsburg. Hedrich hauls her family's goat milk to the plant, and she and Chris spend a day crafting the original cheese by hand. Chris then ages it in his caves, and Katie markets it under the LaClare Farms Specialties label. Well, at least she will, as soon as there's enough to sell. The cheese is just now aging out to perfection, and with limited quantities to start with, will likely only ever be for sale in select retail stores in Wisconsin.

While I had heard rumors the cheesemaking pair were working on a collaborative cheese, I didn't know it was actually finished until I stopped by Fromagination yesterday to pick up cheese for my 2012 Wisconsin Artisan Cheese Series. There, sitting in all its glory on top of the cheese counter was a cheese called "Blue Jack," described as creamy with a subtle blue taste, made by Chris Roelli and Katie Hedrich.

I bought a pound and then sent both cheesemakers an email with a big question mark. In typical humble Wisconsin form, Chris answered: "Katie would be the best to talk about the zz. It was kinda her idea, I just developed it and made it." Yeah, that's all, just developed and made it, you know, no biggee.

Luckily, Katie also answered, and elaborated with more detail. She said the combination actually came about at the 2011 Wisconsin Cheese Originals festival in Madison last November. 

"Chris asked me when I was going to start making a goat milk blue. I responded: 'whenever Chris Roelli wants to'. Needless to say, I took a load of milk down to him on Dec. 9th and we made our first batch. We are now making one to two batches a month and having a blast with it."

So will everyone who is lucky enough to try it. Welcome, Ziege Zacke Blue to the Wisconsin artisan cheese community. Here's hoping you never leave.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Wisconsin Cheese & Sommelier-Mixologist Duel

Sommeliers Ruben "Biggest Toad in the Puddle" Mendez
and Aaron "Burr" Johnson
Every once in a while I luck out and happen to be in the right place at the right time. Lucky for me, last night was one of those rare whiles.

After spending an hour on the capital square persuading total strangers to wear cheeseheads and stroll casually behind a staged shot of Wisconsin cheesemakers Chris Roelli, Andy Hatch and Willi Lehner waiting at a bus stop (we were shooting video for the official 2013 American Cheese Society introductory film, but more on that later), I tagged along to an event at L'Etoile where the trio were the guests of honor.

Fortunately, I was already gussied up for the video shoot, which turned out to be a good thing, as little did I know I was walking into a sold-out, 45-person sit-down Wisconsin Cheese and Sommelier-Mixologist Duel in the private back room at one of the best restaurants in America.

Holy crap. These are not typically the kinds of things I attend, as I a) usually drink Diet Coke and b) usually wear flip flops. But thanks to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, I found a seat at the Texas Stagecoach table and listened to directions that seemed to require me tasting six cheeses (no problem), six glasses of wine (could be a problem) and six alcoholic mixed beverages (yes, Houston, we have a definite problem). 

Mixologists Casey "The Kid" Kammel and
Nic "The Quick & The Dead" Waerzeggers
The event was billed as a duel between what paired best with cheese: wine or chemical cocktails. On on the sommelier side, our hosts were Aaron "Burr" Johnson and Ruben "Biggest Toad in the Puddle" Mendez. On the Mixologist side were Carey "The Kid" Kammel and Nic "The Quick & The Dead" Waerzeggers. At my right was cheesemaker Andy Hatch, who seemed as baffled by the event as I was. I looked to my right, where cheesemaker Willi Lehner was sitting, trying to make small talk with guests at the High Noon table, and behind me, where Chris Roelli was seated at the Dusty Tumbleweeds table. We all shrugged our shoulders, as if to say, well, what the hell, and plowed in. 

First up: Uplands 10-month Pleasant Ridge Reserve, paired with what I think was a Pinot Noir (In good news, Lindsay Christians from 77 Square was also at the event, so be sure to read her future musings, as my beverage expertise is pretty much limited to diet soda), and a drink called "Once Upon A Time in Wisconsin", which consisted of Lillet Blonde, orange juice, lemon juice, simple syrup and Lakefront Wisconsinite beer. (Andy and I decided it tasted like a Mimosa). So far, so good.

Next was Roelli Cheese Marigold, a clothbound, cave-aged, jack-style cheese with the nuttiness of an Alpine cheese. Made from grazed milk, the cheese carries a deep yellow color (hence its name) and is not yet on the market. Look for it closer to the holidays. Marigold was paired with (again, I really have no idea) some white wine, which was very good, and a concoction that tasted somewhere between root beer and bacon. Let's just say the cheese was the highlight of this particular pairing.

