Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year Cheese Boards

Whether you're throwing, attending or crashing a party, one of the best things to serve or bring with you this time of year is a cheese board.

When it comes to putting a board together, it's actually pretty easy to make yourself look good. You don't have to be the guy that brings the port-wine cheese ball on a paper plate. Instead, put together a nice selection of cheeses, place them on an attractive wooden, marble or slate cheese board, and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be greeted with the enthusiasm of one of the magi.

Consider one of these three cheese board presentations:

1. The Traditional Cheese Board
This board features five different cheeses, each from a different category. Find an attractive wooden board and place ¼ pound of each of the below cheeses, each wrapped in parchment paper or special cheese paper available at specialty cheese shops.

•    La-Von Farmhouse Brie, Caprine Supreme (bloomy rind)
•    Marieke Golden, Holland’s Family Cheese (semi-soft)
•    Widmer’s 6-Year Cheddar, Widmer’s Cheese Cellars (semi-hard)
•    Ocooch Mountain, Hidden Springs Creamery (hard)
•    Buttermilk Blue, Emmi Roth USA (blue)

Add a nice cheese knife, a package of Potter’s Crackers, and voila: instant cheese gift.

2. Celebrating Different Milks
Your friends and family may not be overly familiar with cheeses not made from cow’s milk, so this isn’t the time to introduce them to a bold, stinky goat cheese. Try some milder versions instead, such as:

•    Chandoka, LaClare Farms (goat/cow mix)
•    Pastoral Blend, Sartori (sheep/cow mix)
•    Dante, Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Co-op (sheep)
•    Billy Blue, Carr Valley Cheese (goat)

Add a fresh baguette and jar of Quince & Apple’s Pear with Ginger and Honey to compliment the Billy Blue and Chandoka. Your friends will thank you.

3. Cheddar, Four Different Ways
This is one of my favorite ways to do a cheese board. Pick one of your favorite cheeses, and then purchase four different versions, made by four different companies or with different milks. Cheddar is one of the easiest ways to do accomplish this method. For example, include on your board:

•    Bandaged Cheddar, Bleu Mont Dairy (bandaged)
•    10-Year Cheddar, Hook’s Cheese (extra aged)
•    Goat Cheddar, LaClare Farms (goat’s milk)
•    Timothy’s Farmhouse Cheddar, Kelley Country Creamery (traditional Wisconsin cow’s milk Cheddar)

Add a bag of spiced pecans from the Treat Bake Shop in Milwaukee and a package of Toasted Wheat crackers, and you’re all set.

Happy new year!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Check it: 10 Wisconsin Cheeses to Try in 2013

With just 3-1/2 days between us and the descent of the New Year's Eve Blingy Ball, we bloggers have started writing end-of-the-year top 10 lists and "best of" posts. Between now and Dec. 31, you're likely to be subjected to such stories as the 10 best cupcake shops in Chicago, the 10 best photos of my cat, and why artichokes were named THE food of 2012.

Not me. I'd rather look forward and see what our innovative Wisconsin cheesemakers are cooking up. That means I've set my sights on THE 10 "must-try" Wisconsin cheeses of 2013. Buckle up. Here we go.

Blurry photo courtesy of Jeanne's iphone,
prior to consuming entire tub at one sitting.
1. Martha's Pimento Cheese
My, how good humble pie tastes. After mocking Bon Appétit on this very blog almost exactly one year ago for naming pimento cheese as one of the top food trends of 2011, here I am, naming Martha's Pimento Cheese as my No. 1 cheese to try for 2013. Dammit. I hate it when I'm wrong. But this cheese is so good, and this cheesemaker is so sweet, that I am nearly giddy to point out the error of my ways.

In fact (the following sentence is more effective if you read it using your best southern accent), we can thank the great city of Tyler, Texas for sending us Ms. Martha Davis Kipcak and her recipe for good ol' Martha's Pimento Cheese (stop Southern accent here). Showcasing the evolution of decades, even generations of pimento cheese-eating and pimento cheese-making, Martha combines aged Wisconsin Cheddar, diced peppers, mayonnaise (and in her Jalapeno version, jalapeno peppers sourced locally from Hmong farmers at Fondy Farm and youth gardeners of Alice's Garden in Milwaukee) to make the best cheese-based concoction I've ever tried.

Currently sold only in Milwaukee at Larry's Market, Glorioso's, Beans & Barley and Clock Shadow Creamery (where Martha, a Regional Governor for Slow Food USA, makes it in small batches), this is my new favorite cheese for 2013. I am on a mission to get every Madison specialty food store to carry it so I can personally spread it on every cracker at every party I host in the New Year. Yes, Fromagination, Metcalfe's, Barriques and others - that means I'm coming for you. Save yourself from my lobbying by filling out the Retail Request Form at www.mightyfinefood.us and let me know when you're carrying Martha's Pimento Cheese. I'll be there with my checkbook.

