Another big year is about to come to a close for the Co-op! We’ve had a few changes in the cheese departments at both our stores this year. Hallie Zillman came on board as our graphic designer, and with her incredible skills and energy, has begun creating a much more effective and informative look for both departments. Two of our resourceful and capable staff were promoted out of cheese—at West, Katie O’Connell-Jones was promoted to Co-op Services Assistant; at East, Dean Nett was promoted to Deli Supervisor. We are proud to have helped them both hone their talents while working in cheese, and wish them great luck in their new positions.
We had a few losses this year to the broader cheese community of Wisconsin. DBIC—Dairy Business Innovation Center, one of the great resources of support and funding for local artisan cheese production, went out of business to our great sadness. We are happy to hear that many members of their team have gone on with their work promoting great Wisconsin cheeses through a new venture called the Profitable Growth Network. We also lost our wonderful Grass Point Farms graziered cheeses. The company was unable to continue making their unique products in the present difficult economic climate. We hope the farmers that produced the delicious milk for Grass Point Farms cheeses find new outlets for their high quality grazed cow’s milk.
This year we’d again like to take the opportunity to put into focus what we consider the primary mission of this department. We pride ourselves on promoting local, small-scale, artisan cheese production. It becomes especially important in these economically challenging times to remember the intense personal commitment to quality and craftsmanship that our local cheesemasters have invested in their creations. So many of them took great personal risks to fulfill their dreams. Because they took those risks, and the Co-op offers the venue of our cheese departments to display and sell the fruits of their hands and their inspired imaginations, we as customers and as a community have grown much richer in the experience of food and eating. This is no small thing.
Food—what we eat, and what we support with our hard-won earnings—has a deep and direct effect upon the quality of our lives and our world. At no time of year does this come home to us more clearly than during the holiday season when we are surrounded by the people most precious to us, and when our very dearest memories are formed. It is a time devoted to the best within us all: to the generous spirit of sharing, and to earnest reflection upon our place in the world and the importance of the choices we make each day. The act of eating can be transformative; it can turn mundane experiences into profound ones that enrich our lives and the lives of those around us. We owe ourselves this: to experience everyday marvels. It is small treasures like these created lovingly by our local cheesemasters that make us feel profoundly alive and connected with the world. Whether simple or sublime, there is no better time of year than this to afford ourselves, our friends and our families some of the most memorable eating experiences of our lives.
The Co-op continues its long and fruitful relationship with Cedar Grove Cheese of many years now. They form the essential anchor in our cheese case, providing us with virtually all of our basic workaday cheeses: everything from Cheddars to Jacks to Colbys. We currently carry 20 different cheeses from Cedar Grove, including five varieties of organic cheese. Located in the lovely rolling hills near Plain, Wisconsin, Cedar Grove has been a family operated company since 1878. Owner Bob Wills has made a commitment to sustainable agriculture and manufacturing. In 1993, he began using only rBGHfree milk, and actively encourages the practice among other cheese producers. Sustainability is a guiding principle for Bob, and his manufacturing facility uses a closed system of waste management that is unique in the State. He has also generously reached out to fellow cheesemakers to lend his facility to support, assist and in many cases offer basic and necessary training. One of our very best Cheddars, the Prairie Premium White Cheddar, a uniquely complex cheddar made from the milk of the grass-fed cows at Uplands Farm, proudly carries the name of Cedar Grove. Our Co-op and many thriving artisan cheesemakers in Wisconsin would be impoverished indeed without the efforts of Cedar Grove.
Willi Lehner’s father was a master cheesemaker in Switzerland, and he carries on this tradition here at Bleu Mont Cheese. Located in the countryside near Blue Mounds, Wisconsin, Willi has built from the ground up one of the most exciting experimental cheese facilities in the State. He buys his milk from small family farms, including Uplands, to insure that cheeses are made with the highest quality milk. Cedar Grove is one of several local cheesemakers who lend their equipment and production lines to help Willi craft his unique specialties. He then takes the freshly made cheeses back to hand built aging rooms at Bleu Mont to allow his wheels to develop their marvelous flavors. Bleu Mont Bandaged Wrapped Cheddar has been in our case for several years now, and we are extremely proud to continue carrying it. This Cheddar closely resembles in flavor, and texture, an authentic English farmhouse Cheddar with its special earthy nuttiness. Truly one of the finest cheeses produced in Wisconsin.