Third was a Bleu Mont "Mystery Cheese," which was actually a sheep's milk cheese inspired by Willi's recent trip to Italy and Switzerland. This is the first time he's made cheese with sheep milk. At just 60 days told, this raw milk beauty will be even better in another month. It was paired with Gruner Veltliner from Austria and Kita's Wry Redemption (perhaps a play on Willi's partner's name Q'itas), consisting of Redemption Rye, St. Germain, soda water and a lavender dip.

Then it was intermission. Which meant Arthur Ircink (the genius behind the camera at Wisconsin Foodie) and I rushed out to get a shot of my car's license plate driving away while it was still light out (again this was for the aforementioned ACS video, but more on that later). After "driving away" six or seven times and then backing up into my original parking spot, we hoofed it back to L'Etoile in time for the fourth pairing, which was Uplands 24-month Pleasant Ridge Reserve (an OMG this is so good cheese), paired with a Sangiovese and a drink called ".01 Parts Wine", which was actually part champagne currant, Ransom Old Tom Gin, Galliano-Tart Cherry pipette and Sauvignon Blanc. Awesome pairing. Hands down, my favorite.

Moving into the home stretch, we had two pairings left. At this point, I have to admit things get a little fuzzy and my notes seem to end. Turns out chemical cocktails are WAY stronger than my usual Diet Coke, so I didn't even get a picture of the Bleu Mont Reserve Bandaged Cheddar and "Fist Full of Blueberries" drink, or the Roelli Dunbarton Blue and Pintar a Cambechana, which was a mixture of cherry-ginger sauce painted on the inside of a wine glass, mixed with Caonton ginger Cognac, rum, and Mexican Coke. I do remember it was very pretty.

All in all, it was an amazing night, and I had a ton of fun with some of my favorite people, including some intense giggling with Sara Hill, seated on my left, who assured me it was perfectly okay to dip my cheese into a glass of wine to get the full effect of a pairing. I have no idea which pairing actually won and who left with the adorable miniature silver trophies, but it was all in good fun.

As for the American Cheese Society video shoot -- well, you'll have just have to wait until the video's premier in Raleigh, North Carolina in three weeks, when Sara Hill, Bob Wills and I introduce it at this year's American Cheese Society, and prepare to welcome 1,000 people to Madison in 2013, when the conference is hosted at Monona Terrace. Until then, I leave you with this parting shot. Who says Wisconsin cheesemakers don't have a sense of humor?

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

A Century of Cheesemaking at Mt. Sterling Co-op Creamery

A historic cheese factory set in the scenic hills of Crawford County will celebrate its 100-year anniversary this year by getting a facelift and expanded artisan cheese line.

Mt. Sterling Co-op Creamery -- today home to an award-winning line of goat's milk cheeses and goat whey cream butter -- was originally built in 1912 by a group of local dairy cow farmers who wanted to make more money from their excess cream. They succeeded, using a new innovation - the centrifugal cream separator -- hauling milk to the factory in horse-drawn wagons, churning the cream into butter, and then returning the skim milk back to the farms, using it for livestock feed.

Over the years, the creamery -- like many in Wisconsin -- transitioned into a cow’s milk cheese plant, making cheddar. a state staple. In 1983, however, it was converted into a goat’s milk cheese plant, as by then, the Southwestern Wisconsin Dairy Goat Products Cooperative had enough demand for its goat's cheeses that it needed its own facility. Today, as the last working cheese plant in Crawford County, the Mt. Sterling Co-op Creamery, with 16 farmer patrons, manufactures a full line of goat’s milk raw milk cheddars, pasteurized cheddars, country jack, mozzarella, Greek style feta and whey cream butter.

It is also specializes in an artisan line, with its first cheese, Sterling Reserve, winning national awards, including a third place at the 2011 American Cheese Society Competition. The company plans to expand its artisan line with a new cheese to be launched this fall at the Fourth Annual Wisconsin Cheese Originals Festival.

Marketing Director Patricia Lund, who has been with the cooperative for the past decade, says the board and its patrons are excited about the milestone anniversary. The board is even planning a new addition to the plant that will increase its efficiency in production, ensuring the century-old plant a solid life well into the future.

All of Mt. Sterling Co-op Creamery’s cheeses, crafted by cheesemaker Bjorn Unseth, are 100 percent natural and made with goat’s milk from producers dedicated to sustainable farming practices, Lund says. No coloring, additives or shortcuts are used, and all products are made with a non-GMO rennet.

Since its start, Mt. Sterling Co-op Creamery has enjoyed a steady growth in production and sales, with at least a 10 percent increase in sales each year during the past five years, Lund says. Today, its products are found in retail stores from coast to coast.

Congratulations to all the folks at Mt. Sterling Co-op Creamery, and we look forward to your future!