There are 24 different Wisconsin cheesemakers supplying the Co-op at this time. Of those, 14 qualify as makers of artisanal cheeses. They include:
Run by Felix Thalhammer, Capri is the first organic goat cheese producer in Wisconsin, and at the National Dairy Goat Convention in October received its first blue ribbon at a national awards ceremony. We carry five of their goat cheeses, including-St. Felix, Stick Bear, and Wash Bear. The Bear cheeses are a muenster, with the Wash Bear an (obviously) washed rind cheese, while the Stick Bear is a traditional orange-skinned version. The St. Felix is a combo of techniques used in making Havarti and Gouda. In the same mode, we added the Moo Bear—a Muenster made from cow’s milk (hence the name). We also carry Capri’s Greek feta, a milder feta with an essence of thyme that gives a Mediterranean flavor inspired by Chef Sabi of Madison’s own late, great Casbah Restaurant.
Quite possibly the finest cheeses in the world come from Carr Valley Cheese. Don’t take my word for it; they’ve won more than 60 top awards in U.S. and international competitions. We carry the Mobay, a goat and sheep’s milk combination that came in second at both the 2004 and 2005 American Cheese Society (ACS) Competition in its category. We also carry their Cocoa Cardona, another original that combines cocoa powder and cheese and took first place in its class in the 2004 competition, as well as Best of Class and Overall Second Runner-Up out of 1,000 entries in the 2005 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest. We’ve also recently added a number of new flavors from Carr Valley. These include: Marisa—named after the maker’s daughter, it’s a seasonal sheep’s milk cheese that took second place at the 2004 Wisconsin State Fair as well as First Place at the ACS 2004 Competition; Benedictine—a three-milk cheese that is hand-rubbed and cellar-cured for 12 weeks, and won First Place in class at the U.S. Cheese Contest in 2003, as well as second place in class at both the 2005 and 2006 ACS Competition; Menage—another mixed milk cheese that is aged for an intense flavor and drier texture, which won first in its category at the 2005 ACS Competition; Cave-aged Cheddar—aged at least six months for a drier texture and more intense flavor; Apple-Smoked Cheddar—apple smoked and hand-rubbed with paprika, this cheese won First Place at the 2005 ACS in its category, Third Place at the 2006 World Cheese Competition, and Third Place at the 2006 ACS Competition; Billy Blue—a goat’s milk blue aged four months and Third Place finisher at the ACS 2006 Competition; and finally, possibly the best of all, the Gran Canaria—aged at least two years and cured in olive oil, it was Best of Show in the 2004 ACS Competition.
Located in Waterloo, the Crave brothers supply us with our Mascarpone and Les Freres (pronounced lay-Frair.) Les Freres is a European-style aged, washed rind cheese with a fruity flavor that goes well with both fruit and bread. Crave is also now our supplier for four varieties of fresh mozzarella—Bocconcini, Ciliegine, Pearline, and Ovaline.
One of our organic cheese suppliers, Cedar Grove supplies a wide variety of our cheeses. We carry a variety of premium cheddars and Monterey Jack. We also carry their Prairie Premium Cheddar, the First-Place winner for mature cheddars in the 2005 American Cheese Society Competition.
Artisan cheesemaker Diana Murphy provides us with handcrafted chèvre, including their original, peppercorn, and Herbes de Provence flavors. We also get a seasonal farm fresh tasting goat’s milk feta.
One of the new additions that I am proudest of, Edelweiss is located in Monticello and provides us with the only domestically produced (and for us, locally produced) Emmenthaler in the U.S. Master cheesemaker Bruce Workman imported an entire Swiss cheese plant to ensure his Emmenthaler is as authentic as possible—and all its milk comes from one farm, about a mile from the plant. This year we’ve also added their fabulous Aged Gouda
Located in Southwest Wisconsin, the area the glaciers missed, Hidden Springs supplies us with six varieties of soft, creamy Driftless sheep’s milk cheese from their sustainable, horse-plowed, and donkey protected sheep farm. There’s Original, Lavender & Honey, Basil & Olive Oil Marinade, Tomato Garlic, Cinnamon Cranberry, and my favorite Pumpkin Spice. We have also added Ocooch, a new Wisconsin raw-milk, cave-aged sheep’s milk cheese; and Bad Axe, a cave-aged, one-month-old sheep’s milk cheese with a creamy texture and strong flavor.
