May 2016 is going to be Swiss Heritage month at Fromagination.  Wisconsin has a strong, historic tie to the cheese-making traditions of Switzerland.  Several events will highlight that connection to America’s Dairyland.

Switzerland, a small, mountainous country in south-central Europe, has an outsized role in cheese-making history.  It is famous for creations such as Appenzeller, Gruyere, Tete-de-Moine and Fromage a Raclette.  What U.S. residents often just call “swiss cheese,” Swiss residents might call…hmmm….generic cheese?  The tradition of cheese-making in Switzerland crossed the Atlantic Ocean and landed, frequently, in Wisconsin.  Now it’s time to find out how the milk choices, the techniques and equipment, and the long-standing practices, have enriched our state!

The first event will be Tuesday, May 3 – a cheese class, “Discovering Swiss Cheese!”  The class – limited to 20 registrants – will feature special guest Chris Roelli, Wisconsin master cheese-maker and owner of Roelli Cheese, in Shullsburg.  He is a fourth-generation cheese producer, and creator of some excellent artisan Wisconsin cheeses.

The 1.5 hour class will include a cheese-tasting of Alpine-style cheeses, a review of the Swiss influence in Wisconsin, discussion of Alpine cheeses, and a fondue snack made from Swiss and other Alpine cheeses sold at Fromagination.  The cost is $50 per person, with a discount for group/multiple registrations.  Sign up here.

 


It’s Time to Make Your Choice

Today is Presidential Primary Election Day in Wisconsin!  That’s important, yes..but after you vote, even more important is the issue of which artisan Wisconsin cheese corresponds to the candidate of your choice?  See below for Fromagination’s answer.

Hillary Clinton

We chose Hook’s Eight-Year Aged Cheddar cheese for Hillary Clinton.  She is mainstream Democrat and so corresponds to a pasteurized, cow milk cheese.  She can be sharp when you push in her in a debate, and she has certainly had to age 8 years during the Obama Administration.  Cheddar cheese is one of the best known cheeses, so it goes well with Ms. Clinton, also well known.  It goes well with a Cabernet Sauvignon wine, as the former Secretary of State no doubt is aware, and dark chocolate.

Ted Cruz

Bad Axe sheep milk cheese from Hidden Springs Creamery seem best for Senator Cruz.  He seeks evangelical Christian votes…which means he’s naturally going to side with the Sheep over the Goats.   He’s the youngest of the candidates, and this is a young cheese with a consistency of a young Mozzarella.  It is a mild, even sweet, cheese, and therefore appropriate for conservative tastes…pair it with rye crackers and a dry mead.  Finally the name – Bad Axe –  rhymes with something that the Senator has a reputation for being in the U.S. Senate.

Bernie Sanders

For Senator Sanders, we think Evalon from LaClare Farms is the best fit.  Sanders is more of a purist who’s bucking the Establishment, so we see this raw, goat milk cheese as quite appropriate.  Many people have never tried goat cheese, but like it when they do.  Evalon has “a nutty finish”…we’ll leave it up to you whether this is a comment on the candidate or final months of the Democratic race.  And many of his supporters are too young to drink alcohol, so we decided to pair it with fresh fruit juice or apple slices.

Donald Trump

Moody Blue from Emmi Roth USA is the best choice for Mr. Trump.  Like Blue cheese, Mr. Trump seems to be either a “love him or hate him” sort of candidate.  And despite being a Republican, he seems to have some policy choices that appear somewhat blue.  He has strong opinions, and therefore pairs well with other foods and beverages that can hold their own, such as bacon or a Porter beer.  Finally, the name – Moody Blue – may sometimes describe his debate demeanor.

 


Another post from the Wandering Cheesemonger finds her now interning at a goat and sheep dairy/cheese maker in Thurman, New York (upstate): Nettle Meadow.  Below is her first communication from midst of the New Yorkers:

At Nettle Meadow, cheese chaos is the rule. There are three floors of people running around, making jokes about ‘cutting the cheese’, and trying to do everything that needs to be done. There are never enough hours in the day, a common symptom of farmstead cheesemaking, but somehow everything manages to get finished. I’ve been training at Nettle Meadow for 2 weeks now, and although I haven’t dropped any cheese in the shuffle yet, I have almost fallen head first in to the bulk tank of milk many times – the floor can get slippery when you’re working with so much whey!

