Do you know someone who loves cheese, meats and companions? Do you have family in the Madison area? Do you have kids studying at the University of Wisconsin? Are you looking for the perfect gift for them this holiday season?

We have the solution for you.

This holiday season, we are offering our you the possibility to learn how it is we do things, through our exclusive Fromagination After Hours Classes. Few people love cheese as much as we do, and we want to share our passion and knowledge with you.

What are Fromagination After Hours Classes?

Fromagination After Hours Classes are exclusive learning experiences that take place “After Hours”, once the shop is closed. During these classes, you will learn about how the cheese is made, what are the best ways of eating delicious cheeses, which are the meats, wines and beers that make the best pairings for your favorite cheese. You will also learn how to cut and present cheese, meats, crackers and companions the Fromagination way.

Most importantly however, you will get to share a wonderful moment with your friends and family while tasting cheese. What more could you possibly want?

All classes will take place in our store in downtown Madison, WI, on the Capitol Square, in the Heart of the Dairy State. Set in our amazing store, Fromagination, offers the picture-perfect location to learn all there is to know about cheeses from our wonderful state and from around the world.

Fromagination features summer cheese boards

The classes are as follow:

Cheese Pairing Course: Five Classes featuring Artisan Guests.

The cheese pairing course will bring to light all the best companions for you favorite cheeses. Each course will include demonstrations on how to cut and present cheese, as well as a sampling of cheese with their perfect companions.

  • 02/05/19 – Cheese Pairings – Class on how to find the best pairings for your favorite cheese (1 of 5).
  • 02/12/19 – Cheese & Chocolate – Class on how to pair and enjoy chocolate & cheese. A Valentine’s Day Special!! (2 of 5).
  • 03/05/19 – Cheese with Wine & Beer – Class on how to pair and enjoy wine & beer with cheese (3 of 5).
  • 03/19/19 – The Butcher Special – Class on how to choose, cut and present charcuterie into a perfect charcuterie board (4 of 5).
  • 04/02/19 – Cheesemonger’s Pride – Class on how to choose, cut, present cheese into a perfect cheese board and create the perfect cheese experience (5 of 5).

Graduation Ceremony (04/02/19): For those who take part in all 5 classes, be ready to receive an amazing surprise!!

Cheese Science:

All classes will include explanation on what kind of milk they use and how they age the cheese. Each class will also include some sampling of the cheeses being demonstrated.

  • 02/19/19 – Grand Tour – A tour of cheeses from all around the world (Alps, Spain, England and Wisconsin) (1 of 5).
  • 02/26/19 – Fromage, please – Class on Alpine cheeses  (2 of 5).
  • 03/12/19 – Queso, por favor – Class on Spanish cheeses (3 of 5).
  • 03/26/19 – God Save the cheese – Class on all things English cheese  (4 of 5).
  • 04/09/19 – Becoming Dairyland – Class on the history of Wisconsin Cheese (5 of 5).

Graduation Ceremony (04/09/19): For those who take part in all 5 classes, be ready to receive an amazing surprise!!

Why Fromagination After Hours Classes?

These exclusive events are the perfect opportunity to wind down after a long day at work, to sit down and relax in a calm environment surrounded by fellow cheese lovers.

Fromagination After Hours Classes are perfect for Date Nights or to just hang out with friends.

The Fromagination After Hours Classes are intended to be shared, that is why we offer special prices to help you enjoy this experience with your favorite people.

  • Class x 1 = $35
  • Class x 2 = $70
  • Class x 3 = $105
  • Class x 4 = $140
  • Class x 5 = $166.25
  • Class x 6 = $199.50
  • Class x 7 = $232.75
  • Class x 8 = $266
  • Class x 9 = $299.25
  • Class x 10 = $315

Whether you purchase tickets for one class or for multiple classes, the bulk discount applies to all!

Furthermore, all participant will receive a 20% discount on all cheese and meats used during the classes as well as a 10% discount on all other food products in the store. 