The Zimmer family of Otter Creek Organic Dairy are committed to the philosophy and practice of sustainable agricultural techniques and humane animal husbandry, and the family was named the 2008 Organic Farmers of the Year. Gary is internationally known for his practice of “biological farming” using a soil-based approach to animal health. This assures that their milk, from grazed dairy herds, is of the healthiest, highest quality. Cedar Grove lends their facilities for the creation of five wonderful organic Cheddars. These are some of our very favorites in the case. Four different seasonal varieties reflect in their rich, multi-faceted flavors the ever-changing flowers and grasses of Otter Creek’s pastures; and the fifth, their Pesto Cheddar, is seasoned deliciously with basil-infused oil from artisan Mark Olson’s Renaissance Farms.
Mike and Carol Gingrich and Dan and Jeanne Patenaude decided to combine their family dairy farms in 1994 to have greater control of the quality of the outstanding milk they produced from their wonderful grass-fed cows. They subsequently decided to try a hand at artisan cheesemaking. Mike apprenticed with Bob Wills at Cedar Grove, and in 2004 the families built a cheese plant on their property. The result is a Wisconsin masterpiece, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, a cheese crafted in the traditional style of French Beaufort or Swiss Gruyere, but with the subtle nuances of the upland region’s terroir and a meticulous craftsmanship that create an American original. Pleasant Ridge Reserve is one of the very finest cheeses produced in this country. If you haven’t experienced the extra-aged version, then you’re in for a treat!
In 2008, Andy Hatch took over the management of the Uplands cheesemaking facility. Andy got his degree at the UW in Dairy Science and went on to study cheesemaking in Europe, before returning to Wisconsin and apprenticing with Bruce Workman and Gary Grossen to earn his Cheesemaker’s license in 2007. Two years ago, about this time, Andy introduced his marvelous Rush Creek Reserve, a soft-ripened cheese inspired by French Vacherin Mont D’Or. He created it to take full advantage of the autumnal change in the Uplands cows’ diets. Rush Creek Reserve is a very delicate, raw milk cheese with remarkable depth of flavor, the unmistakable flavor found in traditionally crafted soft-ripened cheeses with their delicious heady beefiness. This fantastic cheese will be in limited availability until early February.
Diana and James Murphy own a beautiful little farm in the hilly countryside just west of Madison between Black Earth and Cross Plains. Several years back they decided to buy some dairy goats, and soon found they had plenty of milk to start making cheese. Diana did an apprenticeship at Cedar Grove and obtained her cheesemaking license in 2004. While the Murphy’s creamery was being constructed, Diana worked with Anne Topham at Fantome Farm. Diana and James produce one of the most deliciously creamy soft goat cheeses in the state, as well as an amazing feta. We now carry five varieties of chevre, as well as both their pasteurized and unpasteurized fetas. Since their herd of twenty-four goats is grazed, and their cheeses are very fresh, they provide us with outstanding product only seasonally, so make sure to buy it while it’s available.
We continue to sell the popular cheeses produced from the milk of John Dougherty, a third generation dairy farmer in Southwestern Wisconsin near Governor Dodge State Park. John’s family has been milking cows since the early 1900s. In 1989, the family decided to begin marketing the cheeses made from their milk through the Scenic Central Cooperative. Farmer John has been a fixture at the Eastside Farmers’ Market for many years now, and we’re delighted to carry his terrific Italian-style cheeses. We carry his Asiago, his Parmesan, a unique cheese—Provonella—a cheese made combining the techniques used in crafting Mozzarella and Provolone; and now at Willy Street West, we carry his Smoked Gouda.