A ‘make shift’ starts at 4 in the morning. You arrive alone, and spend the first four hours in the cheese room moving through the first steps of the process completely solo. It may sound painfully early to wake up at 3:30 a.m., but I think most people think of it as almost meditative; you may be tired, but at least you don’t have to talk to anyone (other than the ghosts that are rumored to live in Nettle Meadow’s cheese aging cellar). I haven’t started doing the 4:00 a.m. shifts yet, but I have to admit that I’m excited to get this one-on-one time with the cheese, ghosts or not!

I’m helping out in the cheese room and aging cellar, making cheese, aging it, and wrapping it up to send out to the world. Nettle Meadow makes quite a few different cheeses, but the most popular is Kunik, a semi-aged goat milk cheese with Jersey cow cream. Its creamy, rich, mild paste tastes decadent all by itself or with a drop of honey (my new go-to after work snack!). Kunik won first place in the Triple Crème category from the American Cheese Society in 2010, and is widely recognized as one of the most successful European style farmstead goat cheeses made in the United States today.

I’m also helping out with feeding kids and lambs, which is hands down the cutest part of my job. On my third day, my boss Shelia asked me if I would drive a couple of kids over to the other farm where we keep them (separating the kids from their moms helps to stop the spread of disease between the animals). I had visions of throwing 5 bleating baby goats in to the back of my mom’s Honda Civic, imagining with mild horror the mess the back seat would be, until Shelia pulled up in her car, explaining that they had a makeshift bed in the back for just such occasions.


The Wandering Cheesemonger has wandered back to Wisconsin in time for winter.  She offers this advice for the season:

Fondue is the perfect decadent treat for a cold winter’s night, traditionally eaten in mountainous regions where a good cheesy meal could help ward off the snow and ice.  A lot of people come to me baffled by how exactly to make a fondue, so I wanted to share my personal favorite recipe while we’re going into peak fondue season.  Fondue is usually primarily made from alpine style cheeses, such as Gruyere or Comte.  The buttery, floral flavor of these easy-to-melt cheeses make for a delectable pot of fondue.

The first thing you need for fondue is a base cheese; something not too flavorful (I like to use Emmental) to create a base for your fondue without overpowering the other cheeses. Once you have your base cheese, you can start being a little more creative in cheese choice. For a traditional style fondue, I usually add Pleasant Ridge Reserve, from Uplands Cheese, as well as Gran Cru Surchoix, from Roth Kase, both in Wisconsin.  Both of these are alpine-style cheeses with fuller flavor than the Emmental. They add light floral, fruity notes to the fondue, but at the same time don’t make the flavor too crazy. You can also use Comte or Beaufort as your two more flavorful cheeses, imported alpine-style cheeses made in France and used in traditional French fondue -I just like to go local when possible!

Of course, fondue can be made with much crazier cheese combinations.  It is usually important to make sure that any cheese you use melts well.  Stay away from bloomy rind cheeses, which don’t melt very well, but beyond that, the sky’s the limit.  I once made fondue with quadrello, a buffalo milk cheese from Italy that isn’t considered a good melting cheese. The high fat content in the buffalo milk made my fondue look a little greasy, but the taste was out of this world.

In general, I stick to this basic recipe:

4-6 ounces of cheese per person of:
2 parts Emmental
1 part Pleasant Ridge Reserve
1 part Gran Cru Surchoix (or other Gruyere-style cheese)

Before beginning, grate all of your cheese, then rub the fondue pot with whole garlic cloves, then chop the garlic up and place it in the pot with a splash of dry white wine.  Gradually add the grated cheese, heating and stirring as you go along.  Add a little more wine if the cheese starts to get too thick, but be careful to add only a tiny bit at a time!

I like to cut up some crusty bread, grab some cornichons (a traditional French fondue companion), and then steam a little broccoli to dip in my fondue.

If you’re still nervous about making the right fondue, come in to Fromagination for more guidance, and a cheesemonger will help you find the perfect cheeses!


Rush Creek Reserve is a star in the cheese world, a deliciously creamy cheese whose name is known by anyone and everyone who keeps up on great food, and food legislation, in the United States. This cheese – made by Uplands Cheese Company in Dodgeville, Wisconsin – became a superstar because of its decadently creative flavor profile.