Visit our website to reserve a seat at the table for you and your loved ones or for anyone in the Madison area who you know loves cheese.

Our exclusive Fromagination After Hours Classes will begin in February but are all available for purchase this holiday season, right in time for Christmas.

If you are therefore looking for a perfect gift for a cheese loving friend or family member, look no further.

Buy your Class Pass right here!

Learn how to do things the Fromagination way!


Fromagination does the Day-after-Thanksgiving Happy Hour this evening with great local beer.  Our Funky Friday event this evening welcomes local brewer Karben4, which has a great fan following for its many and interesting products.

Tonight’s pairing, created by Fromagination Cheesemonger Shannon, includes some fascinating combinations of Wisconsin cheeses and beers!

  • Chocolate Oatmeal Stout & Espresso BellaVitano cheese (pictured above): This will no doubt please lovers of coffee and chocolate, as well as the beer and cheese fan.  Karben4 featured its Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, along with two others, on Nov. 1 – International Stout Day – and now we get to try it.  Sartori Cheese’s Espresso BellaVitano is hand-rubbed with freshly roasted espresso coffee…which contrbuted to its awards at the World Cheese Championship.
  • Raspberry Ale & Evalon: Evalon is a goat milk cheese from LaClare Farms – a Gouda-style award-winner with a distinct, creamy flavor.  Karben4’s winter seasonal Raspberry Fantasy Factory ale (6.3 ABV) will make a great compliment for the cheese.
  • Block Party & Gran Cru Surchoix: Block Party is Karben4’s flagship amber ale, described as “Crisp and clean, but full of flavor: milk caramel, toasted biscuit, and sweet wheat.”  Pair that with a Roth Cheese international championship cheese, Gran Cru Surchoix, a classic Alpine-style creation, and your tastebuds will be grateful.
  • Smoked Porter & Pecora Nocciola: Landmark Creamery’s Pecora Nocciola is an aged sheep-milk cheese, produced in the style of Spanish and Italian hill cheeses.  It will be a wonderful tasting partner to Karben4’s Nightcall Smoked Porter, which Karben4 owner Alex Evans says was initially liked and support by noted local chef, Jonny Hunter.  This should be a striking meeting of outstanding flavor profiles, to say the least.

Funky Fridays happen each week from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m at the Fromagination cheese counter.

Before you give in to leftover turkey, come in this evening to celebrate week’s end and have some great local combinations in true Wisconsin beer-and-cheese style!


Our weekly happy hour – Funky Friday – will have an interesting twist this week: Local ciders.

It is mid-October, so apple season is upon us and now’s the time to find out more about local offerings made from some special, locally grown apples.

Our staff will welcome visitors from Mineral Point, Wisconsin, where the Cider Farm is located.  Cider Farm is run by Deidre Birmingham and John Biondi (see photo), who make several types of cider, and apple brandy, from certified organic apples from the Cider Farm orchards.

Fromagination is very excited to be partners with this outstanding local producer.  And we’ll have more local visitors to Funky Fridays in coming weeks!

The Cider Farm people began grafting special trees in 2003 to create orchards that provide vintage apples they could not normally find in Wisconsin.

For this Funky Friday, our cheesemongers have chosen a cheese board menu this week will include specific pairings to compliment the ciders we will be tasting:

  • Cider Farm’s Classic Dry Cider paired with BellaVitano Black Pepper cheese  Cider Farm’s Classic Dry is described as having “firm tannins” and a “clean finish,” which will not overpower this creamy, nutty but spicy version of BellaVitano.
  • Cider Farm’s Cyser paired with GranQueso Reserve cheese  Cider Farm Cyser has notes of green apple and honey, and should provide a nice contrast to Roth Cheese’s Spanish-Style, well-aged GranQueso.
  • Cider Farm’s Oak-Aged Cider paired with Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese  Depending on your taste buds, this may be the more interesting or challenging pairing – Pleasant Ridge’s unique flavors with a cider said to have notes of vanilla, toast and butterscotch!
  • Cider Farm’s Equinox paired with Hook’s 12-Year Aged Cheddar cheese  The Equinox cider is billed as having flavors “herbaceous, citrus” and “soft hop,” which should be a great companion to one of Hook’s well-aged Cheddars!