Sid Cook began working with his father making cheese before he was a teenager. He earned his cheesemaking license when he was just sixteen. Cheese making is a tradition on both his mother’s and his father’s sides of the family. Sid bought Carr Valley Cheese Company located in La Valle, Wisconsin in 1986, and started producing original high quality hand-crafted cheeses. He has experimented with many different techniques and different milks to create a huge variety of specialty cheeses. We currently carry ten styles of some of his finest, award-winning creations, including the interestingly complex mixed-milk Gran Canaria, a rich, deep-flavored cheese and one of our favorites.
A fixture at the Dane County Farmer’s Market, Felix Thalhammer has been making and selling high quality goat cheeses for several years now. Residents of the small community of Blue River, Wisconsin, he and his wife Catherine decided to go into the business of dairy farming back in the nineties. Felix did his apprenticeship, got his license and then built his creamery in 2001. Initially he used milk from his own goats, but with increasing demand he has had to expand and uses goat milk from several local family farms. We carry five different varieties of Capri cheeses; and we’re especially fond of his bright, full-flavored Greek-style feta.
In the Driftless region of Wisconsin just southeast of La Crosse, lies the pasture land of Brenda and Dean Jensen’s dairy sheep farm. Brenda had long had a dream of starting a dairy farm, and left a corporate career to pursue her passion. The Jensens are committed to using traditional farming and cheesemaking techniques with a respect for their land and their animals. Hidden Springs Creamery produces some of the tastiest sheep cheeses in the State, and has already won several awards and positive media recognition for their high quality. Hidden Springs Sheep Milk Feta was chosen as one of the top five Wisconsin cheeses on the blog Cheese Underground in 2010. It is a smooth and creamy delight, with a wonderful tart flavor. We carry thirteen different varieties of Hidden Springs cheese, including their classic creations Timber Coulee, Ocooch Mountain, and the lovely complex mixed milk award-winning Meadow Melody. Their delicious Bohemian Blue is one of our very favorite local blue cheeses!
Tony and Julie Hook have been in the cheesemaking business since 1976. Their factory, located in Mineral Point, produces a wide selection of fine crafted cheeses, but their specialties are robust blues and long-aged full flavored cheddars. We carry five different varieties of Hook’s cheese, including their unctuously rich double cream Blue Paradise, and the oldest cheddar currently on our shelves, Hook’s Seven Year, a bracingly sharp masterpiece. We also have the extraordinary Fifteen Year Cheddar gracing our shelves this year. Pick up some of this incredible cheese while you can.
In 2010 Roth Kase partnered with Emmi Cheese from Switzerland to expand their market. The fine products of Emmi Roth that we carry are still made right here in Monroe with wonderful Wisconsin milk. The Roth family has been making fine cheeses in Switzerland since 1863. In 1991, Roth family descendants Fermo Jaekle and his cousins Felix and Ulrich Roth saw a business opportunity in the similar terroir and culture of Green County, Wisconsin. An existing cheese plant in Monroe was acquired and re-fitted to accommodate the crafting of high quality European style cheeses that Americans have increasingly sought after. They started producing Gruyere, which hadn’t been made in the States for many years. Roth set up an apprenticeship program in which American and Swiss cheesemakers spend time mastering techniques in both countries. We now have available the stellar Surchoix extra-aged Grand Cru Gruyere, perhaps Roth’s very finest cheese, as well as their also magnificent younger Grand Cru Gruyere, and five other varieties of Roth cheese specialties.
Their subsidiary brand, Sole, produces our Queso Quesadilla, Queso Asadero, and Gran Queso cheeses—wonderfully flavorful inspirations based upon classic Latin cheeses.
Also out of Green County come Edelweiss Creamery cheeses. In a plant located in Monticello, Wisconsin, resident Master Cheesemaker, Bruce Workman fashions a big-wheel Emmenthaler using a traditional copper kettle technique. Its breathtaking bite and grassy aroma stand up to any imported variety. Workman has partnered with five local family farms who are passionate about rotationally grazing their cows. Formerly known as Edelweiss Graziers Cooperative, they recently changed their name to Pastureland Cooperative. The name was purchased from a small grass-fed co-op in Minnesota. Says Bert Paris, farmer and Co-op president, “We loved the name and felt it was a better match for our values and vision for the co-op.” We carry their outstanding graziered, aged Gouda under the Pastureland brand, as well as the superb Edelwiess brand Emmenthaler.
