Stuart Mammel, Willy Street Co-op cheese buyer extraordinaire, is constantly using customer comments, vendor information, and our own team of dedicated cheese eaters (I mean researchers... okay, me) to seek out new and fabulous cheeses. We now carry well over 200 varieties of cheese, and more than half of these are Wisconsin made. In an effort to help you keep up, I offer the first in what will hopefully be an ongoing series: My favorite new cheeses at the Co-op.
For starters we’ll hit one of the all-time great cheesemakers anywhere, Roth Kase.
A Wisconsin legend, Roth Kase has won over 100 regional, national, and international awards, and has been making cheese for over 140 years. Naturally whenever these folks have a new cheese, we’re interested. A few years back they decided to take a stab at producing a Spanish-style cheese similar to Manchego and came up with Gran Queso-literally (and honestly) “great cheese.” Made in limited quantities from fresh cow’s milk, Gran Queso is cellar-aged for six months. It was also the 2004 and 2005 first place winner at the American Cheese Society and gold medalist at the 2005 World Cheese Awards in London. Tapas is the natural way to serve Gran Queso paired with Serrano ham or quince paste, but it’s also an excellent cheese to cook with. It melts well, and has a sweetness that pairs especially well with strongly flavored meats like lamb. The second Roth Kase Cheese we recently picked up is the Knight’s Vail. The 2003 first place winner at the U.S. Championship, Knight’s Vail is a wash rind, cow’s milk cheese with what we euphemistically refer to as a robust flavor. Created using a combination of German and Norwegian cheese-making traditions, Knight’s Vail was originally created to help out the Norwegian Pavilion at Disney World when they were unable to get their usual delivery. This is a buttery cheese with a very creamy texture. It’s strong flavor matches well with a good porter.
Our next cheesemaker hasn’t been around quite as long as Roth Kase, but has established quite the name for themselves already—not only with the quality of their cheese, but also with their farming practices. Otter Creek Farms practices mineral-balanced agriculture, rotational farming, and places the health and happiness of their animals at the top or their priority list—right next to their commitment to environmentally sound farming. Originally a crop farm, Otter Creek partnered with the master Cheesemaker at Cedar Grove to create a line of seasonal cheddars. We currently offer two varieties from Otter Creek—Pesto Cheddar and Winter Cheddar. The Pesto Cheddar features a basil oil infusion created by another Deli supplier and Otter Creek partner, Renaissance Farms. Renaissance does basil better than anyone, and by adding the oil to the cheese in the final stages of cheese-making, it surrounds the curds and highlights them with a bright green color. It’s beautiful, and it tastes exactly like fresh basil. Each time I try it, I’m amazed at how the taste of the pesto just pops out at you—like you just made it yourself. The second cheddar is the Winter. Why Winter? Because Otter Creek believes in being seasonally appropriate—the cow’s supper included. This gives each season of Otter Creek’s cheese a unique flavor and fat content. Winter feed is silage made of fermented alfalfa and grasses cut from the farm, and in winter there’s a higher fat content based on the cow’s hormones. The result is a rich, subtle flavor with a very creamy texture. These cheeses are not to be missed!
Finally, rounding out my fab five is the French Delice de Bourgogne. Anyone that has eaten dinner at my house in the past year, or been to an event I’ve been asked to bring a plate to has tried this cheese. The rest of you best get on the ball. This is the best cheese I’ve ever eaten—the Best in Show for our cheese department as far as I’m concerned. I love cheese and I have many favorites depending on my mood or what is being served, but when I want to wow someone, this is what they get. To get the particulars out of the way: this is a French soft-ripened triple crème cow’s milk cheese. It has a rich, bright floral, truffle-like flavor. That’s the product description...floral and truffle-like. I compare it to whipped cream. Leave it at room temperature and set some bread or crackers next it. It’ll be gone in an hour and you’ll wonder what happened.
So there you are, five cheeses that you have to try. Come back soon, and I’ll give you your next assignment—and don’t forget to visit us during our June Dairy month celebration. We’ll be inviting in our suppliers and sampling out some of the greatest cheeses in the world at varying times throughout the month, look for a schedule to be posted on our website and at the Deli!