All of these choices will be available with Potter’s Winter Wheat Crackers, Fromagination’s Cranberry Relish and dried Wisconsin cranberries.

Head over to the Fromagination shop to have one (or some) of these delicious ciders this Friday…or have a glass of wine or a local bottled beer.

Cider Farm also produces apple brandy, and they will be hosting a “release party” for a new version in Fitchburg in November.  See their site for more information.

From the Cider Farm website, they explain their approach to creating aged apple brandies: “We focus on growing tannic apple varieties, varieties rare in the U.S. yet cultivated for hundreds of years in France and England for brandy and ciders. These apples yield an apple brandy similar to that of the Calvados region of France.”

If you want to find out more about how to get Cider Farm products, or how they are made, stop in and discuss your questions with Deirdre.

Don’t forget: Funky Friday happy hour runs from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. every week at our shop, 12 South Carroll Street, next to the Park Hotel on the Capitol Square.

As usual, Fromagination will have cheese boards and raclette plates available for hungry cheese fans.  Call 608-255-2430 for more information.


Andres started out not knowing much about Wisconsin cheese culture, but now he is a seven-month cheesemonger at Fromagination.  

“Well, I didn’t know a whole a lot about cheese,” he said. “I felt like this was a good way really to acquaint myself with the world of cheese.”

Andres had already decided why Fromagination was his first pick for employment.

“I always enjoyed coming into the shop. I feel like the environment and the atmosphere Ken [Monteleone, Fromagination’s founder] is trying to convey here in the shop is just the kind of place I wanted to be apart of.”

A cheesemonger’s first day on the job is always a chance to learn.  Andres arrived at the shop in early March.

“It was a learning experience,” Andres said. “There were so many kinds of cheese towards winter. It was a relaxed day and I got time and attention to my training.”

According to some customers, Andres has already become an expert!

“I made a cheese plate for some people…actually I made a few cheese plates and they loved them. They were calling me ‘the cheesemaster’ and they were just overjoyed,” he said. “It felt good to be able to make people feel like that.”

But Andres hasn’t always been in the Wisconsin cheese community.

“In South Dakota, [I] worked with kids, [and] graduated school for art…I’m a painter. Met my wife here, and now I work at a cheese shop.”

As with most cheesemongers, Andres has his favorite cheesemakers, one of whom lives here in Dane County and founded Bleu Mont Dairy.

“Willi Lehner, he’s my favorite cheesemaker. I’m sure there are a lot of really cool, awesome people making cheese, but Willi really appeals to my…I guess, independent spirit, and [it] doesn’t hurt that all of the cheeses he makes are basically like my favorite cheese.”

Andres thinks that cheese is a universally popular food.

“Cheese is one of those things where you know even if you don’t have much experience with it… [I] mean it’s delicious,” he said. “And it’s not really an acquired taste…it is an acquired taste, but I would say a lot of cheese isn’t. It’s the kind of thing anybody can pick up and recognize, ‘Wow, this is amazing,’ you know?”

And what is Andres’ favorite part of the cheesemonger job, you may ask?

“Being able to help people find what they love and the joy on their faces,” he said.

 


Greg has been part of the kitchen staff at Fromagination since it opened more than 10 years ago. He was drawn to the shop because of his family legacy in dairy farming.

“All of my relatives were dairy farmers when I was a kid. Even when I was a little boy I lived in a cheese factory for a while. My relatives had one of the very first herds of Holsteins cows so that’s what I grew up around. It was very natural to step into it. Then we had our own flower shop, then that closed down and Ken was opening a store, so it was a nice transition. And I needed a new job and I talked cheese so…,” he said.