Rush Creek Reserve is made only of the winter milk from cows at Uplands Dairy. The difference between summer and winter milk is an important distinction because the milk’s flavor changes significantly as the cows diet shifts from grass, in the summer, to hay, in the winter. The summer milk at Uplands is used in Pleasant Ridge Reserve, giving that cheese a more floral flavor, while Rush Creek Reserve has the more dense, rich flavor that often comes with winter milk cheeses.

Rush Creek Reserve is a young, raw milk cheese wrapped in spruce bark, giving the cheese a slightly woody flavor. You eat each ¾ pound wheel of Rush Creek by prying off the top of the wheel so you can dig into the gooey center with a knife (or spoon…). The paste has a strongly earthy, woody, and almost meaty flavor with a slightly sweet note. The luscious cheese is incredible smeared on a piece of crusty baguette, paired with dried figs and walnuts, or simply eaten alone.

In the last year, however, Rush Creek Reserve has garnered a different type of attention because of the stand made by its producer, Andy Hatch. Due to unclear FDA regulations on the legality of aging soft raw milk cheeses on wooden boards, Andy Hatch decided to stop making Rush Creek Reserve in 2014, a huge blow to the cheese world. His worry was that, with FDA regulations being so shifty and unsure, Rush Creek could end up being illegal to sell after it was produced, losing a lot of money for Uplands Cheese. Andy Hatch’s stand highlighted the importance of clear FDA regulations for small cheese producers, while also beginning a more public conversation on the importance of FDA support of small cheese production in the United States.

Although we went one year without Rush Creek Reserve, it all paid off when the FDA responded by making regulations much more clear. This year the delectable Rush Creek Reserve is once again being made and is available to the public! You can order directly from the producer, or from a number of cheese stores, but be sure to order in advance. Most wheels are being sold before they even arrive at distributors, so don’t expect to be able to walk into your local cheese store and find a wheel!

Fromagination will be receiving shipments of Rush Creek December 10th and December 17th, so pre-order now to reserve your own!


In this fourteenth edition of The Wandering Cheesemonger,  our blogger on the dairy scene, Grace, heads toward the spiritual side of cheese.

If I were to try and convince someone of the existence of a higher power, I would do so through the miracle that is cheese.  Without prior knowledge, who could possibly imagine that the delectable morsels we snack on are created through the transformation of something as simple as milk?  In my opinion, the miracle that is the creation of cheese is practically on par with Jesus’s miracle of the loaves and the fishes.  Following this logic, the cheesemakers that act out this miraculous transformation on a daily basis are essentially prophets, spreading the word of good food.

I may be going a bit too far with this, but the gist is that a good cheese tastes truly miraculous.  The miracle worker with whom I am apprenticing right now, Marisa, makes a whole range of miracles whose flavors I will attempt to describe.

Marisa’s fresh goat cheese rounds are creamy and delicate, with a light creamy flavor that dissolves quickly on your tongue, leaving you wanting more.  At the same time, the large cheeses are dense and smoothly consistent in texture, perfect for eating on a crepe with honey or caramel, in a salad, or just completely plain.

Her ‘demi sec’ (‘half dry’) cheese is a aged somewhere between 2 and 3 weeks, the point at which the cheese develops a bloomy rind and a gooey, sometimes almost liquid interior.  The rind has a sharp, almost acidic flavor that balances perfectly with the dense and creamy paste.  It’s full flavor makes it delicious all by itself, but we also sometimes cook it in to small, flakey tarts; when warm, this cheese really packs a punch.

Her ‘sec’ are small ‘crotin de chèvre’, which technically translates to goat poop, but is also the name for small, well-aged dry goat cheeses.  This hard cheese is extremely dry and covered on the outside with a fine, brown powder which is in fact millions of tiny spiders that work away at the cheese, lending it its unique flavor.  This cheese has such a strong, sharp bite that we tell customers that it eats holes in your tongue–it isn’t for the faint of heart.

Finally, her  buffalo mozzarella are brilliant balls of pure heaven, spheres of rich and smoothly textured cheese from which buffalo milk leaks as you slice.  The fresh flavor of the buffalo milk intertwines with the more complex curd, which has the classical gamey taste that often comes with buffalo milk cheeses.


In this thirteenth edition of The Wandering Cheesemonger,  Grace, the ever-observant blogger, admires the process followed by her mentors.

Marisa and Frederic Thomas never imagined themselves as ‘paysannes’, raising goats and making cheese for a living.  They originally bought two goats to keep their horse Histoire company, not intending to even have to milk them. Fast forward a few years, however, and Marisa couldn’t resist the urge to try making some of the fresh goat cheese that is so commonly found in French markets.