Chalet Cheese Cooperative
One more great bastion of Monroe, Wisconsin, is Chalet Cheese Cooperative. The only crafter of the legendary Limburger in the United States, Chalet also produces stellar Swiss-style cheeses in keeping with the region’s dominant Swiss heritage. Cheesemaker Myron Olson received his license to produce Limburger in 1972, and also hand-crafts the award-winning Deppeler line of Swiss cheeses. In addition to the Limburger, we carry the Deppeler Baby Swiss, and Chalet’s Smoked Baby Swiss.
In 2002, the Crave family built a creamery, brought in licensed cheese-makers and started making cheese. George Crave also apprenticed and became a licensed cheesemaker himself. We currently carry four varieties of Crave Brothers cheese: their delicious, naturally sweet Mascarpone, their ciliegine and ovaline sizes of fresh Mozzarella, and their wonderful abbey-style washed rind Les Freres. The quaintly boxed Petit Freres is the same delicious washed rind cheese, but in a smaller size. A wheel of Petit Freres is a perfect gift for the holidays, and a great addition to a banquet table.
Three generations of Joe Widmer’s family have been fine-crafting cheeses at their small plant in Theresa, Wisconsin. Joe’s grandfather John is the man who first started producing that Wisconsin original, Brick cheese, on a large scale; and at the factory they still use the original bricks to press this unique creation. Joe Widmer’s amazing aged Cheddars, as well as his Brick cheeses, have been anchoring stalwarts in our case for many years now. The Six Year Cheddar is one of Wisconsin’s very finest with its magnificent deep complex sharpness, and classic crumbly texture.
Saxon Homestead Creamery
Saxon Creamery cheeses are stellar, full-flavored, original creations produced from the delicious graziered cow’s milk of the Klessig family in Cleveland, Wisconsin near the shores of Lake Michigan. As with several of our other small family dairies, the Klessig family is committed to using sustainable agricultural and manufacturing techniques and humane animal husbandry. We offer three varieties of the Klessig’s wonderful cheeses, Big Ed’s, a full-flavored favorite Gouda, Green Fields, and Saxony. All the cheeses that we sell from Saxon Homestead Creamery, besides being some of the very finest Wisconsin cheeses we have to offer, are unpasteurized, and made from the milk of grass-fed animals.
Established in 1978 in Chilton, Wisconsin, the LaClare Family Farm was started by Larry and Clara Hedrich. What started out as a hobby when their children were young has now turned into a thriving business. In 2008 batches of the unforgettable raw goat milk cheese that would become Evalon were first made by their daughter Katie. In 2011 LaClare Farms Evalon was chosen Best in Show at the U.S. Cheese Championships. We have been carrying the Evalon for two years now, and last year we added both the Evalon Cumin and the Evalon Fenugreek to our cases. These are sensational Gouda-style raw goat milk cheeses with rich nuttiness and great complexity.
Holland’s Family Farms
Rolf and Marieke Penterman are first-generation dairy farmers who moved from the Netherlands in 2002. They own a cheesemaking facility in Thorp, Wisconsin, that uses their own cow’s milk to craft some of the tastiest Goudas we have ever had the fortune to sample. Marieke produced their first cheeses in 2006, and she has been going strong ever since. All of their Goudas are produced using only their finest unpasteurized milk. We currently carry five different varieties: a 2-4 month young Gouda, a fenugreek-flavored, a cumin-flavored, a smoked, and an unforgettably delicious 6-9 month aged Gouda. This year Willy West began carrying the Marieke Golden as well; bright and buttery flavored, it is a uniquely delicious creation of their own. These are some of our very favorite Wisconsin cheeses.