His trial period at Fromagination was different from other staff members because he was one of the very first employees.

“None of us knew what to expect because it was just opening, so we didn’t know how busy it was going to be. It was pretty busy because we opened in the fall…we had…Thanksgiving and Christmas on the way so it was kind of exciting because it was all new.”

Day-to-day, Greg is often answering the phone at the shop, taking orders and making sure other employees get messages.  Especially during the December holidays, we should call him the “Voice Of Fromagination.”

To make customers happy, you meet their expectations and surprise them, Greg said. “Find your favorite cheese and don’t mess with it again,” he often says.

One of Greg’s favorite cheeses is also a favorite of many customers – Pleasant Ridge Reserve, from Uplands Cheese.  He cuts a lot of that cheese to make the cheese and charcuterie trays that Fromagination sells for events.

“I love traditional, soft-ripened washed rind cheeses too,” he said.  One of those, Rush Creek Reserve, is also from Upland Cheese, sold at Fromagination traditionally during the December holidays.

Greg is a chef and has long maintained an interest in fine foods. He has done catering and makes impressive, elegant desserts and appetizers.  When asked the key to making food visually attractive – such as Fromagination’s cheese trays – he sounds more like an artist that is opening his paints.

“It’s the same way I would arrange flowers, decorate a Christmas tree…or other projects.  It’s about contrasting textures and flavors…it’s just all about inter-relationship so that it puts everything into its best light.”

And like Greg’s creations, the Fromagination staff has become one of various talents and interests that make Fromagination an interesting place to work.

 


Kristi is a long-time cheesemonger at Fromagination, starting her cheese sales position two and a half years after the shop opened in 2007.

Customer service and finding the best cheese for particular customers is Kristi’s focus. Before Fromagination, she cooked in several restaurants and a private school. But she always wanted to work with dairy.

“The reason why I wanted to work in the food industry was to be able to support Wisconsin dairy and agriculture by working in artisan cheese shops that would give me the opportunity to become more aware of our cheesemakers.”

As the artisan cheese movement has grown, it has been a process to learn the ropes.

“My first day was a little overwhelming. My coworkers were very instrumental in teaching me things, and slowly but surely I learned how it worked here.”

Kristi has to know what cheeses will fit the customer she’s talking to in order to provide the best experience.

“I think my work ethic is strong,” she said. “I also think to make a happy customer is to go above and beyond. I call it my ‘surprise and delight’.”

Kristi likes to make it easy for her customers to reach that delightful moment.

“The best part of Fromagination is working with the customer, tending to their needs and recommending things they would have never thought of. It’s a little overwhelming and intimidating for some people, so I like to kind of narrow it down so it’s easier for customers to make choices that way.”

But Kristi has her favorites if you ask her what she likes.

“My favorite pairing is our signature cranberry relish with a nice sharp cheddar.”

Outside the shop, she likes reading, cooking at home and taking care of her pets.

“I try to encourage people to ‘Love cheese more’,” said Kristi, echoing Fromagination’s tagline.


Fromagination assisted with a world record on Wednesday, August 1!  The world’s largest cheese board was assembled in downtown Madison…and we helped!

4,437 pounds of cheese came to the Capitol Square – engineered by Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin (formerly the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board) to break the Guinness Book of World Records’ mark, previously set in the Netherlands.

Assembled on a huge cheese “board” on King Street, directly east of the Capitol Square, the gigantic display was seven feet wide and 35 feet long!  2000 guests received a curated cheese plate with Wisconsin cheeses chosen by Fromagination.  Others were invited to bid on wheels of cheese for a raffle that benefited the Great American Milk Drive.

Fromagination’s owner and general manager, Ken Monteleone (picture above on an optical illusional chunk of cheese), helped coordinate the cheese cutting, which took place next to the Fromagination shop at Madison’s Park Hotel.  He was there at 6:00 a.m. to make sure that the Guinness representative saw all the cheese officially weighed before it was delivered to the street display.

