If you are like some Fromagination friends, you may cook and either watch TV or listen to the radio simultaneously.  Or maybe you just need a good cheese story for your next commute to work.  Either way, if you’re a listener who likes the podcast format, we have a new source for cheese news for you!

Cheese Underground Radio is the creation of Jeanne Carpenter, who blogs about artisan cheese, calls herself a “cheese geek,” and organizes excellent cheese events in Wisconsin.

Fromagination is now supporting this project…the dissemination of more good stories about great cheese.

“Fromagination is pleased to be a sponsor for Cheese Underground podcast. It is everything a podcast should be: Sharp, quick, and witty.  Each episode leaves you loving Wisconsin cheese more,” said Fromagination’s General Manager, Ken Monteleone.  “Jeanne brings Wisconsin charm to the airwaves with her delightful demeanor and passion for Wisconsin and cheese.  Each episode seeks to explore everything you crave about cheese …the farms, the animals, the cheesemakers and, of course, the cheese.  She’s a great storyteller.  I find myself constantly looking forward to each new episode—the time always flies by and I crave more!

To date, the podcast has six episodes on a variety of topics:

  • Sartori’s cheesemakers
  • The underground caves of Faribault
  • Red Barn Family Farms’ dairies
  • Fresh cheese curds
  • Roelli Cheese Haus’ candied Cheddar
  • Making cheese in copper kettles

They can be found at https://soundcloud.com/cheese-underground-radio

Jeanne Carpenter’s blog can be found at https://cheeseunderground.com/

Recent Fromagination Cheesemonger Vivien Rendleman – who helped sample lots of cheese at the Emmi Roth USA headquarters! – wrote our fourth installment:

In 2016, a Wisconsin cheese took home the title of Grand Champion in the World Championpionship Cheese Contest for the first time since 1988. This cheese was Roth’s Grand Cru Surchoix, a creamy and nutty Alpine-style cheese that melts just as beautifully as it fits on a cheese plate. Our cheese mongers were able to visit Roth this May to see the dedication it takes to make a World Champion, as well as dozens of other quality cheeses.

The Roth Creamery is located in Monroe, where it opened as Roth Käse USA in 1991. Roth, which has Swiss origins dating back to Oswald Roth’s 1863 cheese company, still specializes in cheese made in the Alpine tradition – as its Grand Cru Surchoix demonstrates – though that is not to discount the innovation taking place in Monroe. Much of our time at Roth was spent tasting their cheeses, from GranQueso Original (which is great with honey, by the way!) to the raw-milk Buttermilk Blue. It quickly became apparent just how much thought Roth devotes to how its cheese taste. Our hosts not only focused on how the cheesemakers crafted the most delicious product possible, but were rife with suggestions about how to best pair their cheeses for the fullest tasting experience.

What was especially exciting during our visit to Roth was the news that the company is now producing a line of organic cheeses, including organic versions of their classic Havartis and Grand Cru original. What this meant for the cheesemakers, who still make each artisan cheese by hand, was greater diligence: the organic cheeses, made with locally-sourced milk, were made using equipment that had not yet touched the milk of other cheeses. After tasting Roth’s Organic Sharp Cheddar, our cheesemongers can guarantee the deliciousness of the final product, as well as the significance of such a well-known producer branching out into organic dairy.

Recent Fromagination Cheesemonger Vivien Rendleman – who took copious notes during our visits to producers – wrote our third installment:

Tony Hook has been involved in cheese making since 1970, when he began working for the Monroe Cheese Corporation in Barneveld, the town that now gives his tasty goat milk Blue cheese its name. We visited his own cheese making operation, Hook’s Cheese Company, in the picturesque Mineral Point this spring, which is one of the first facilities to popularize making Blue cheese in Wisconsin in 1997. Tony Hook and his wife Julie know more about the history of the cheese industry in the state than most people, having begun producing cheese before the recent boom of artisan dairy. In fact, the Hooks are responsible for many trends we take for granted now. For instance, in the 1990s, the pair decided to focus on aged cheddars at a time when consumers really could not find anything aged longer than five years. The time invested in aging Hook’s Cheddar has certainly paid off for Julie and Tony, as they produce some of the most popular varieties of aged Cheddars in the state – one batch as old as twenty years!