Al Bekkum started his career in cheesemaking after being laid off from a construction job one fall twenty years ago, and he has been passionately producing cheese ever since. Al and his wife Sarah founded Nordic Creamery three years ago in the Driftless region near Westby, Wisconsin. They craft many remarkable cheeses, and we carry their wonderful Capriko, a cow/goat milk blend with a smooth sweet, nutty flavor, which was chosen last year by Wisconsin Cheese Originals as one of their top twenty cheeses of Wisconsin.
Cesar Luis, working out of Columbus, Wisconsin, has had cheesemaking in his blood since childhood. He longed to craft the wonderful cheeses from his native Oaxaca here in Wisconsin. Cesar went through the demanding work of getting his Cheesemaker’s license, and now creates an unforgettable and extremely popular traditional Oaxacan-style string cheese, a deliciously light and crumbly Queso Fresco, a marvelously full flavored cow’s milk Manchego, as well as a remarkable fresh Mozzarella, all of which we now proudly carry in our cheese department.
Chris Roelli carries on a tradition of cheesemaking from four generations of the Roelli family. Out of Shullsburg, Wisconsin, Roelli Cheese produces a wide selection of fine, small batch artisan cheeses. At present, we carry both their amazing Dunbarton Blue and Red River styles of blued, aged cheeses. These extraordinary cheeses were inspired by the great farmstead Cheddars of England, and mirror those cheeses in complex flavor and texture with the added subtlety of fine blue veining. We hope to bring more exceptional Roelli cheeses in to our department in the near future.
Keith Adams became obsessed, as many of our great local cheesemakers did, with crafting an enduring legacy in new American cheese traditions. In Keith’s case, this meant creating a truly magnificent Camembert from high quality organic cow’s milk. He uses Cedar Summit Farm milk, Minnesota’s only 100% grass-fed dairy. Although not strictly local—Keith produces his one-of-a-kind cheese in Mankato, Minnesota—Bent River Camembert is a masterpiece, and carries on in the same tradition of small batch, artisan cheeses that our customers demand. This coming year Keith plans to roll out a new beer-washed cheese inspired by the classic French Reblochon. Keep your eyes out for this one; we’re sure to bring it in as soon as it’s available.
Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Cooperative
The Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Cooperative is a group of member farms that was formed in 1997 to address the growing demand for sheep milk in the Midwest. It now consists of twelve sheep dairy farms using seasonal milking techniques and is on track to produce 1.2 million pounds of milk in 2012. Since its formation, it has operated with the goals of promoting and marketing sheep milk and creating a stable market for the highest quality milk. In 2003, through partnership with Cedar Grove Cheese, the WSDC began marketing its first cheeses, Dante and Mona. These nationally recognized cheeses are terrific examples of the qualities present in sheep’s milk and are reminiscent of—and on par with!—the famous Spanish sheep cheeses. Willy West, and soon Willy East, carry both the Dante (100% sheep milk) and the Mona (50/50 blend of sheep and cow milk).
Located in Algoma, Wisconsin, Renard’s Cheese has been family owned and operated since 1961. Three generations of the Renard family have been making fine quality Wisconsin cheese with the flavor and character that comes only from proper aging and curing. Their cheeses have been the recipients of numerous regional, national, and international awards over the years. We currently carry their outstandingly delicious, and surprisingly affordable 2 Year Bandage-Wrapped White Cheddar. We also carry Renard’s Black Peppercorn Cheddar with a distinctive peppery bite; and their striking morel and leek flavored Monterey Jack.
So take a little extra time the next opportunity you have to visit our cheese case, and explore the magnificent products we carry for you. Every holiday party and banquet can be made that much more memorable and meaningful with the addition of these fine, hand-crafted Wisconsin cheeses. Also, please don’t miss out on our annual Cheese Sampling at the beginning of the month. Many of the cheeses you’ve just read about will be there for you to sample, and many of the cheesemasters will be on hand for you to meet. Thank you again for making this year so very special for all of us; and we look forward to the coming year with your enthusiastic support.