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!

Spring is heading toward summer.  The birds and the bees are getting active.  Where do you get ideas to help plan a wedding?

From 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 30, Fromagination will be available to talk about weddings at Madison’s Edgewater Hotel.  Tickets are $25, or 2 for $40.

The Everafter wedding show will include a bunch (available through the hotel), speakers and activities…in addition to vendors who can provide advice about wedding planning and events.

Details on the wedding expo are here.

Fromagination’s expanded wedding services will be featured at our booth – including wedding favors, catering services, gifts and cakes of cheese!

Other vendors will showcase services including catering, travel, entertainment, wedding planning, flowers, limousines, photography and jewelers.

Tickets for the wedding expo can be purchased here.

If this Sunday is already booked for you, and you want more information about Wisconsin artisan cheese for your big day, give Shannon a call at our shop: 608-255-2430.

We hope your celebration is joyful!…and well-planned.



Do you have a favorite place you visit – or thing you do – on vacation?  Does it ever involve food?

Travel site and magazine Travel+Leisure recently published a list of places that cheeselovers should visit before they die.  Wisconsin was, of course, on the list!…along with Switzerland, France, northern California, Vermont and several other great places.

Have a look!…here is the posting.

While we loved that Fromagination was included on that list, we thought it might be helpful to make a more detailed list of Wisconsin cheese producers…before you take your last breath.  So here are a few more places to see on your “do it before I die” artisan cheese tour:

  1. The Monroe, Wisconsin area (“Swiss Cheese Capital of the USA” and the high school mascot? The Monroe Cheesemakers, of course), including: Roth Kase Cheese Factory  a company with a long cheese-making history
  2. LaClare Farms, Malone, Wisconsin  Goats, goats, goats!
  3. Cedar Grove Cheese, Plain, Wisconsin  See their “Living Machine” greenhouse…a commitment to the environment.
  4. Door Artisan Cheese Company, Egg Harbor, Wisconsin  A new facility ready for visitors in Door County.
  5. Edelweiss Creamery, Monticello, Wisconsin  A traditional Emmental cheese producer!
  6. Holland’s Family Cheese, Thorp, Wisconsin  Home of Marieke Gouda cheese – an authentic Netherlands-style producer.
  7. Hook’s Cheese, Mineral Point, Wisconsin  Known for its award-winning aged Cheddar cheeses.

Write and tell us other places in Wisconsin for a bucket list tour!

Saturday, April 22, is Raw Milk Appreciation Day!

Wisconsin is a state that has heard much of the debate – “America’s Dairyland” being one of its adopted mottos -about raw milk.  While most people drink pasteurized milk, many of those same people may also be comfortable eating a raw milk cheese.

There are many great Wisconsin cheeses made with raw milk – Marieke Garlic & Onion Gouda, from Thorp, Wisconsin (pictured here) is one of those.  Fromagination carries lovely cheeses made from both raw and pasteurized milks (as well as cow, goat and sheep milk types).  Others include Roth Private Reserve, Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Evalon (a goat milk variety).

The Curd Nerds cheese blog gives a brief and interesting account of the issues cheese producers must consider with raw milk.

Wisconsin’s cheese-making heritage goes back more than 100 years…and prior to the mid-1800s raw milk was the only way to make cheese.  Today, great cheese can be made either way, but we believe it’s definitely worth tasting and judging for yourself those Wisconsin artisan cheeses that employ raw milk.  The flavors they capture and pass on to your taste buds can be amazing.  Even if they are garlic & onion-flavored!

A variety of non-profit agencies provide services for people without housing in Madison and Dane County.  Porchlight Inc. is an agency that provides temporary housing, a daytime resource center and emergency shelter for homeless residents.

On Tuesday, February 28, Fromagination sponsored and assisted with an event to raise funds for Porchlight.  The 2017 Original Chef’s Tasting was a dinner held on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, and supported with donations from 10 other area restaurants and food businesses.

“I want Fromagination to be a community-oriented shop, so we contribute, when we can, to causes and events that help make Madison a better place to live,” said Ken Monteleone, owner and general manager of Fromagination.  “Because of the number of donation requests we receive, we now limit our contributions to projects that support childhood nutrition, sustainable agriculture, feeding homeless people, or promotion of culinary traditions.”

For the Porchlight event, Fromagination coordinated with Roth Cheese to serve Wisconsin artisan cheese as the appetizer for guests who purchased dinner tickets.  Two Fromagination employees staffed the event, held at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, and provided a tasting card for cheeselovers who wanted to know more about the great cheese.

“We served good stuff!” Monteleone said.  “…Grand Cru Surchoix, last year’s champion at the World Champion Cheese Contest, and also GranQueso, and Three Pepper Gouda.  Roth’s participation in this charitable event was very much appreciated.”

Grand Cru Surchoix is a washed-rind, Alpine style cheese which gains complexity with age.  Fromagination sells other ages of Grand Cru, but the Surchoix is most highly prized.  Roth also makes GranQueso which, inspired by Spanish and Portuguese cheese, is rubbed with spices, including cinnamon and paprika.  Three Pepper Gouda is a traditional Gouda-style cheese with a twist – it’s made  with Chipotle, Habanero and Jalapeño peppers.

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.


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!

Fromagination is celebrating spring with a new lunch menu that includes new sandwiches and other offerings at our shop on South Carroll Street.

The Dehli Deli Sandwich (pictured above) is a hybrid Wisconsin/North India-themed sandwich: Roasted chicken with a Tandoori marinade on a Telera roll with chutney mayo, Wisconsin mozzarella cheese, and lettuce.

The Gastronome Trio Sandwich is meat-lover’s mix of smoked turkey, smoked ham, roast beef, Wisconsin Muenster cheese, shallot confit with red wine, lettuce and olive oil, on sesame semolina bread. It is made at the time of order.

And our new vegetarian offering is the Ambrosia Minor Sandwich, which is a Greek-themed concoction of feta cheese, red onion, tomato and cucumber, served on focaccia. It is also made at the time of order, to ensure that it’s fresh.

We have more new items, including a Cheesemonger’s choice cheese sampler box, and two crostini plates for after-work snacking on our outdoor patio.

Come in and sample our new sandwiches April 15, 16 and 17 between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.!

Fondue lunch is a Fromagination winter tradition, and our communal table is still set this week for more fans of Swiss culture!

Aside from the great tastes – our three-cheese fondue recipe, roasted vegetables, bread and cornichons – the dipping, eating and communing is part of the fun of fondue.  We talk to guests about the tradition that came from poor people in Switzerland, and how the best part of the meal is sometimes at the end when you get to clean the fondue pot.  And we explain the various cheeses we use to create such a fabulous taste….well, those and the wine that goes in, too!

The Wikipedia “fondue” reference list 1699 as the first time cooking/melting cheese with wine was listed in a book, published in Zurich.  From there, it took on the French passive past participle for melt (fondre) in 1735 as a noun, and voila!…fondue.  It was promoted as a Swiss national dish beginning in the 1800s.

You may not feel very Swiss today, but we’ll bet you feel happier after a fondue lunch with friends.  Frigid weather and hot cheese seem to go well together.  Come in, get your fondue fork pointed toward the pot, and let your winter stress melt away.

See our fondue schedule to make a date for lunch!