The judges are back, in their white coats and holding their clipboards.  You just better hope the contestants don’t sweat.

It’s back.  The World Championship Cheese Contest has returned to Madison this week for the 2018 duke-it-out between some 3400 Goudas, Cheddars, Blues and more, including some yogurts.  If you’ve never attended this Olympics of Dairy Products, it’s a serious, silent and sometimes smelly competition.

But unless you’re in the stinky cheese area, the most unnerving part of this biennial contest might be the spitting.  No, it’s not between angry fans from rival cheese camps.  It’s the judges…who can’t possibly swallow all the cheese they have to taste.  So, they taste…and then they don’t swallow.  It’s weird but if you had to keep a clean palate between tasting your contestants, you’d have to spit too.  Or have some serious gastrointestinal challenges later.

Fortunately, there is a ton of great cheese left over at the end for visitors to sample!  Or to be more exact, close to 33 tons: The Wisconsin State Journal reports that 66,000 pounds of cheese arrived in Madison to be part of the event.

In 2016, a home-state competitor took the title of grand champion: Roth Cheese’s Grand Cru Surchoix.  Entries from Wisconsin have won the title 11 times since 1957, but European cheese have dominated in recent years until the last contest.

If you want to celebrate the winner, buy a ticket to the gala tomorrow evening – Thursday, March 8 – and see the tables stacked with the best cheeses in the world.  It’s an amazing sight…and then you get to taste them too.  Just part of the fun of living in America’s Dairyland.

Best of Madison 2018 Gold!

Fromagination’s loyal customers have recognized the shop as the Best Specialty Food Store in Madison for 2018.  We got a gold medal during the Olympics!  Woo-hoo!

It’s a great honor for us, considering all the wonderful food and shops in our city.  Our mission of bring Wisconsin’s best artisan cheeses to a wider audience, and highlighting both the cheesemaking heritage of America’s Dairyland and the still-growing local food movement in the Badger State is unfinished.  And we appreciate your support while we pursue it.

We had stiff competition for this award, as did the winners of other categories, and that’s one of the things that makes Madison, and Dane County, a good place to live.  The world of food keeps growing and getting better.  See all the winners here!

Part of Fromagination’s mission is also to be a supporter of the greater community.  To that end, we make donations to good causes such as Proud Theater, Wintersong/Second Harvest, Wisconsin Public Television, Porchlight, Madison Children’s Museum, Silverwood Park, OutReach, Olbrich Botanical Society, FEED Kitchens and others.  Our public assets in this place are many and we acknowledge what they to do to strengthen our society.

So, we give thanks for being part of the mix of downtown Madison, and of Wisconsin’s blooming food culture.  Thank you from the Fromagination staff for the Best of Madison 2018 gold!

Having said all that…you should come in and eat some cheese sometime soon!

Raclette for Lunch!

Raclette for Lunch! is a new feature at Fromagination, which recently hosted a video crew that came to investigate our Raclette meal, served daily at the shop.


Raclette is a great treat during cold months when you need a hot meal and want some fantastic cheese in it.

See our Raclette Lunch page for more information about trying some at the Fromagination shop.

Fromagination also sells Raclette cheese for you to grill at home.

Hook’s Cheese Visits on February 17

On Saturday, February 17, Hook’s Cheese will be providing samples of some of its many great creations in the Fromagination shop.

Tony Hook, pictured in this photo giving Fromagination employees a tour of his cheese warehouse, has been making wonderful Cheddar cheeses in Mineral Point for many years.  One of our best sellers is Hook’s 8-Year Aged Cheddar.

One mixed milk cheese from Hook’s – Triple Play – will be sampled that day.  It is a cow, goat and sheep milk cheese that displays flavors of a Gouda, baby Swiss or Havarti.  This version, Triple Play Extra Innings (get it?) is aged for more than 12 months to bring out a fuller Gouda flavor and allow crystals to begin forming.

Hook’s also features a series of Blue cheeses.  Hook’s Original Blue, a Danish-style Blue cheese, is very popular.  But Little Boy Blue, which won First Place for Blue cheeses at the 2016 American Cheese Society competition, will be offered for sampling on this Saturday.  It is a sheep milk cheese, similar in style to a French Roquefort cheese…also made from sheep milk.

Visit us on Saturday, February 17, to sample some great cheese…and learn more about the successful cheese production that Julie and Tony Hook began back in the 1980s.

Wm. Chocolate Visits Fromagination

Ahead of Valentine’s Day, the Fromagination Shop will have a special sampler – Wm. Chocolate – ready to make your tastebuds jump on Saturday, February 3.

The local owner and creator of Wm. Chocolate is Will Marx, who will be sharing pieces of his high-quality chocolates with our customers.  Will started his chocolate-making in the kitchen of his home, and now has a business he is quite passionate about!  He’ll be displaying his wares from 12:00 noon until 2:00 p.m.

