Tomorrow in the Fromagination shop we’ll have two guests in to talk to visitors about cooking with cheese…particularly Wisconsin cheeses.

Kristine Hansen, author of the newly released “Wisconsin Cheese Cookbook,” will be in the shop from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. to discuss recipes from her book with Landmark Creamery co-founder Anna Thomas Bates.  It should be a great discussion of how to use wonderful cheeses in the kitchen.

We will be sampling outstanding sheep milk cheeses from Landmark in the shop at the same time: Anabasque and Pecora Nocciola.  Landmark is featured in the cookbook, and Thomas Bates may explain how and why the creamery has flourished.

This cookbook is a thorough, but affectionate look at the people and places that comprise the artisan cheese “movement” in Wisconsin.  It also provides a background explanation for why Wisconsin producers dominated the finalist entries in the U.S. Cheese Championship this week in Green Bay.  Hansen divides the state into four quarters (Madison is included in the venerable southwest quarter, it seems) and visits key producers in each area, including quotations from cheesemakers about why and how they do their work.  On top of that, the images provide beautiful context to this Wisconsin cheese story…oh, and there a bunch of excellent recipes included, too!

In her acknowledments, Hansen, a transplanted Illinoisan, writes, “I felt like a wide- eyed city person, marveling at cows out at pasture, day- old baby goats, and Amish buggies, and asking a ton of questions, but when I got back into my car I felt knit with the landscape. I moved to Wisconsin from Illinois many years ago. Writing this book made me feel like a true Wisconsinite.”

Hansen’s book covers a wide variety of Wisconsin’s best artisan cheeses, with stories about the producers, and recipes such as:

  • Crave Brothers Farmstead Classics Lemon Mascarpone Tarts
  • Edelweiss Creamery Fondue
  • Green Bean Salad with Hook’s Triple Play Extra Innings
  • Kale & Shallot Pizza with Landmark Creamery Anabasque
  • Gougères (with Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese)

The Wisconsin Cheese Cookbook also mentions lots of our neighbors here in Madison, with reference to the impact on the cheese culture, such as the Edgewater Hotel, Sujeo restaurant and Chef Tori Miller, the famous Dane County Farmers Market, and more.

And, by the way, Fromagination is also mentioned in Kristine’s book…page 37!

Visit the Fromagination shop tomorrow afternoon to learn more about Hansen’s adventure among the cheese producers.

Recent Fromagination Cheesemonger Vivien Rendleman – who asked a lot questions in the milking parlor  – wrote our fifth installment:

The last stop on our incredible tour organized by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board was Kellercrest Farm in Mt. Horeb. It seemed fitting to end our day with one of the many Wisconsin families responsible for producing the high-quality milk necessary for making the local cheeses we love. The farm, which has over 300 cows on about 400 acres, has been in the family since the 1960s. Today, brothers Tim and Mark Keller, alongside Tim’s wife Sandy, operate the farm that their parents began. Not only did we meet Tim, Mark, and Sandy Keller, but we also were able to meet Tim and Sandy’s children, who have shown the family’s Holsteins since they were children, as well as the family dogs.

This is all to say that Wisconsin has been able to maintain the efficiency of its milk industry – the Kellers have one of the highest producing herds in the state – while keeping much of production within family businesses. What this means for consumers is not only delicious milk to drink or eat as cheese, but also the comfort that their dairy farmers care about their cows, their farms, and their communities. The Kellers, for instance, have been very active in preventing soil erosion on their family farm. Although the dairy industry can often be maligned for causing soil degradation,  Mark and Tim Keller explained their efforts in a way that made a lot of sense. To them, their farm’s land was valuable both for its importance to both their family and their business. Maintaining this land – keeping it from eroding, for instance – is key to maintaining the Kellercrest Dairy operation.

Although we were sad the day was over, the Fromagination cheesemongers left the Kellers with a greater understanding of how the cheeses we carry get to our shop. Often, we behind the counter get a lot of the credit for getting delicious artisan products onto your cheese plates, but we would be unable to do that without the effort of local producers such as Andy Hatch, Tony Hook, and the Kellers.

People interested in cheese – and the artisan cheese culture that is developing quickly in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the midwestern U.S. – may look for bloggers to help inform them.

A recent list of top cheese blogs in the U.S. includes Fromagination!  We made #20 on the list that includes many reputable cheese shops across the nation.

Some of our favorites at Fromagination are:

  • Culture Magazine – a fine source for up-and-coming cheese news, and the tastier things associated with cheese
  • Madame Fromage – interesting and off-beat news, with a little general “culture” included
  • Cheese Underground – written by Wisconsin cheese afficionado extraordinaire, Jeanne Carpenter – a one-woman cheese promotion machine!

If you have a favorite cheese blog – or other information source – let us know about it.  Vive le fromage!

Cheese is a fermented food product – fermentation, according to Merriam-Webster, is “an enzymatically controlled transformation of an organic compound.”  And decades ago much fermentation occurred in natural, humid places…like a cave.  European cheese makers have long used subterranean spaces to create amazing tastes.  Nowadays, there are other options for cheese makers.

Some of Wisconsin finest artisan cheeses are aged in caves, or cave-like settings.  Just two, of many cheese producers with cave-aging processes, are Bleu Mont Dairy and Roelli Cheese.

Recently, Fromagination had contact with Jessica Sennett, a Brooklyn, New York-based cheese maker/monger, who has devised a new product.  Her Cheese Grotto was created to help cheeselovers maintain their “beau fromage” in top condition at home until its all been eaten.  You can read more about Jessica in a recent entrepreneurship article.

A grotto, for many people, is a place you might find Gollum, or some nymphs swimming in undergound pools.  But this grotto maintains humidity for your cheese, in or out of refrigeration.  It’s a situation akin to that great companion of fine cheese, fine wine…which also loves a great cellar that allows it to achieve it full flavor potential.

During this month of May, Fromagination is offering a substantial, one-time discount on cheese for anyone who purchases the Cheese Grotto.  With your order of this high-quality humidor, you will receive a special coupon code that provides a 15 percent discount for all artisan cheeses on the Fromagination website!

Air and humidity are key elements for maintaining the ripening processes of cheese.  The Cheese Grotto extends the life your precious cheese by allowing ventilation and hydration.  It can make a great dinner party conversation topic, too – it’s an attractive design that perfect for your kitchen counter top.

Consider the Cheese Grotto as a little place in your house at which you pay homage to the Gods of Fermentation.  It’s also a small investment in your taste buds.


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.