2. The Fawn
A new cheese distributed by Chris Gentine & Company at the Artisan Cheese Exchange in Sheboygan is turning heads. The Fawn, made in 22-pound bandaged and waxed daisy wheels by Kerry Henning at Henning's Cheese in Kiel, first got my attention when it took a second in its category at this year's American Cheese Society competition. Then, last month, it captured a silver medal at the World Cheese Awards in London. While this naturally mellow Cheddar cheese will likely hit the West Coast first, (Chris says they received an order recently from a distributor in California for multiple daisies), it should only be a matter of time before it's available locally. An excellent example of what I call "sweet Wisconsin Cheddar", this one is a winner.

3. Petit Frère with Truffles
In another "please kick me now" move, I declined an offer this summer from the fine folks at Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese to try their new specialty cheese, Petit Frère with Truffles. Being the corn-fed, meat-and-potatoes-farm-girl that I am, truffles, in general, are not high on my flavor list. (Yes, I know I am aware this is not normal.)

So when the cheese won First Place in the Flavored Cheese Category at the 2012 American Cheese Society in August, I of course changed my mind and wanted to try it right away. The problem then - like many award-winning cheeses - is that the supply was limited. While it's still hard to find this cheese, it is slowly coming on the market here in Wisconsin, and is worth seeking out. A luxurious, rind-washed semi-soft beauty, it is made in small batches and cave-aged on the Crave farm in Waterloo.

4. La Pinta
Here's a quick history test for you: what three ships did Christopher Columbus sail with when "discovering" the New World? That's right, it was the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. Meaning "painted" or "spot" or "marked" in Spanish, La Pinta is the new name of a new cheese from Cesar's Cheese, made at Sassy Cow Creamery in - you guessed it - Columbus, Wis. Cesar and his wife Heydi, chose the name to reflect the spots on the Holstein cows that produce the milk for this Mexican Manchego-style cheese. (In Spain, Manchego is made from sheep's milk, but in Mexico - Cesar & Heydi's home country - it is made using cow's milk). Look for Cesar's beautiful wheels of La Pinta - marked in style with the traditional zig-zaggy rind - to hit the market in 2013. A preview I tasted this fall knocked me out. And I'm thinking it's only going to get better.

5. Little Mountain
Those of who you were lucky enough to score tickets to this year's Meet the Cheesemaker Gala at the Monona Terrace may have stopped by fourth generation cheesemaker Chris Roelli's table and tasted his newest creation, Little Mountain. An Alpine-style cheese, Little Mountain from Roelli Cheese in Shullsburg is, hands down, one of the best new Wisconsin cheeses that will hit the market in 2013. Firm and nutty, it boasts the pineapple notes of Pleasant Ridge Reserve and the lasting sweet finish of cave-aged Swiss Gruyere. Look for this new American Original in the coming year.

6. Edun
This fall, Red Barn Family Farms introduced Edun, a New Zealand-style raw milk cheddar. The cheese joins an award-winning family of cheddars from owners Ted & Paula Homan. You may recall another Red Barn cheddar - Heritage Weiss - swept its category with Gold, Silver and Bronze medals at the 2011 U.S. Cheese Championship.

Edun, while still in the cheddar category, has a richer, more buttery taste and is made with raw milk, raw cream and vegetable rennet. It's crafted in small batches at Willow Creek Creamery in Wisconsin, and is made in blocks using milk from seven family farms, each audited at least annually for treating cows humanely. Known as the “Red Barn Rules,” the system was developed by owner and veterinarian Dr. Terry Homan to make sure farmers know each cow by name, not just by number. Read about each of the Red Barn Family dairy farmers here.

7. PastureLand Greek Style Yogurt
Okay, so it's not a cheese, but this new pasture-grazed, non-homogenized Greek Style Yogurt is worthy of making any "best of"list for 2013. Look for it come spring, when the dairy farmers of the new Wisconsin-based PastureLand cooperative will start making it again from the milk of pastured cows. Made with whole milk, the yogurt naturally separates into an inch of golden cream on the top of each 24-ounce tub, with luscious and thick yogurt underneath. The top inch is thick enough to hold a spoon - as illustrated to the right.

When you hear the name PastureLand, you may think of the former Minnesota-based dairy farm cooperative, that sadly, went out of business. In good news, earlier this year, the five families of the former Edelweiss Graziers Cooperative in southwest Wisconsin bought the PastureLand brand and are continuing the cooperative's commitment to producing small-batch products with milk from pastured cows. In fact, the yogurt’s naturally golden color stems from carotene found in grass that cows eat. Look for the Greek Style Yogurt and one or two new cheeses - rumor is one may be named "Peace of Pasture" - to come from PastureLand in 2013.

8. Mystery Sheep Cheese
Willi Lehner, Wisconsin's well-known Swiss-American cheesemaker and owner of Bleu Mont Dairy, is famous for bringing his experience of authentic Alpine cheesemaking to a collection of Wisconsin original cheeses. Always made in small batches, each cheese reflects the mountain tradition of using raw milk from pastured animals. Following a trip to Switzerland earlier this year, Willi is now experimenting and producing various sheep’s milk cheeses, natural and washed-rind. I tried one at the Meet the Cheesemaker Gala in November and it blew me away. When I asked what the name of it was, Willi didn't know. He hadn't yet come up with a name, and if history proves correct, he'll just keep making new cheeses anyway, so naming them is really not that important. Willi's cheeses are available in specialty cheese shops in the Midwest and at the Dane County Farmer's Market in Madison.