“It was a long day,” Monteleone said, “but it was an impressive display of Wisconsin’s flagship export, artisan cheese!  And lots of people got to taste some very delicious cheeses.”

The leftover cheese was donated to Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin, which provides food to people in need.

 


In the summertime, our shop can be very busy with our normal customers and tourists on vacations or students on summer break. This summer Fromagination put together a teenage staff to help in the shop and business office.

Teen staff member Meriem – who began at Fromagination in 2017 – chose to work at the shop because other teenagers work at fast food places but Fromagination is a unique cheese shop. She says her favorite thing about working there is the environment and the diverse staff she gets to work with everyday that she never thought she would ever meet. After high school she plans to attend UW Madison. Meriem often says, “Don’t be cheesy; be a sweetie.”

Four of this summer’s teenagers were actually trained and suggested to Fromagination by the Youth-Business Mentoring program at Common Wealth Development.  Those mentors start the students with a intensive three week pre-employment training, followed by a job placement with a supportive business. They begin by teaching teens how to effectively find, apply for, and interview for jobs. They also educate youth about financial management with field trips and guest speakers. After a student successfully completes the training, she/he is placed in a real-world job. Together with their workplace supervisor, the Common Wealth mentor assists participants during their work placements, focusing on how to keep and excel in a job. This double-mentoring ensures a youth has the support she/he needs to make the most of the employment opportunity and overcome problems that may arise in a first job.

Shariah, who started this summer, says working at Fromagination is a great first job. She also likes working with all her coworkers. One bonus she says is meeting people from all around the world who come to the shop, and, of course, learning and trying cheeses.  Once she graduates she thinking of becoming a CNA or chef and attending a historically black college or university. Shariah thinks “To live the best life is to live the cheese life.” Shariah and the rest of the teen staff operates the booth at downtown Madison’s Concerts on the Square, which is her favorite part of the job.

All the teenagers help with the Concerts, a six-week Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra event on Wednesday evenings. Different food booths offer meals for anyone attending the concerts.  The teenagers staff and sell from Fromagination’s booth and everything has to be quickly organized and set up  – their end goal is to sell out.  Everything has to be calculated correctly from the number of, and popularity of, Fromagination’s sandwiches to boxes and other food items.   The team coordinates that each time and its personal sell-out record this summer is two hours!

The rest of the teenage staff, Brady, Matthew, Tamia, and Poetry, have helped in various ways. Brady is in charge of the Concerts on the Square booth and makes sure everything runs smoothly. Matthew gets everything organized and a counted for the booth. Tamia’s hard work has earned her the title of “Cheesemonger” and makes her a big help in the shop. Poetry helps in the office with writing blog posts (like this one!) and fixing small things on Fromagination website.

Stop by the Fromagination shop to meet the teen staff and taste cheese!    

 


Have a look below at the results!

https://www.thrillist.com/videos/eat/nation/fromagination

In May, Fromagination had a visit from the travel and entertainment news source Thrillist.  That prompted us to do a Wisconsin artisan cheese “short-course” for our visitors.

Two of our cheesemongers, Shannon and Jeff, talked to the Thrillisters about “stories you can taste”…the animals, people, land and traditions behind our delicious cheeses.

We also demonstrated how to put together a cake of cheese for a special event, and assembled a cheese platter to discuss how to pair the cheeses with other foods.

Wisconsin produces lots and lots of cheese…as almost everyone already knows…but Fromagination tries to highlight the unique and interesting local creations for our many visitors.

One of the interesting soft cheeses on the cheese platter was Cambozola, a German creation that mixes Blue and Camembert cheeses.  Another on that platter was a Wisconsin sheep cheese, Ocooch Mountain, made from raw milk in a Gruyere-style by Hidden Springs Creamery.  Needless to say, we impressed the out-of-towners.


