Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Chicago's Standard Market Ups the Ante in Affinage

Photo by Uriah Carpenter
A small specialty Chicago grocer with a chef-driven product selection modeled after European markets is finding itself in the curious position of leading a growing renaissance in the affinage of American artisanal cheese.

Although the focus at Standard Market in Westmont, Illinois is on perishables, the cheese case, with its 200-300 cheeses from around the world, is where the action is at. That's because Cheesemonger David Rogers and staff are dedicated to showcasing the quality of artisan cheeses. And while some shops focus on imports, Rogers says: "American artisan cheeses is where the most interesting things in cheese are happening right now."

Rogers patterns his Standard Market's affinage program after Murray's Cheese in New York. Yet, while Murray's has built a stellar selection of five different aging caves, each built below street level and dedicated to a different category of cheese, Standard Market is focusing on just one 10 x 11 foot aging room, glass fronted right in the retail area so customers can watch the aging process.

In this micro aging room, Rogers adopts small batches of local Midwest cheeses and puts his own spin on them. And as Standard Market grows as a company, he hopes each store will have its own cave dedicated to aging one particular style of cheese.  

Most recently, Rogers has been aging a batch of Little Darling from Fayette Creamery/Brunkow Cheese in southwestern Wisconsin that he's pretty proud of. He's also just released a version of LaClare Farms' Evalon, and is working with cheesemaker Katie Hedrich on a bandage wrapped cheddar.

"Our goal is always to partner with the cheese maker," Rogers says. "And while we do hope that what we age shows a unique perspective on their cheese, we also look at it as an opportunity to connect our customers with the cheesemaking process and to have them get as excited about local cheesemakers and creameries as we are."

In a taste test of three of Rogers' specially aged cheeses, pictured above - clockwise from right - LaClare Evalon, Fayette Creamery Little Darling, and a semi-hard cheese from Ludwig Farmstead Creamery in Fithian, Illinois, the most stellar of the trio was the Standard Market Aged Evalon.

Original Evalon, a perennial favorite of mine, is a goat's milk cheese, typically aged about six months and is creamy and tangy with a clean finish. Standard Market's version, however, is 10 months old and is a bit dryer, yet creamy on the tongue. But a magical transformation happens in the finish - where once all one could taste was the tang of goat's milk, a new pineapple candy flavor has emerged. It's as if Evalon has become the Pleasant Ridge Reserve of goat's milk cheeses.

"I'm eager to both age out cheeses that we sell all the time, like the Evalon, to show a side by side comparison to our customers, as well as working with cheesemakers to develop unique cheeses for us," Rogers says. "It's nice in that we can continue the conversation about what makes these cheeses special and what sets artisan production apart. And, since the aging room is glass fronted and clearly visible to customers, it helps encourage that conversation."

Rogers says the aging program has been an interesting journey for him and his mongers, and all feel fortunate to be working directly with cheesemakers to create cheeses unique to Standard Market. And he only sees the program growing.

"Right now we have just one store, but will be expanding to a second location in late 2013 in Naperville," Rogers says. That location will also have a small cheese aging room, enough to handle around 4,500 pounds of cheese at a time. He plans to set up each store's cave for a particular style of  cheese. Because the current cave in the Chicago shop is mostly set up for natural rind cheeses - nothing that would require more than 90% humidity - the cave at the next store will likely be set up for soft ripened cheeses.

"We will age and then distribute cheeses to all our stores, grills and restaurants," says Rogers. (Each store has a grill built in and a freestanding restaurant nearby). "It's one of those things where I can't believe how fortunate I am to be able to work with the cheeses I am most passionate about."

If Rogers' success with Evalon and Little Darling is any indication of what Standard Market is capable of, I can't wait to see what he comes up with next!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Wisconsin Beginning Cheesemaker Scholarship Now Available

Want to be a Wisconsin licensed cheesemaker?

Wisconsin Cheese Originals announced this week applications for its 2013 Beginning Cheesemaker Scholarship are available. The $2,500 award will help one aspiring cheesemaker earn his or her Wisconsin cheesemaking license and make new artisan, farmstead or specialty cheeses.

As you know, Wisconsin is the only state in the nation to require cheesemakers to be licensed, a lengthy process that can take as long as 18 months, requires the attendance at five cheesemaking courses, and 240 hours of apprenticeship with an existing licensed Wisconsin cheesemaker.

Applications for the 2013 Wisconsin Cheese Originals Beginning Cheesemaker Scholarship are available for download at Applications are due March 15. The recipient will be chosen by a review committee and notified by April 1.

This is the fourth year Wisconsin Cheese Originals has offered the $2,500 scholarship. Past recipients include:

2012: Anna Landmark owns and runs a small-scale sustainable farm with her husband and children in Albany, Wis. After using the scholarship money to earn her cheesemaker's license, Landmark plans to craft both fresh and aged sheep's milk cheeses, including thistle-rennet cheeses, which will require her to develop her own rennet from thistle flowers. This type of cheese is currently only available via import from Portugal and Spain.

2011: Rose Boero, a dairy goat breeder in Custer, Wis., successfully obtained her cheesemaker's license after receiving the scholarship in 2011. Today, she makes a variety of goat's milk cheeses at Willow Creek Cheese and teaches classes in her home for amateur cheesemakers. She is developing plans to build her own cheese plant at her dairy goat farm, where she and her husband have raised Toggenburg dairy goats for 25 years.

2010: Katie Hedrich, a goat's milk cheesemaker, obtained her license in 2010 after receiving the very first Wisconsin Cheese Originals Scholarship. At the 2011 U.S. Champion Cheese Contest, she took Best in Show for her goat's milk cheese, LaClare Farms Evalon, and was named the 2011 U.S. Champion Cheesemaker, the youngest licensed cheesemaker to ever earn the title.  She and her family are currently building a farmstead cheese plant on their farm near Pipe, Wis.

For more information about the scholarship, email me at .

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Winter Cheese Class Series at Glorioso's in Milwaukee

Exciting news, Milwaukee cheese geeks! In January, February and March, I'll be partnering with Glorioso's, Milwaukee’s premier family-owned Italian specialty food store, and offering an exclusive Winter Cheese Class Series. Here's the scoop:

Dates: Thursdays, January 31, February 21 and March 14

Time: 6:00 – 7:00 p.m.

Class Location:  Glorioso’s, 1011 East Brady St., Milwaukee, Wis.

Cost: $25 per person, purchase online at - seats must be purchased and reserved in advance.

Thursday, January 31: Italian vs. Wisconsin Cheeses
Old World Italian favorites vs. New World upstarts: attendees will judge whether Wisconsin artisan cheesemakers are holding their own, or may we daresay winning, the race in crafting world-class Italian-style cheeses. Attendees will taste six cheeses, three Italian and three American, hear the stories of each, with the opportunity to purchase each at evening's end.

Thursday, February 21: I Love Cheddar - The Grand Tour of Wisconsin Aged Cheddars
A new era of Wisconsin Cheddar has emerged in the past decade, with more cheesemakers moving to artisan aged and bandaged Cheddars. We’ll taste four Wisconsin Cheddars, aged from one to 12 years, as well as a reserve Bandaged Cheddar, made in the Old World English style.

Thursday, March 14: Four American Originals Invented by Wisconsin Cheesemakers
Wisconsin is home to many of the most innovative cheesemakers in America. We’ll taste four original cheeses dreamt up by cheesemakers either through sheer genius or, more often, by mistake. Hear the stories of what it takes to create an award-winning American Original.

See you there!