9. Timothy Farmhouse Cheddar
When Karen Kelley, co-owner of the hugely successful Kelley Country Creamery, a farmstead ice cream factory near Fond du Lac, emailed me a few weeks ago to tell me the family was making their own Cheddar, I breathed a heavy sigh. Why does every farmstead dairy in this state feel the need to make a boring old Cheddar, I asked myself. And then I tasted it. And now I admit I was wrong. Currently available in both mild and medium - both aged just a matter of weeks or months - Timothy Farmhouse Cheddar is a classic Wisconsin cheddar with a sweet, clean finish and is most worthy to be on this list. Crafted by the current U.S. Champion Cheesemaker, Katie Hedrich, of LaClare Farms, Timothy Farmhouse Cheddar will be available in sharp versions in 2013, as the Kelley family is holding back some wheels for aging. Can't wait!

10. Duda Gouda
Ten years ago, there were people who had written off super-cheesemaking-couple Tony and Julie Hook as aging cheesemakers who were more interested in retiring than in making new cheeses. Well, I guess the Hooks showed them. Launching more than a dozen new cheeses in the past decade,  Hooks Cheese in Mineral Point has done it again with its Duda Gouda, an aged sheep's milk Gouda named after Julie's family nickname. Sweeter and more crumbly than a cow's milk Gouda, Duda Gouda is different than any other Gouda on the market. It's worth seeking out.

And there you have it - my top 10 list of Wisconsin cheeses to search for in 2013. Know of other new cheeses coming in the New Year? Leave a comment or drop me a line at jeanne@wordartisanllc.com. Happy new year!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

LaClare Farms to Build New Farmstead Creamery


An artist's rendering of the new LaClare Farms storefront.
Katie Hedrich, the reigning U.S. Champion Cheesemaker (and 2010 Wisconsin Cheese Originals Beginning Cheesemaker Scholarship winner), announced her family dairy, LaClare Farms, will break ground this week on a new 35,000 sq. ft. farmstead dairy plant in eastern Wisconsin.

The new dairy will be on State Hwy 151, north of the village of Pipe on the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago. The facility includes plans for a state-of-the-art dairy plant, retail store and café, as well as milking parlor with housing for 600 milking goats. The facility will be capable of processing cow, goat and sheep milk. In addition to crafting LaClare Farms products, the facility will serve as a specialty custom dairy processing and aging facility.

"This week is the start of the biggest week of my life," said Katie. Her parents, Larry and Clara Hedrich - dairy goat farmers and industry leaders for more than 30 years - agree.

"Building this farmstead dairy plant allows us to bring the next generation of Hedrich family members back to the farm," Katie's father, Larry said. "Our goal is to be one of the top sustainable agricultural enterprises in the nation, and with the talent our team brings to this operation, we will be."

The new farmstead dairy plant allows the Hedrich family to expand their current offering of goat's milk and mixed milk cheeses, including Evalon, Fresh Chevre, Cheddar, Fondy Jack and American Originals crafted by Katie Hedrich, who without her own facility, has been making five-hour round trips to Willow Creek cheese factory several times a week to make Evalon and LaClare cheeses. The Hedrichs' new farmstead facility will also be capable of aging cheese in special curing rooms, as well as producing cultured products and bottled milk.

Katie's brother, Greg Hedrich, is the business manager of the new integrated agricultural enterprise. Three additional sisters: Heather, Jessica and Anna, will work part-time for LaClare Farms in human resources, marketing and herd management roles while continuing their off-enterprise jobs. All five siblings hold university degrees in subjects ranging from marketing to human resources to dairy science to education.

"The key is each one of the children is not forced into one role," Larry says. "They each chose to go to college, worked in the public/private sector for a number of years and now have chosen to bring their skills back to the family enterprise. We are beyond thrilled to have the next generation back on the farm."  The enterprise also brings the talents of Larry's cousin, John Jenkins, on board.

An official groundbreaking ceremony is set for Saturday, Dec. 15 at 2 p.m. at the new facility. The public is invited. The location is: W2994 County Road HH, on the corner of State Hwy 151 and County Road HH in Pipe.

The groundbreaking is just the latest example of Wisconsin's thriving artisan and farmstead cheesemaking industry. The amount of specialty cheese produced in the state has doubled in the past 10 years, and today accounts for 22 percent of the state's total cheese production. Ninety of the state's 126 cheese plants craft at least one type of specialty cheese, up from 77 plants five years ago.

The new LaClare farmstead dairy plant is expected to be up and running by early summer, 2013. In addition to crafting LaClare Farm products, the Hedrichs plan to rent out space to dairy processors to help launch new products and to work with beginning dairy entrepreneurs to develop their new products. The facility will also offer viewing windows into the milking parlor, dairy plant and cheese aging room which will be available to the public.

Congratulations to the Hedrich family - I look forward to following your progress and touring your new facility in 2013!