Some of the finest professional chefs in Wisconsin and beyond are making their way to Sauk City, population 3,100 and in Sauk County, to cook for an appreciative crowd.
The new Carr Valley Cooking School, on U.S. 12, is a way to make everybody more aware of the dozens of cheeses made by a fourth generation business that began in 1902.
As if the products need more attention: Carr Valley Cheese in the past five years has won more than 120 national and international awards. Many of the accolades go to artisan – small batch – varieties that aren’t made anyplace else.
“These are the people we already do business with,” says Sid Cook, regarding the chefs who are brought in to cook. “We thought (the classes) would be good for marketing” the cheeses as well as the chefs.
Cook, the mastermind behind Carr Valley and its products, is a certified master cheesemaker whom others describe as a rock star in his profession. “My goal is to produce magnificent cheeses,” he told me in 2004. “To me, it doesn’t matter which state produces the most.”
We were discussing the tussles that Wisconsin sometimes gets into with California and New York, about cheese production and variety.
At the back of his Sauk City retail outlet, dozens of wheels of mixed milk Marisa age in a temperature-controlled cooler. Cave Aged Marisa was second in 2006 international competition, and first nationally in 2005.
The cooler’s glass panels face almost three dozen cooking school students in the adjacent kitchen demo area, so there’s always a clear reminder of what brings them together.
Marisa is at the front of the store, too, behind the cash register. She is Cook’s teenage daughter, eager to share product samples, explain the history of the business and the difference between cheeses.
While she chats during a recent Sunday afternoon, it is standing room only in the demo area, as Mindy Segal, owner of Chicago’s HotChocolate restaurant, starts sharing baking advice.
She will share two recipes that use Carr Valley Cheese: a turnover with Cave Aged Cheddar, apples and pecans; and Swedish Farmers Cheesecake, which calls for Swedish Farmers Cheese.
Students get advice, recipes and a portion of whatever the cook prepares. Usually, that means a meal, served on linens and with proper tableware. The classes are attracting average cooks as well as professional chefs who want to learn new techniques from respected peers.
Segal, a longtime and high-end pastry chef, worked at Charlie Trotter’s and Spago restaurants in Chicago before venturing out on her own.
“This won’t be a profit center for us,” Sid acknowledges, without regret. But the gatherings have value in other ways. That includes a chance to interact with great chefs and eat what they prepare.
Upcoming class topics and instructors include: “Italian Fest and Wine Pairing,” led by John Caputo of Bin 36 Restaurant, Chicago, March 7; “Spring Feast,” with Justin Carlisle of Harvest restaurant, Madison, March 13; “Eat Your Vegetables” with Jesse Salzwedel of Back Porch Bistro, Elkhart Lake, April 3.
Also, “Roxbury Secrets” with Tom Gresser of Roxbury Tavern, Roxbury, April 8; “The Perfect Dinner,” with Dave Kasprzak of The Dining Room at 209 Main, Monticello, May 7; “Mediterranean Dinner” with Ryan Alabaugh of Sergio’s Restaurant, Cleveland, Ohio, May 14; “Smoking on the Grill” with Mike Uptagraw of The Del Bar, Lake Delton, June 11; and “Grilling Wisconsin Beer Style” with Christopher Pax of The Old Fashioned, Madison, June 17.
The cost for each class is $45. Class hours are 6:30-9 p.m., except for the 1-3:30 p.m. classes on April 8 and June 17. Pre-registration is required.
For more: www.carrvalleycheese.com, 800-462-7258. The Carr Valley Cooking School is at 807 Phillips Blvd. (U.S. 12), Sauk City. The company is headquartered in LaValle and also has retail outlets in Mauston and Fennimore.
Another award-winning cheese manufacturer with cooking on the front burner is Roth Kase USA, headquartered in Monroe, which recently opened a new Culinary Education Centre as a part of an expansion because of production.
Large windows in the professional kitchen provide a clear view of the hundreds of washed rind specialty cheeses that are shelved, washed and turned daily as they age. The kitchen gives professional chefs an easy way to “taste and work with our cheeses in a professional kitchen setting,” says Kirsten Jaeckle, director of marketing. Cooking classes are a possibility for the future; for now, the kitchen is for corporate events and can be rented to groups and organizations.
GranQueso, a Hispanic/Portuguese type of cheese, earned Roth Kase a first place in the 2006 American Cheese Society competition. The company has ethnic versatility; its other big cheeses include Grand Cru Gruyere, which has a Swiss heritage, and the Italy-influenced MezzaLuna Fontina.
For more: www.rothkase.com, 608-328-2122. The factory, retail store and culinary facility are at 657 Second St., Monroe. Visitors, from behind observation windows, can watch cheese being made. Check out the discount bin at the store before heading home; overstocks and not-quite-perfectly-shaped cheese wedges mean great quality at lower costs.
Last, for a free map of Wisconsin cheese, beer and wine manufacturers who offer tours to the public, contact the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board at www.wisdairy.com or 608-836-8820.