As noted last month, we’ll be covering some more of my favorite cheeses in celebration of Dairy month...not that I need an excuse to talk about cheese. But first this breaking news: cheese buyer extraordinaire Stuart Mammel has done it again! This month our cheese department will be featuring guest appearances from some of the greatest cheesemakers not only in Wisconsin but the world. Scheduled to appear throughout the month are Edelweiss Creamery, Uplands Cheese, Hidden Springs, Otter Creek, Mount Sterling, Capri Cheese, Dreamfarm Cheese, and Crave Brothers. We are so excited to have such an amazing lineup of folks coming in that we’re even putting Capri’s Moo Bear Muenster on special all month long.
Okay, back to our preview. This month Stuart has asked to be included in the selection process, and his choice is one of the big three of our Swiss imports—Appenzeller. While Gruyere and Emmenthaler may be more popular, Appenzeller is a great addition to your cheese platter or fondue. In fact Stuart suggests you forgo the Gruyere and give this cheese a try instead. A raw, part-skim cow’s milk, Appenzeller has a piquant flavor (cheese talk for sharp) that really brings to mind the Alpine flowers and grasses that the cow’s feed on. I will vouch for Stuart on the fondue, as my Swiss neighbor was the first person to ask me if we could get it in. She made my wife and I a fondue that was out of this world and unforgettable.
Appenzeller has a documented history of over 700 years, which makes my selection of “aged” cheeses seem quaint. But, oh what cheeses they are. First though, let’s talk about where they come from. Last month I raved about the legends at Roth Kase and the fabulous new guys at Otter Creek amongst others. This month we have two veterans with Carr Valley and Edelweiss Creamery. If you’ve read my annual cheese compendium you know that Carr Valley is one of the great cheesemakers in the world. Winners of over 60 U.S. and international awards, master cheesemaker Sid Cook heads up the fourth generation of a family that has been making cheese for over 100 years. I’ve chosen to recommend their aged Cheddar, although when asked to do a cheese platter for our beloved staff I actually used one of each of their flavors. The aged Cheddar from Carr Valley is special, though. It is, to my knowledge, the only Wisconsin Cheddar made using the traditional British method of cloth-binding the cheese while it ages. It finished first in its class at the ACS Cheese Competition in 2007, and is also the only Wisconsin Cheddar actually cave-aged in a cave-making this cheese similar in style and taste to the cheeses made by Sid’s family since 1902.
Edelweiss Creamery, on the other hand, has been in business since 1873 in Monticello—although master cheesemaker Bruce Workman hasn’t been there quite that long. Partnering with the Edelweiss Graziers Co-op, a group of three farm families, they produce complex cheeses with the milk from grass-fed cows that live in the neighborhood—generally within a quarter-mile. While Edelweiss has been best known for importing an entire Swiss cheese plant to make an authentic Emmenthaler, I’d like to recommend his aged gouda. Now your everyday gouda is already considered one of the world’s great cheeses, both as a table cheese and a dessert cheese. Now add Edelweiss’ artisan touches and a little more age and you have a nuttier and slightly firmer texture that makes this gouda more than a match for anything from Holland. While Stuart is suggesting replacing Gruyere with Appenzeller in his fondue, I’m tempted to lose the Swiss and go Dutch. It’d also make an excellent pairing with some local strawberries and a nice bottle of wine when you hit the Concerts on the Square.
My final suggestion this month is another import. Valdeon Spanish Blue is another of our fine selection of Spanish cheeses. While there are some fabulous local blues, Hook’s comes to mind immediately; this one is old school. Formally known as Cabrales, it is aged for five months in limestone caves in the Picos de Europa mountain range of northern Spain using a mix of cow, sheep, and goat milk. It is produced only in Peñamellera Alta township, located on the northern spur of the Europa Peaks in eastern Asturias. Okay, that just sounds cool. Now, those that know me know that I love me a stinky cheese—and blues fit that bill pretty well. This one doesn’t disappoint with a strong, tangy flavor, and a particularly powerful smell. It has blue-green veins running through it and a grey, slightly sticky rind and can be used in any sauce that calls for blue cheese. Personally, I recommend a white wine and a good, ripe, and really juicy pear. Minus the wine and add an Izze and this has actually been my lunch on a few days when I was feeling particularly European in the Co-op basement. There’s no better way to avoid unwanted work interruptions than a good stinky cheese on your desk.
So, now you have four more suggestions for cheeses to try. I can’t urge you strongly enough to branch out and be brave! I tried my first limburger just the other day, and contrary to my childhood’s cartoons, my eyes didn’t bug out and the plants didn’t die. It was creamy, delicious, and made a great cheese sandwich.
Almost as important is to keep your eyes peeled for our schedule of the cheese world’s glitterati making their appearance at our humble Co-op. They’ll be sampling some of the best cheeses in the world and can probably answer any cheese question you can come up with.