Today, Hook’s produces over fifty types of cheese, including the Colby that won the World Championship in 1982 (a cheese that Julie entered into the competition). Seven of these cheeses are Blues, produced in the same facility as the famous Hook’s Cheddars. Additionally, the Hooks no longer limit themselves to just cow milk, as they also produce cheeses with sheep milk and goat milk. To keep production running smoothly, the Hooks follow a tight cheese-making schedule, using cow milk on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, sheep milk on Tuesday, goat milk Monday morning, and mixed milk cheeses (which feature all three types of milk) on Tuesday and Wednesday. One of our recent favorites has been one of these mixed-milk cheeses: Hook’s Triple Play Extra Innings, made like an aged Cheddar with sheep, goat, and cow milk. We highly recommend adding this cheese to your aged Cheddar rotation, as well as trying the many other innovative, small-batch cheeses the Hooks are producing!

Recent Fromagination Cheesemonger Vivien Rendleman – pictured middle in the attached image – wrote our second installment:

As cheesemongers at Fromagination, we are often asked how we know so much about cheese. While a lot of our knowledge certainly has to do with our own individual passion and interest, we are also lucky to interact with many of our local producers one-on-one. Sometimes we hear directly from the producers when they come into the store for a Saturday cheese drop-off before the Dane County Farmers’ Market, but we also make visits to our producers ourselves. At the end of May, we learned about the efforts of our local partners to maintain Wisconsin’s reputation as America’s Dairyland.

The cows at Uplands Cheese Company were up bright and early when we visited. After coming back from one of the fields on Uplands 300-acre farm, the cows were receiving the first of two daily milkings. Over the course of a few days, that milk would be cultured, cooked, pressed into wheels, and salted, at which stage it would begin to resemble the cheese Uplands is famous for: Pleasant Ridge Reserve, named for the ridge on which the farm sits.

As cheesemaker Andy Hatch, who last year received Martha Stewart’s American Maker award, said, using this fresh, grass-fed milk is “like starting on third base.” Hatch is of the philosophy that great cheese starts with milk. Not only does Pleasant Ridge Reserve begin with grass-fed milk, but it also benefits from a rotational grazing technique that Hatch has borrowed from the Alpine tradition and championed in Wisconsin. The Uplands cows spend about twelve hours in a given field, of which the farm has twenty, before moving to a new one. What this means is that they are constantly eating new grass – and grass that has not suffered from over-feeding.

Hatch admits this is a luxurious approach to cheese-making, but it has certainly paid off. Pleasant Ridge Reserve, which can only be made between May and October due to its grass-fed milk, has won best in show at the American Cheese Society’s competition three times – more than any other cheese. This makes the approximately 100,000 pounds of Pleasant Ridge produced annually some of the most desirable cheese in the country – and the world. Uplands also produces the softer Rush Creek Reserve starting in late August, using hay-fed milk. Because Rush Creek Reserve is more labor-intensive than even Pleasant Ridge – being flipped 8 times every day for about sixty days – Uplands produces only about 15,000 pounds a year. If you stop into Fromagination during the holiday season, you will be lucky enough to try these two cheeses side-by-side and taste the thought and care that goes into great Wisconsin cheese.

Working as a Cheesemonger at Fromagination requires an interest in cheese, clearly.

Part of the customer education that Fromagination employees carry out in our downtown Madison shop is focused on connecting people to their food.  This means we need to know where the cheese comes from (and, before that, the milk), who makes it, and why and how it’s made.  Just as the Dane County Farmer’s Market – right outside our door on Saturday mornings! – helps to connect people to their food, our cheesemongers must also be able to tell customers the details about the cheeses and other items they see at Fromagination.

So…working at Fromagination also requires some active study of the rich Wisconsin cheese-making culture.  Hence, Fromagination tries to get employees out of Madison to visit the people who make the artisan cheeses that they sell daily.