This spring has already had such an interesting rhythm. A perfect combination of sprinting to get as much done as humanly possible in the span of 24 (or 48 or 72) hours followed by enough rain to give us time to recover. We’re able to keep busy while also able to stay (reasonably) sane which is a bit irregular for spring but absolutely welcome. Plus, the plants are (literally) drinking it all up.

There was a short-lived but dramatic hail storm a little over a week ago that really threw us for a loop– shredding our expensive row cover and allowing pesky flea beetles into our young, delicate brassica crops– but overall the weather has been gentle and we’re feeling healthy, balanced and back on schedule after a slow to start season. We may have lost a couple crops due to hail, but that’s a reality we’re reluctantly learning to accept in this whirlwind way of life we’re forging.

I’ve been using my free time to do more freelance writing on farmers and the good energy brought to me while chatting and learning more about their stories has been palpable. We’ve also added a small but mighty crew to our days at the farm which is filling our hearts immensely. It’s amazing the joy passionate people bring to our little operation and the peace of mind we find in their hard work, compassion and understanding.

I guess it should come as no surprise to me by now, but the good people in our lives continue to be the fuel that gets us through hard weeks. My dad’s respect for our operation has expanded exponentially since we added a tractor and he shows up before he’s asked to help change attachments or mow our fields when our brand new attachments malfunction.

And my mother continues to be my rock during the farming season taking every emotional outburst in stride, calmly and rationally looking for silver linings and rays of optimism in hard situations. She races out to help get greenhouse plastic stretched tight on a windy day. She makes phone calls to contractors on our behalf and offers up opinions and knowledge all along the way. She adjusts her own rhythms and routines to accommodate our growing farm business. She yells out to to the fields every couple hours with offers of food she’s just made knowing that our stomachs are always growling.

That’s why last week it seemed necessary to take a break from the long days and gentle chaos to prepare some food for her for once. We gathered together on the back deck with an elegant cheese board and some bottles of Strawberry Rhubarb Ale from New Glarus Brewery.

The spread was inspired entirely by my mother: a woman who somehow balances being both strong and delicate alongside a bright yet earthy disposition. These flavors are that: a melding of strong cheeses with delicate notes and bright, earthy accents.

The cheeses used hardly need an introduction. My mom, a Wisconsin-born, Midwest lover, deserves a cheese board made up of local heavy hitters. All the cheese on this board, with the exception of the exceptional Bent River Camembert style cheese from Alemar out of Minnesota, are Wisconsin made.

Roelli’s Red Rock is one of my favorite local cheeses: a cave-aged cheddar with thin blue veins that bring just enough subtle funk. The Mobay too has been on my list of favorites for years with creamy goat and sheep milk cheeses separated by a thin line of ash leaving you with a perfect balance of bright, tang with sweet, grassiness. The buttery, sweet Big Ed’s Gouda from Saxon Creamery is a crowd pleaser while the Cave Aged Marisa from Carr Valley contrasts beautifully with complex aged notes and an elegant natural rind.

The accents to this cheese spread are plentiful. The deep, rich Wm. Chocolate from Haita sits alongside a pile of sweet pickled shittakes (recipe below), a bunch of roasted asparagus, and Underground goat salami with its subtle cinnamon and rosemary flavors. Honey from Hilltop Community Farm and a Quince & Apple cranberry relish (exclusively available at Fromagination in Madison) allow every bite to be tinted with sweetness if desired.

I’ve made just enough cheese boards over the last couple years that I’m beginning to find joy in the artful arranging of personalities and flavors– to create boards that can emit feeling and dedicate them to the people I love. This one, I must say, was just perfect for you tough momma.

Even in our craziest months, when we don’t have much of our own produce to use regularly, I am so grateful for the local producers who surround me and the great care they take in the goods they create. It’s an honor shopping at the stores that celebrate these visionaries and sharing the things I love with you all. I hope you spend this Mother’s Day with the folks who matter most and I hope you are surrounded by good food that brings forward wonderful memories.

With adoration, respect and joy,
Your Leek