Door Artisan Cheese: from milk vat to restaurant plate

JON JAROSH/DOOR COUNTY VISITOR BUREAU PHOTO

Fans of fine dining know that an amuse-bouche is a chef’s little gift to diners – a nibble or slurp that usually is an elegant extra at the start of an evening meal.

Think fancy canape, shot of gazpacho, tiny culinary work of art. Whatever you are given is not on a menu, so you can’t order it, but the edible surprise is intended to whet the appetite for what’s ahead.

When I met chef Lawrence Hutchinson this month, he delivered a two-bite wedge of melted brie, oozing out of a pecan-panko crust, propped atop a dab of green puree and dressed with a smidgen of microgreens. Lovely to look at, complex in flavor and delish – gone all too quickly.

It is no coincidence that cheese was the opening act here because Lawrence is executive chef at Glacier Ledge restaurant, which is part of the new Door Artisan Cheese Company near Egg Harbor.

In Wisconsin are dozens of cheese factories and hundreds of shops where cheese is sold. Door Artisan Cheese is a rare enterprise that shows visitors how cheese is produced and enjoyed from milk delivery to restaurant table.

“We’re on the cutting edge,” asserts the chef. “This is a culinary destination.” He is a California native whose resumé includes guerilla cooking – good food prepared in makeshift conditions – on movie sets around the world.

The company uses milk from Appleton-based Red Barn Family Farms, turns it into cheese and ages it in basement cheese caves. Before this month ends, guided tours of the area begin; curious visitors already can press a button upstairs to quiz cheesemakers as they work behind observation windows that separate production vats from a cheese-centric market.

In stock are world champ cheeses to bags of fresh curds, made on the premises. A charcuterie counter carries Nueske’s products to foreign delicacies. Add a global selection of 150 wines and craft beers from Wisconsin, sold by the bottle and tap.

Master cheesemakers Michael Brennenstuhl (the company president) and Jim Demeter are starting with cheddars, colby and asiago but eventually will produce up to 50 kinds of cheese, says Mary Beth Hill, general manager. Michael’s specialty is blue cheese, Jim’s is feta and both have won national awards.

Although their trio of cheese vats could make 900 pounds of cheese daily, Mary Beth says high volume is not the intent. It is more about immersing visitors in the process and providing more than one edible ending.

Curious customers can quiz on-staff experts about products and sample wine, beer, cheese and meat before they buy.

Available are cheeses cut to order, to-go snacks, light meals and gourmet entrees with a Mediterranean flair, served in a dining room with double-sided fireplace, atrium, big windows and woodsy views.

Music on weekends, tasting classes and a leisurely pace are priorities. “We’re not here to flip tables quickly” in the 60-seat space, says Corey Liker, restaurant manager and formerly with Hotel Marshfield. Add another 60 patio seats when weather warms.

Open at 7 a.m. is a barista-staffed coffee nook with bakery made on the premises. Upcoming classes will include one that pairs coffees with cheeses.

At night, a chef’s table – round and big enough for eight – will serve off-menu, multi-course, mystery meals at a fixed price. The chef will ask two questions: Are there dietary restrictions, and it there anything you’ll refuse to eat, no matter how it’s prepared?

How might cheeses show up on the menu? That depends on the time of year, type of cheese and whims of the cook. On the starter-plate menu this week: cheese curds with dipping sauces to potato-wrapped duck carnitas with blue cheese cream.

“Working with cheese is the easy part,” says chef Lawrence, who thinks it’s more difficult to persuade fast-lane vacationers to break out of culinary ruts. Example: eating junk food on the go.

His grilled cheese sandwich will get a creative spin that could change daily, and other offerings won’t involve cheese at all. Think avocado ice cream or chocolate chili. Don’t expect fish boils or classic fish fries; Mary Beth notes that they are plentiful elsewhere in Door County.

Door Artisan Cheese Company, 8301 Hwy. 42 North, Egg Harbor, has limited business hours until Memorial Day weekend, when it is open daily. facebook.com/doorartisancheese.com, 920-868-1444

Here are five other new businesses on the peninsula that are causing a little chatter.

Ephraim Coffee Lab, 3055 Church St., Ephraim: Nitro cold brew. Seasonal brews. Micro-batch roasting, on site. If that kind of talk gives you a kick as good as caffeine, Isley Coffee Roasters might become your new go-to favorite. ephraimcoffeelab.com, 414-308-4513

Trixie’s, 9996 Pioneer Lane, Ephraim: Wickman House chefs just opened a wine bar with a menu that serves steamed clams and fried oyster mushrooms to a porterhouse for two. Most bites are light fare. trixiesfoodandwine.com, 920-854-8008

Serendipity Restaurant, 4655 Hwy. E, Egg Harbor: The former Trio Restaurant closed because of the owners’ retirement; now expect locally sourced and organic ingredients in a mix of classics that include Steak Diane and Coq Au Vin. Happy endings include Peach Melba, “Auguste Escoffier’s signature dessert.” serendipitydoorcounty.com, 920-495-1590

Barringer’s Restaurant, 1 N. Spruce St., Fish Creek: J.R. Schoenfeld, owner of the long-respected Chives restaurant in Suamico, soon will open a steakhouse-supper club in the former Summertime restaurant. No phone or reservations, yet. facebook.com/barringersrestaurant

Boathouse on the Bay, 10716 N. Bay Shore Dr., Sister Bay: For a good gander at the waterfront and marina, head upstairs at the former Inn at Kristofers, then order a perch po-boy or lobster nachos or Three Sailors Tacos (shrimp, calamari or mahi mahi). Seafood reigns here. boathousedcw.com, 920-854-3223