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Artisan Cheese

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About Us

Fromagination was founded in 2007 by owner and Creative Director Ken Monteleone, who believes that Wisconsin cheese, the Badger State’s cheese-making heritage, and its growing artisan food movement all deserve a showcase. Fromagination encourages guests to fully experience their food: See, smell and taste the cheese, and learn about how and where it is made. A proper visit to Fromagination should not only leave guests with a good taste in their mouths, but also with an appreciation for healthy, delicious Midwestern foods, and the people who produce them.

Over 14 years, the Fromagination shop has carried hundreds of cheeses from Wisconsin, the United States and other countries.  While the shop inventory is focused on Wisconsin products, Fromagination also often provides its guests with tastes of other outstanding cheeses from expert producers in places such as Vermont, Minnesota, California, Italy, France, England and the Netherlands.

The Fromagination shop is located on the Capitol Square in Madison, Wisconsin, at the center of state government, of “America’s Dairyland”…and, arguably, of the artisan cheese revival in the United States. Our cheesemongers cut-to-order in a European-style shop that celebrates our past, while also providing a focal point for the many new fine foods being produced in America’s heartland…and which pair well with our great Wisconsin cheese, both traditional and new. While many visitors comment on its “Old World” atmosphere, the store itself employs recycled materials, low-energy bulbs, and other measures to encourage sustainability.

Directly outside our shop, during about seven months of each year, the famous Dane County Farmers Market operates as one of the largest producer-only farmers markets in the United States.  The market comes together early on Saturday mornings all around the Capitol, and showcase great Wisconsin food the way many other venues cannot.  Fromagination’s contribution to that atmosphere is a cheese expertise that allows shoppers to buy fresh mozzarella for their tomatoes, intense blue cheese for a salad, or aged brick to go with fresh-baked bread.

Fromagination’s staff includes expert cheesemongers with many years of experience tasting, pairing and selling cheese.  Our cheesemongers come from varying backgrounds, including farming, culinary work, bartending, retail sales, grocery and catering. No matter their background, Fromagination staff members are eager to help guests explore a great inventory of artisan cheeses – and perhaps pair a cheese with a beer, preserves, meat or other items.

Our cheesemongers lead cheese-tastings for small or large groups, conduct classes and assist at events such as weddings, workshops and street fairs.  They also keep up-to-speed on the trends in Madison’s vibrant “foodie” culture.  Whether it be cheese with tea, lambic beer, mead or dark chocolate, Fromagination’s floor staff have probably heard of it and tried it.  (But they may not like it.)

Fromagination’s kitchen/catering staff is also knowledgeable, and have many years combined experience in preparation – and presentation – of interesting, beautiful trays.  During summer events or winter holidays, they will consult with customers, answer questions, and plan a lovely spread for a special event.  They also provide wedding advice about “cakes of cheese” and other items.

Madison, Wisconsin’s food scene is vibrant and expanding.  [MORE TO COME…]

About Cheese

Wisconsin is, of course, famous for its dairy industry…and for cheese-making.  Artisan cheese producers abound in “America’s Dairyland,” and we know many of them personally.  Fromagination’s owner, Ken, wants to ensure that the wonderful cheeses that abound across the state have a “home” where cheese enthusiasts can find a strong selection, representative of the ingenuity of Wisconsin’s cheesemakers.

Because cheese is a serious thing in the “Cheesehead” state, Wisconsin is the only state that requires a licensed cheesemaker to be on site during the manufacturing of each vat of cheese.  The Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker Program was established by the University of Wisconsin – Madison’s Center for Dairy Research (CDR),  University of Wisconsin Extension and Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin (formerly the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board).  It gives the state’s cheesemakers the skills and knowledge to be competitive nationally and internationally, adds reputational value to the cheeses produced in Wisconsin, and provides a formal sequence of courses that teach best practices for making cheese.

Fromagination carries products from well-know cheesemakers such as Marieke Penterman, Chris Roelli, Sid Cook, Brenda Jensen, Tony Hook, Katie (Hedrich) Fuhrmann, Andy Hatch and many others.  Walk the aisles at the annual American Cheese Society (ACS) conference and you will see some of our friends!

The Fromagination shop is located on the Capitol Square in Madison, Wisconsin, at the center of state government, of “America’s Dairyland”…and, arguably, of the artisan cheese revival in the United States. And, while lots of “normal” (commodity) cheese is produced in Wisconsin, the boom in specialty and “artisan” cheeses is still being felt here.

Accompanied by the increase in popularity of “cooking culture” in the U.S. – and boom in cooking shows on the Internet, television and radio – the interest in cheeses that can make a meal special has certainly increased.  While lots of Americans still think of cheese as an additive element to, perhaps, an entree, many others now find that cheese can be a worthy a focal point of their meal.  Wisconsin’s cheesemakers have noticed, and fully engaged with the growing artisan cheese market.

There are many cheeses that are worth trying, and we can’t offer them all in the Fromagination cheese cases.  But we attempt to give customers a good look at the variety of artisan cheeses now made in Wisconsin – and some great ones from elsewhere – when they visited.  That’s part of the fun.

The foundation under Fromagination’s success as a cheese shop is the long heritage of Wisconsin dairying, of course.  According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, 90 percent of the farms in Wisconsin in 1899 had dairy cows.  Chinch bugs attacked the wheat crops in Wisconsin in the mid-1800s, and farmers had to find something else to raise and sell.  Consequently, immigrants from Europe, often by way of New York state, came to Wisconsin and added to the growth of cheesemaking industry.

In 1915, Wisconsin became the United States’ leading dairy producer.  Cheese did not spoil as fast as butter, so it became more popular for some producers due to storage and financial considerations.  Next, UW Professor Stephen Babcock invented a test for butterfat in milk which made standard, consistent production much easier.  Brick and Colby cheeses were invented in Wisconsin.

Fastforward to the 2000s, when the artisan/specialty cheese boom began in Wisconsin, and we see another step in the local cheesemaking evolution.  While the World Championship Cheese Contest – in existence since the  1950s – has had plenty winners from Europe and other states, Wisconsin is still disproportionately well-represented there and in other cheese competitions.  Innovation continues the state’s storied engagement with cheese, now including goat and sheep milk cheeses, too.

Local specialty foods are also an important part of the Fromagination shop.  Madison, Dane County and south-central Wisconsin are home to many local food businesses that produce excellent companion items for Fromagination’s cheese selection.  In our shop and online, we carry outstanding, locally made chocolates; beer, wine and spirits; preserves and syrups; crackers; honey and maple syrup; and meats.

Some local producers began their operations by sourcing products at Fromagination first.  Indeed, local producers with, for example, an interesting new preserve or digestive shrub (a flavored “drinking vinegar”) have sold and sampled their products in the shop continuously since its opening.

Indeed, a visitor to Fromagination should count on finding not just Wisconsin cheese, but other local specialty food products to sample and pair with that great cheese.  Those locally produced items frame a segment of the local culture for an out-of-town visitor, so we make sure to offer a variety of local foods to add to the meal.  Hence, our tagline: “artisanal cheeses and perfect companions.”