In late May, seven Fromagination staffers went on a day-long tour, organized by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB), to allow staff a chance to meet producers, taste cheese, see three different processes from beginning to end, and to see a dairy farm.  It was a quick trip, but rich with little moments of learning.

We saw a variety of equipment; demonstrations of sanitation, storage and packaging; varying attitudes about cheese types and pairings; and a lot of lovely terrain in southwestern Wisconsin.  We also met a group of people who are proud of their work, products and legacy – one that more and more people have become aware of as our local cheese culture grows (no pun intended).

Our itinerary included four stops:

  1. Uplands Cheese, outside of Dodgeville
  2. Hook’s Cheese, in Mineral Point
  3. Emmi Roth USA, in Monroe
  4. Kellercrest Dairy Farm, near Mount Horeb (seen in the image we’ve connected to this post)

In upcoming posts, we’ll tell you what we learned at those four stops.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017 – the Summer Solstice – brings Make Music Madison back to South Carroll Street.

Fromagination has participated each year since the international day of music came to our city.  We’ve had beautiful music…and lots of fun…during that time.

More than 60 U.S. cities and two states are celebrating Make Music Day this year – see the website for more:  www.makemusicday.org/

This year Fromagination has six musicians/bands, all of whom should be “a good listen” out on our outdoor patio!  We have music scheduled from 10:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., just before we close.

Fromagination’s 2017 line-up

  • Traditional Frequency – 10:00-11:00 a.m.
  • Jason Moon – 11:00-12 noon
  • Josh Cohen – 12 noon-1:30 p.m.
  • The No-Name Stringband – 1:30-2:30 p.m.
  • Dave Cofell – 2:30-4:00 p.m.
  • Polimorphic – 4:00-5:30 p.m.

Traditional Frequency kicks off our day with traditional Irish, Scottish, and other instrumental folk music from around the world.  Next, Jason Moon, a veteran and singer/songwriter who has played at Fromagination the last two years, is up.  Jason was the 2016 Wisconsin Area Music Industry (WAMI) Singer/Songwriter of the year winner.

At noon, Josh Cohen, a music educator based in Toronto, Canada, plays a 6-string electric bass to show off his his solo compositions and arrangements.  Next arrives the No-Name Stringband, creates its own groove on light-footed and hard-driving barn dance tunes of the American south, then slowing down to explore more introspective original compositions.

Later, Dave Cofell performs a variety of styles on six and twelve string guitar, from old standards to folk and blues songs, instrumental banjo tunes, jazzy novelty songs, R&B to covers.  He has performed by invitation for the American Folk Life Center for the Library of Congress.  Finally, the last of the afternoon, Polimorphic displays elements of jazz along with a steady pulse of classic blues over a foundation of a classic 90s alternative rock sound.

Come and hear some music…and celebrate the beginning of summer!

Fromagination Cheesemonger Jeff recently helped Madison Gas & Electric Company (MG&E) name its newest flock of Peregrine Falcons.  This year the chicks  -who live “upstairs” from MG&E – are named for cheeses that are considered native, more or less, to Wisconsin.

Thanks to MG&E for helping to publicize preservation of a formerly endangered species.  The Peregrine Falcon became extinct in the eastern U.S. due to pesticide (DDT) use in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, but came off the Endangered Species List in 1999.

Jeff was happy to help explain the importance of these cheeses to Wisconsin’s cheese heritage.  See the new chicks video below…and the cheeses they’re named for below the video!

Fromagination sells some great Wisconsin versions of those very cheeses:

A great, organic annual event in Madison takes place on the longest day of the year.  Lucky for us, Fromagination has an outdoor patio with chairs and tables…and musicians on June 21.

Make Music Madison happens on a Wednesday this year, and we’re ready with a great line-up of local musicians who will serenade our cheese-loving clientele and passers-by.

But Make Music Day is not unique to Madison, or even the United States!  It began in France…like a lot of cheese we know about at Fromagination: http://www.makemusicday.org/

This year we have six acts, including a singer/songwriter, old time fiddle music, an six-string electric bassist, a jazz/blues trio, Irish/Scottish instrumental folk, and a soloist who’s performed at the American Folk Life Center.