Fromagination carries 1-ounce Wm. Chocolate bars, including varieties made from cacao from the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Belize and Honduras.  We also carry Wm. Chocolate’s drinking chocolate, and larger 2 ounce bars.

See our website for 1 ounce bars: Wm. Chocolate – 1 ounce bars

Will sources his ingredients from small-scale producers, when he can, and provides information about his suppliers to customers too.

Think about a delicious and socially responsible Valentine’s Day gift for your honey…and come to sample some Wm. Chocolate on Saturday.

Find out more at the link below:

Tourists to the Midwest can find interesting information in Midwest Living magazine six times a year.

The end-of-year 2017 issue features tips from the Minneapolis catering/entertaining scene, a family-run stationary & home goods brand from rural Iowa, the Titletown entertainment district in Green Bay, and…

Fromagination!…in a feature called “40 Fabulous Midwest Stores“.  The list of worthy competitors for attractive, engaging places to shop is long, so we are honored to be included in the group.

It also features a lot of recipes for holiday meals, a story on fun things to do in Indianapolis for Christmas, another about Chicago’s Renegade Craft Fair, and short takes about a luge track in Muskegon, Michigan and a café in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

So far, however, the best and cheesiest place to visit for the holiday season still seems to be Wisconsin.


The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s annual event for holiday shoppers is this weekend, November 18 & 19, in downtown Madison.

The MMoCA Art & Gift Fair will feature many booths with gifts, art, and food!

Come downtown and have a look at the beautiful offerings.  Order some artisan cheese gift sets while you’re there.

For more information, see the MMoCA fair page.

“The little guys are disappearing.”

North Hendren Cooperative Dairy, in Willard, Wisconsin, wants to survive.  But six years from its 100th birthday, the specialty cheesemaking enterprise located in Clark County between Marshfield and Eau Claire, is experiencing a great struggle.

Founded in 1923, the co-op is made up of 24 small, local dairy farmers who, in 2002, converted their operation to a private label artisan cheese endeavor focused on Blue cheese.  In 2016, North Hendren produced 2.2 million pounds of award-winning Blue and Gorgonzola cheeses in 7-pound wheels.

This 2010 Isthmus review lauded North Hendren’s cheesemaking:

But now the rug has been pulled out from under the co-op, and its cheeses, formerly sold under the Black River label,  have been replaced in the supply chain.

In January, a brokerage firm cancelled its contract with the North Hendren Cooperative Dairy and moved to source its cheese elsewhere.  The brokerage said North Hendren could no longer sell its cheeses under its former label, and left it with no business and many employees to pay.  The story is detailed in a recent podcast by Jeanne Carpenter on her Cheese Underground Radio:

Enter the discriminating Wisconsin cheese consumer – you – who can help this business survive by purchasing the North Hendren Smoked Blue, North Hendren Gorgonzola (aged minimum 90 days), and its “yellow blue,” Rumena Modra, at Fromagination…and elsewhere.

See more information below about North Hendren Cooperative Dairy, and considering purchasing your Blue cheese from them this year.

As the co-op’s cheesemaker Mike – making cheese since he was 13 – says…they just need to make it until January.

Call our shop – 608-255-2430 – for more information about North Hendren Co-op Dairy products.

Last week, the Fromagination had a visit from a group of people we see on a regular basis: Travel writers.

Fromagination owner Ken Monteleone met with a group of six travel media staff from various locations, including two from the Spanish publication Complot.  They come to see a small city with a lot of buzz…including the food culture of Madison, and the artisan cheeses of Wisconsin.

For this visit, we welcomed a guest who writes freelance travel articles for 12 major U.S. newspapers, a CBS News travel editor, a “lifestyles” publications chain, a public relations person, and the editor and creative director (with his camera) of Complot.  They sample cheese, saw the other local food products that Fromagination carries, and heard about the local food scene and the state’s dairy market.

Fromagination’s role as a cultural/food stop is frequently encouraged by staff from the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau, which wants guests in America’s Dairyland to grasp the scope and history of our cheese heritage…and current position as a leader in, well, producing fantastic cheeses.  We have guests arrive who know a lot about cheese, and other who know very little about cheese…and some who don’t even eat cheese but want to give some as a gift.

Recently, a team from Lonely Planet came to the shop, and they sent back an article for the September 2017 issue of their online magazine.  Our food culture, Madison, and Wisconsin, are well-covered by these inquisitive visitors.  We enjoy our visits with them most when they taste the selections in the shop, and say they’ll remember us the next time they eat some great cheese.

Fromagination was named an Isthmus weekly Favorite (again) for 2017!  It’s an honor to get real support from the Madison/Dane County community for our business.

Our shop was named #2 in the Specialty Food Shop category, behind Penzey’s Spices and before Asian Midway Foods.  Congratulations to both of them…but we’re the ones who carry spicy cheese, okay?

Fromagination has been named a Favorite often over our 10 years of existence.  Thank you to all of our fans/supporters…wherever you are!

You’ll find the Favorites listed in this week’s Isthmus, which includes the Annual Manual 2017-2018.