One of the best parts of my “cheese”cation was the obvious…. tasting the cheese. Each time we stopped at a creamery, there would be something to try. What made it even better (if 3 days of eating cheese wasn’t good enough) was the fact that I was surrounded by sooooo many experts.
As mentioned in Friday’s post, the folks at the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and Fortune Fish & Gourmet invited me on this trip. (Fortune Fish takes pride in educating themselves in all the products it distributes in the Midwest…including their HUGE gourmet food division.)
The nice part was that we were all there with the same goal…to learn about cheese…and eat cheese…and talk about cheese. (And if you really want to share the experience…eat a piece of cheese each time I say cheese…or take a drink…your choice!)
I used my little brown book to take notes on the looks, smell, taste and texture of each cheese.
So I thought that today, I would share with you my favorite bites from each tasting and a little something I learned about that particular cheese. (First lesson…pace myself. This wasn’t a sprint, it was a cheese tasting marathon.)
Edelweiss Cheese (Monticello, WI) was our first stop so this was my first test in restraint EXCEPT there was a plate of Aged Gouda sitting right in front of me. Gouda is my weakness because it almost has a toffee-like sweetness AND a tiny bit of saltiness. I was also able to taste a smidge of a “crunch” from the crystals formed during aging.
Next stop, Roelli Cheese (Shullsburg, WI). I have to be fair…I was obsessed with Roelli Cheese before we even pulled up. I am a huge fan of their original Red Rock Cheddar. It has a small “blue” vein to it and gives you just the slightest taste of the rusticness of a blue but not overpowering.
But after trying their Dunbarton Blue cheese…I had a new Roelli favorite. Aged a little longer than the Red Rock, the Dunbarton had more of the flavor of an old-school English cheddar. The blue cheese that entwined it gave it a nice earthy and salty flavor. (And this is where I started to lose the marathon….I had quite a few pieces of this cheese!)
Onward to Hook’s Cheese (Mineral Point, WI) to not only fall in love with their cheese but to fall in love with Tony and Julie Hook. (You can taste the love that these two college sweethearts put into each piece of cheese!)
Using a cheese trier to look at the aging process of a wheel of cheese.
I was smitten with their blue cheeses. They were all very smooth but the “Ewe Calf to be Kidding”…a mix of cow, sheep and goat cheese was by far my favorite. (The other thing I learned on this trip is that not all blue cheese tastes the same.)
On day 2, I was in the middle of my marathon and a bit shaky. I wasn’t sure how I was going to eat more cheese until I arrived at Carr Valley Cheese (Lavalle, WI) and got my second wind. Owner and master cheese maker, Sid Cook really did an excellent job of explaining all of the different cheese that they specialize in so it was really hard to pick a favorite.
I picked two…the Mammoth Cheddar (a cellar cured, aged cheddar) and the Chunky Blue Spread. I’m not sure if the cheddar is called “mammoth” because of the huge flavor or the fact that it is made in a 70+ pound wheel but either way I thought it had a nice flavor and supple texture.
And yes, I am choosing a spread as a favorite because there isn’t anything better than cracker spread with a delicious cheese. (And you know, I speak the truth.)
Cedar Grove Cheese (Plain, WI) was our next mile marker and I have one cheese for you “Quark.”
(No….that wasn’t a noise coming from a stomach all jiggly with cheese.)
From college physics classes, the science dork in me knew the definition of the word quark (building blocks which build up matter) BUT there is also a dairy quark. This quark is made from sour milk and is similar to ricotta cheese. (Ricotta is made from scalded whey.) And like it’s name in physics, I could see how this cheese would be a building block to soooo many great dishes. (I bought multiple tubs so I could unleash my science side and experiment.)
Part of tour included a visit to New Glarus Brewery (New Glarus, WI). I would have loved to spend more time here because it was just a gorgeous property. (I don’t drink but my fellow travelers took one for the team and drank my share. They were such a giving bunch.)
While we were here, we were able to speak to Andy Hatch of Uplands Dairy and learn about “seasonal cheese” making how using grass fed, raw milk during the months of May and October can’t be reproduced during other times of the year.
I missed the tour of the brewery because I was so fascinated about learning this “true Alpine” style of cheese making. (Plus there was some Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese leftover and I was eating it like it like I was going out to pasture.)
Nutty and sweet…kind of like me.
Having never run a marathon, I thought this was where I would see the finish line but it was just a hallucination because our final cheese stop of the night was a mini-cheese trade show.
Think of this part of my trip as speed dating with cheese. We went around to different tables, tasted cheese and learned about cheese. Ding! Next table…and so on and so on. It was a fabulous way to learn a lot in a short period of time.
Bringing a southern tradition to the midwest…
Martha’s Pimento Cheese.
It is a wafer o’cheese and it is “Wausome!”
Our final night together was spent at Quivey’s Grove (Madison, WI) sharing incredible food with delightful company. (And may I add that there aren’t more charming people in this world than the staff at Quivey’s!)
As really appreciated the handmade quilts in the restaurant.
On our third and final morning, we went to Sassy Cow Creamery and Farm. It was nice spending some time with the cows and learning more about milk production. It also gave me greater appreciation for all of the work that goes into dairy products. (This is when I felt I crossed the finish line…exhausted and covered in cow salvia.)
I could have easily come home with this sweet newborn calf.
There is a lot of great information out there if you are looking for some good online cheese resources. Here are a few: Eat Wisconsin Cheese, Retail Website, Picks and Bites, and Cheese Cupid (Cheese and Beverage pairings).
Best said by the folks at Cedar Ridge is that a cheese is a lot of complicated layers that seem to make sense. Each cheese and creamery had a personality of their own.
I enjoy aged cheese the best. I also seemed to prefer cheese with salty notes more than the lactic/acidy flavors. And as much as I like the pungent, biting taste of a blue cheese; I wasn’t that big of a fan of the custardy, butteriness of a “bloomy” cheese.
I probably wasn’t as much of a fan of the elastic, chewiness of a curd as I was of a harder, crumbly cheese. It was neat to learn how to involve almost all of your senses to truly taste the cheese. (Only time I used my ears was to hear the squeak of the curd.)
This tour will make my trips to the cheese counter take a lot longer because I found “cheeses” in Wisconsin and I’ll never be the same.
Thank you again to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Fortune Fish & Gourmet, all the creameries/dairies and most of all to my “tour mates”. I would have never finished this race without your encouragement and support. (See…I am a nice blogger!)
(Thanks for helping with the pics, Ben)
Special thank you to my bus buddy, Rah, executive chef at The Monkey’s Paw. Honored to be part of your entourage. Please Note: Rah is holding a soda not beer.