Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Under the Tree: Grand Cru Surchoix

Celebrating an addition to the Emmi Roth Cheese factory
in Monroe back in 2006. Gosh, I wish I could yodel.
Five weeks ago, on what essentially became my first day of becoming the full-time specialty cheese buyer for Metcalfe's Market-Hilldale in Madison, 10 full wheels of Grand Cru Surchoix suddenly showed up on a refrigerated truck. Booked as a pre-order by my predecessor, the 18-pound wheels of American Gruyere (although we can't call it that because of European Union rules for naming cheeses), landed on my counter with a thud.

Mind you they each arrived beautifully wrapped in individual boxes, complete with a healthy supply of repack labels (the epitome of happiness for cheese retailers). The wheels were even shiny - someone at Emmi Roth USA in Monroe, Wisconsin, had gone through the trouble of making them all pretty like little shiny red apples in a produce display.

But still, 180 pounds of cheese. In one full swoop. It was enough to make me want to fire up the bat signal in retail cheese distress.

For those of you not in the know, Grand Cru Surchoix is one of Wisconsin cheese's claims to fame. Emmi Roth describes it as a washed-rind Alpine-style cheese, but in reality, this baby rivals the big-wheel Swiss Gruyeres. Using copper vats, imported from Switzerland, and aged on wooden boards for at least nine months, only a few wheels of the company's signature Grand Cru® (note the registered trademark) meet the stringent requirements of the company's professional cheese tasters to even ever become Surchoix. The cheese is stinky, meaty, rich and deep. It's a 10-note cheese and deserves to be the centerpiece of your cheeseboard.

Surchoix also carries significant award credentials, starting with winning the American Cheese Society Best in Show award back in 1999. It repeated at ACS in 2012 as a Best in Show runner-up, and it routinely not only places, but beats its Swiss competitiors in international competitions. Peeps, this cheese has got legs.

So overall, I've got to admit that if 10 wheels of a cheese that you never ordered were to show up on your doorstep, the best you could hope for would for it to be Grand Cru Surchoix. And the second best thing you can hope for is for your friends Kirsten and Kathy - the company's marketing gurus - to come to your store after their own long day of work and personally sample and sell it for you (thanks, ladies!).

Turns out I worried for nothing. Five weeks after stacking them in my cheese cooler, the 10 wheels are gone. After sampling and talking it up during the month of December, customers scooped it up one piece at a time. Yesterday, we cut up the last two wheels and watched it rapidly go out the door, along with more than 1,000 other pieces of cheese that I'm sure were destined for gifts and cheese boards. I actually had to order more to fill a special we're running on it for New Year's Eve.

So as I sit on my sofa on Christmas Day, it's kind of cool to think about all the people opening boxes today filled with pieces of Grand Cru Surchoix. Merry Christmas, folks. And may the power of good Wisconsin cheese be with you in 2014.

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