By 2005, Marisa had expanded her herd to 30 goats and was milking them outdoors from a portable milking station.  In the summer, this was ideal; she worked in a bathing suit and rubber boots, enjoying the sun, and tells me that everyone envied her tan.  However, when the weather was bad (and in Brittany this is often), milking her 30 goats two-by-two out of doors was a 3 hour long nightmare

In 2009, after having made cheese for a few years with no training, Marisa went back to school and got her professional license to raise goats and make cheese.  The same year, Marisa and Fred decided to build a barn to house their goats so that they could continue to expand the business, naming it the Chevrerie de la Baie.  To them, this didn’t seem like a big deal, considering that they had already built the house they live in now with their own hands.

Soon after, they decided to buy their first buffalo, an addition to the farm that would eventually allow them to make buffalo mozzarella. Marisa didn’t succeed in making her mozzarella until 2013, due to multiple hiccups (including finding out that their only male buffalo was sterile).

Today, Marisa and Fred are still expanding, adding buffalo and goats to their herds, adding on to the barn, and even adding cheeses – Marisa plans to tackle making burratta next.  Every day during the busy season, Fred and Marisa have to work 12 hour days, but every day they sell out of cheese and end up having to turn people away.  This story is still ongoing, and their hold on running a successful business is still sometimes tenuous, but the most incredible part of their rise to local cheese fame is the fact that they figured it all out themselves.  They built their own barn, learned how to take care of large herds of goats, taught themselves how to make the cheese, and even took the leap to be one of the very few buffalo mozzarella producers in France.

Marisa, the head cheesemaker, is an embodiment of the vision, courage, and hard work that goes in to making an exceptional cheese.  She has made goat cheese for years in a country where cheese like this is taken for granted.  Fred and Marisa’s creativity and innovation cheesemakers is inspiring and impressive, and I feel lucky to get the chance to work with and learn from them. And, if you ever happen to be in Brittany, don’t miss visiting their farm – it is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever had the privilege to be.


In this twelth edition of The Wandering Cheesemonger, Grace, our blogger whose mission is cheese, examines the mysteries of making good cheese.

About two weeks ago, Marisa walked out of the laboratory looking frustrated and stressed. For some reason, the buffalo mozzarella wasn’t coming out right, and she had had to throw away all of the cheese she had made that day. She had no clue what could be wrong. Everything was the same as the day before, when the cheese had come out lusciously creamy. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with the process.

Around 6:00 the next day, I looked in to the window of the lab and saw her throwing away another batch of cheese. Again, the mozzarella had a weird texture and a bad taste. And again, we had no explanation for what had happened.

We wracked our brains for what could have gone wrong, starting with the new batch of rennet she had recently gotten in the mail. She had been using it for a few days already and it had worked well, but she was still suspicious, and immediately put in a rush order for a new batch. The new rennet did nothing, and at this point, a weeks worth of cheese had been unsuccessful.

Marisa then milked each of the buffalo individually, storing the milk from each in a different container, so that she could try making cheese from each to see if one of the buffalo was perhaps the problem. No luck; none of the batches of mozzarella worked.

Marisa had already called every cheese maker and cheese savant that she knew, asking for a solution, with no luck. Not many people know how to make buffalo mozzarella, and especially not in France (buffalo mozzarella is a traditionally Italian cheese). Finally, Marisa spoke to someone from the company who sell her the culture she uses for the goat milk cheese. As soon as they heard what was happening to the cheese, they knew what the problem was; the milk composition had changed, and was causing different reactions during the cheesemaking process. She needed to adjust the quantities of each component of the cheesemaking process to the changing milk.

No one really knows why the milk changed. Marisa has been making this cheese for 2 years now, and has never yet had an issue with the composition of the milk. This taught all of us, though, how tenuous a fresh cheesemaking production can be. Marisa lost two weeks of sales, a huge blow for a small producer like her. But she came out the other end with new cheesemaking knowledge, and is now back to making delectable balls of buffalo mozzarella. When customers ask about the high cost of the mozzarella, Marisa explains that it’s two times the work for half of the cheese, and therefore four times as expensive–and this hiccup served to underline exactly how true that is!


In this eleventh edition of The Wandering Cheesemonger, our blogger Grace explains a familiar concept: “High quality in = high quality out.”