Fromagination’s line-up for 2017:

  • Traditional Frequency – 10:00-11:00 a.m.
  • Jason Moon – 11:00-12 noon
  • Josh Cohen – 12 noon-1:30 p.m.
  • The No-Name Stringband – 1:30-2:30 p.m.
  • Dave Cofell – 2:30-4:00 p.m.
  • Polimorphic – 4:00-5:30 p.m.

Jessica Sennett is a cheesemonger who has created the Cheese Grotto.  While Fromagination offers a special on any purchase of the Cheese Grotto during the month of May, we also want to let Jessica tell the story of how she devised this special humidor for your kitchen, refrigerator or dining table.

Below is the second part of our interview with Jessica:

Where does the design come from?

The origins of the design come from European Cheese Safes, which are boxes made of wood and screen panels.  This was a cheese storage method used before the advent of refrigeration.  My design is an elevated version of this.  I found that the original cheese safes have a tendency to dry out the cheeses due to too much air flow.  So I wanted to design something more highly functional as both an entertaining piece and a functional piece.  Hence my added humidity, condensation, and air flow controls, and the use of glass paneling for visual effect.

Why are the manufacturers in Virginia?

Manufacturing in the States is a challenge, but I was set on doing it.  The benefits are that you can make small quantities of product, and you have more say on the quality of what is being produced.  In an ideal world, our food and our home products would be made regionally.  Eco Supply Center, located in Richmond, Virginia, are very passionate about the Grotto and do an excellent job.  They also sell and source all sustainable materials for their projects.  The Grotto is made out of sustainable bamboo ply, which makes me even more proud to sell it.

Do you have a favorite Cheese Grotto story? (if so, what is it?)

The Cheese Grotto has been a long journey of almost 3 years of work, and it has been filled with many adventures.  I would say some of my favorite times have been working with the manufacturer.  Here’s a story  on my blog about my visit in January.

What’s the key to maintain the Grotto in top shape?

I often tell people to treat the Grotto like you’d treat a cast iron: wash it with hot water and a splash of distilled white vinegar or soap, and treat it with mineral oil ideally once a month.  It is a very sturdy piece designed to last a lifetime.

Why is it called a “grotto”?

A grotto is another word for a natural cheese cave, but it is also a word used for a religious shrine found in nature or in a garden.  I call the Grotto my “shrine to cheese,” so it is really quite fitting.

Jessica Sennett is a cheesemonger who has created the Cheese Grotto.  While Fromagination offers a special on any purchase of the Cheese Grotto during the month of May, we also want to let Jessica tell the story of how she devised this special humidor for your kitchen, refrigertor or dining table.

Below is the first part of our interview with Jessica:

Why are you interested in cheese?/what is your work background with cheese?

I started working in artisan cheese ten years ago at Cowgirl Creamery in San Francisco. When I worked there, I feel in love with the vast variety of flavors and textures of specialty cheeses.  Everyday, I was learning about a region of the world and their farming and dairy practices.  Working in the Ferry Building,  I was also immersed in the San Francisco culinary scene: I loved the passion of every person I met.  After working there for one year, I traveled to France to work on a couple small creameries.  It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.  I was hooked. I’ve often called myself a “cheese nomad,” as I’ve worked for multiple companies at this point: The Monteillet Fromagerie in Washington State, Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge, and Bedford Cheese Shop.  Finally, I was ready to branch out on my own.

How did you decide to make the Cheese Grotto?

The Cheese Grotto originated as a night doodle.  I had been living in NYC for one year, and was thinking about the fact that when I lived in an urban environment, I missed the rural cheese making life, and when I lived in a rural area, I missed the creative energy of the city.  So I was brainstorming on how to bring my rural experiences with handmade cheeses to my urban environment.  The Cheese Grotto reflects centuries of traditions of cheese preservation, but it became something way more than that when I decided I wanted it to be an all-inclusive storage solution for any aged variety of cheese.

What’s your favorite (current) cheese and why?

The oldest Swedish cheese in existence, WRÅNGEBÄCK.  The flavor is so full-bodied: it’s wild, fruity notes are balanced by its rich alpine paste. So good!

Soon…part 2!