Mar 30 2013
It’s business as usual in Wisconsin, which produces the most and best cheese nationally, but the culture is growing in new ways.
America’s Dairyland this month won 47 of 81 categories at the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest, whose 1,700 entries came from 30 states. Next in line: Vermont and New York, each with six gold medals.
Wisconsin also is the only state with a master cheesemaker program, similar to European apprenticeships, and 52 people have completed the advanced certification.
So excellent cheeses are not hard to find, but neither are other ways to indulge in this dairy product. How?
Visit a winner. The big cheese at the recent championship was Marieke Mature Gouda, and cheesemaker Marieke Penterman’s farmstead creamery is open for tours. On summer weekdays, add a tour (by appointment) of her family’s Dutch Dairy and its 850 milk cows. The dairy farmers moved to Wisconsin from the Netherlands in 2002, which explains the name of their businesses.
Holland’s Family Cheese is near Thorp (between Eau Claire and Wausau). hollandsfamilycheese.com, 715-669-5230
Get cooking. Wisconsin cheesemakers have earned 13 of 17 grand champ titles since the U.S. Cheese Championship began. Winners, besides Marieke, include Sid Cook of Carr Valley Cheese; no other Badger cheesemaker has won more awards.
Chefs from as far away as West Virginia teach at Carr Valley’s demonstration kitchen. The monthly classes usually last 2.5 hours, cost $55 (for food, wine, recipes) and always involve Sid’s artisan cheeses.
Upcoming topics, dates and chefs: “April Flavors,” April 21, Brad Neuendorf of Freddy Valentine’s, Spring Green; and “Go Hog Wild,” May 21, Brian Frakes of the Pfister Hotel, Milwaukee. Classes happen at Carr Valley’s retail store in Sauk City (25 miles northwest of Madison). carrvalleycheese.com, 608-643-3441
Spend the night. Brenda Jensen makes her award-winning cheeses with the milk of her farm’s 250 sheep, which are of German and French heritage. The cheesemaker added a one-unit bed and breakfast in 2009, and motivated overnight guests participate in milking, lambing and cheesemaking. Work options depend upon time of year.
Spreadable cheeses and crumbly feta are among the products at Hidden Springs Creamery, near Westby (25 miles southeast of La Crosse). For more: hiddenspringscreamery.com, 608-634-2521.
Make your own. Steve and Mary Jo Shapson teach others how to make butter to Cheddar during two-day, weekend workshops for no more than 12 students.
This immersion into the world of cheesemaking results in a take-away of at least six soft to hard cheeses (ricotta to blue), plus lessons in yogurt, mascarpone and butter. Students end the first day with a tasting of various cheeses and wines. The cost is $419.
The teachers are foodies with longtime experience in home brewing and winemaking. Classes happen April 13-14, June 15-16, Aug. 17-18 and Oct. 19-20 at The Cheesemaker, Cedarburg (20 miles north of Milwaukee). thecheesemaker.com, 414-745-5483
Study the basics. The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board conducts a “Cheese 101” class from 6:30-8 p.m. April 10 at Oakland Cafe, Milwaukee. Expect an explanation of cheese categories, trends and beverage/cheese pairings. The cost is $25. eatwisconsincheese.com, 608-836-8820
Learn the history. About one-fifth of all master cheesemakers in Wisconsin live in Green County, home to the National Historic Cheesemaking Center, open April 1 to Oct. 31 in Monroe (45 miles southwest of Madison). Also in Monroe is the nation’s only producer of Limburger, a stinky-soft cheese of European origin. greencounty.org, 888-222-9111
Develop a palate. Wisconsin’s self-proclaimed “cheese geek,” Jeanne Carpenter of Madison, puts together cheese-beverage tastings at Firefly Coffeehouse, Oregon (12 miles south of Madison). Upcoming topics: rind cheeses with champagnes, April 23, and Alpine-style cheeses, May 14. The monthly classes start at 7 p.m. and cost $22. wicheesefest.com/store/cheese-classes
Jeanne also organizes an annual artisan cheese festival in November and blogs about cheese at cheeseunderground.blogspot.com
Hit the road. The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board has released a new, free version of “A Traveler’s Guide to America’s Dairyland,” a map that pinpoints 161 locations to taste and buy dairy products. eatwisconsincheese.com/map, 608-203-7235
Challenge assumptions. Children, adults, amateur cooks and professional chefs enter the Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 27 at the Iowa County Fairgrounds, Mineral Point.
Admission is free. For sale: grilled cheese, tomato soup and food samples from vendors. Expect country music to accompany creative competition in sweet to savory sandwich categories. Presentation, taste and style count. grilledcheesewisconsin.com, 608-341-6797.
Check out the party. Before June Dairy Month arrives, cheese takes top billing at the Dairy State Cheese and Beer Festival, April 20, Kenosha, kenoshabeerfest.com, 262-654-6200; Between the Bluffs Beer, Wine and Cheese Festival, April 27, La Crosse, betweenthebluffsbeerfest.com, 608-782-2366; and the Great Wisconsin Cheese Festival, Little Chute (20 miles southwest of Green Bay), littlechutewi.org, 920-788-7390.
For more about winners of this month’s U.S. Championship Cheese Contest, consult uschampioncheese.org, 608-828-4550.