After almost two weeks at the farm, I’m exhausted but happy, spending my days caring for and milking goats, bottle feeding the kids, and working in the lab. Marisa has been teaching me a lot already about cheesemaking, and it’s all a lot easier to understand this time, now that my French is up to snuff. I’ve been making a lot of fresh fromage de chèvre, fromage blanc (similar to yogurt but fresher), faiselle (basically curd that has been lightly drained, eaten very fresh), and watching as Marisa forms the beautiful rounds of buffalo mozzarella.

The other day I was spooning whey in to molds with Marisa in the lab, putting the same amount in each mold as I had the day before. She stopped me and told me I only needed about half as much whey for each cheese, because the whey was different today. I asked how she could tell and responded, ‘I can’t explain it, but I just know.’ She told me that the whey was different today because the milk was different. The milk could change because it rained and got colder, or because the goats had eaten a bit less that day, or for some reason we didn’t quite know.

This concept of the milk changing is bizarre, but it is also the root of any good cheese. Quality milk is one of the most important parts of producing good flavor in cheese, particularly in fresh, unpasteurized cheeses like Marisa’s frais fromage de chèvre. However, quality milk is a lot of work, and every detail counts–you need to take very good care of your animals, your barn, your milking equipment, and your lab. If your animals aren’t doing well, or your milking room isn’t clean, or any other small part of the process changes, your cheese will suffer.

It is also crucial to have this understanding of how the milk changes from day to day, something that still eludes me. It takes years of working with the milk to know when the curd is going to act differently, and how to compensate. Marisa is somewhat of a cheese wizard in her command of the milk. The second something is a little different, she knows how to fix it so that her cheese isn’t affected. That mastery of the milk is truly the mark of an accomplished cheesemaker.


[Note: We are weeks behind in posting Grace’s tales…but set to catch up quickly!  The image above is provided by the Wandering Cheesemonger.]

In this tenth edition of The Wandering Cheesemonger, our blogger-on-the-road, Grace, arrives in France and is greeted with some famous friends.

After a whirlwind of rushed re-organizing sparked by the French Consulate changing the requirements to get a visa days before my appointment, resulting in my visa request being denied, I am finally in France (if with a slightly different trajectory–stay tuned for more updates). I’ll arrive at the farm in Brittany tomorrow at noon, but for now I’m eating my way through Paris.

Today for lunch, my friend Matilda and I went to a traiteur du fromage close to her apartment to pick up a few cheeses, grabbed a few baguettes from Maison Kayser (my personal favorite Boulanger in Paris, even after tasting the top ten ranked baguettes in the city), and topped it off with a few Belgian beers. We considered salad but decided against it–you don’t want to fill up on greens and not be able to eat as much cheese, right?

We only got 3 cheeses, but we went for some French favorites that can’t really be found in the U.S. (or at least not in such good shape as in France). The cheese on the left is Saint Nectaire, a semi-soft washed rind cows milk cheese from the Auvergne region of France that is usually aged around 2 months. Saint Nectaire’s soft, gooey paste has a rather mild flavor–slightly nutty and almost mushroomy flavors are undertones to the primarily creamy taste this cheese leaves as it melts in your mouth.

The cheese in the middle is Beaufort, often considered the king of cheeses. This alpine cheese, somewhat similar to a Comte in style, is made of cows milk and generally aged between 12 and 16 months. As with many alpine cheeses, Beaufort is creamy in texture but has a strong nutty flavor. I forgot to ask at the store whether this was a Beaufort d’hiver (made in the winter) or a Beaufort de Savoie (made in the summer), but I would guess that this was d’hiver because of its extremely strong flavor and pungent odor. In contrast, the summer Beaufort is more floral and mildly creamy, a direct result of the difference in the diet of the cows. Cows grazing on fresh grass and herbs produce milk that reflects these characteristics, while the milk from cows being fed hay in the winter will produce a completely different flavor in the Beaufort d’hiver.

The last cheese is Roquefort, another pièce de résistance of French cheesemaking. Roquefort is a sheeps milk blue cheese, usually aged around 3 months, with a strong and salty flavor. This is blue at its best, with a sharp, tangy flavor that hits you immediately, mellowing off in to a creamy and sweet finish that lingers on your tongue long after you finish eating. This cheese isn’t for the faint of heart. The first time someone tastes it, I often watch their faces register disgust, then confusion, and finally ecstasy as they reach for another piece.