A relatively small outfit originating in Barneveld, and boasting the first female World Champion in the cheese world, Hook’s supplies us with three types of blue cheese, including their original that was merely Grand Champion from 1999 to 2002. Additionally, we now get both five- and seven-year cheddars.
We take pride in another recent addition, Maple Leaf Cheese, based in Monroe. Paul Reigle is, to my knowledge, the only Master Cheesemaker certified in the production of yogurt cheese, which we now stock.
Otter Creek’s cheeses are produced in true cooperative fashion. They’ve teamed up with the master cheesemaker at Cedar Grove to make a Pesto Cheddar, which won third place in its category at the United States Cheese Championship this year in Wisconsin as well as third place in its category at the ACS judging in Vermont this year. We carry this, along with a variety of seasonal cheddars that showcase the spectrum of flavors produced by feeding their cows on a rotating seasonal diet.
A Wisconsin legend, Roth Kase has won over 100 regional, national, and international awards, and has been making cheese for over 140 years. We now carry the Grand Cru Gruyere, a cheese these experts consider to be their crown jewel and which has won Best of Show for the American Cheese Society, first place from the World Cheese Championship, and a Gold Medal at the World Cheese Awards. We also carry their: Knight’s Vail—winner of first place in category at the 2003 U.S. Cheese Championship (it’s a semi-soft cheese with a buttery flavor); Gran Queso— a Spanish-style cheese similar to Manchego and 2004 and 2005 first place winner at the American Cheese Society; gold medalist at the 2005 World Cheese Awards in London— Ostenborg Havarti, a smooth, creamy, cow’s milk cheese; and the Butterkase, a creamy butter-like cheese.
Salemville Cheese Co-op in Cambria provides us with our Amish Blue and Gorgonzola cheeses. Among their awards are a third place in the World Championship Cheese Contest and a first place for the American Cheese Society.
I think Uplands is the only cheesemaker I’ve ever done an entire article on. After reading a few blurbs about them, I was so amazed at their production style and farm that I couldn’t help myself. Uplands provides us with the Pleasant Ridge Reserve. The only cheese to be named grand champion of both the American Cheese Society and the U.S. Cheese Championship, you must try it! If that isn’t impressive enough, Uplands now supplies an Aged Pleasant Ridge Reserve—with an even more intense flavor and caramel-like sweetness!
Our last artisanal cheese maker is my personal favorite. Joe Widmer is one of only a handful of certified Wisconsin Master Cheesemakers in the country, and it shows in his aged cheddars. The two-, four- and six-year aged cheddars are so good it should be a crime to eat anything else. They won third in both the American Cheese Society Competition and the World Championships this year. Unfortunately, the six-year is gone for the remainder of this year, but look for it as soon as it’s available next year! We also carry their handcrafted mild and aged brick cheeses, which are rich, creamy cheeses that melt extremely well. We’ve also recently added their cold-pack Brick spread which blends their Brick and Cheddar and blows away most crackers—you’ll need the Potter’s Crackers to do this justice.
Those are our 13 artisanal cheese makers, meaning their cheeses are made in small batches, and often by hand. We also have 10 other Wisconsin cheese suppliers, and while their batches may be larger, their quality is excellent as well. Here’s a brief summary of each:
Organic Valley is our largest supplier of organic cheeses. We currently carry 17 varieties including cheddar, Colby, shredded Parmesan, Colby Jack Stringles, organic crumbled Blue, and Monterey Jack.
Mount Sterling Cooperative provides goat’s milk cheeses-including their international world championship one-year cheddar-style goat cheese, as well as a raw goat milk cheddar, a mild cheddar, mozzarella, and Country Jack in original, Jalapeno, and Tomato Basil.
Montchevre supplies us with two varieties of fresh goat cheese logs and three varieties of Crottins, mild and creamy fresh curd cheeses.
An organic cheese supplier, Next Generation provides us with organic raw milk Colby and cheddar cheeses, as well as two new flavored cheddars-Caribbean, featuring jerk seasoning, and Cilantro/Garlic.
One of our best sellers, Sartori (formerly Wisantigo) supplies us with Sarvecchio, Bellevitano, Parmesan and Asiago cheese.
Located in Denmark, Wisconsin, we’ve carried BelGioioso’s Parmesan, Asiago, and sharp Provolone for years. We have added their grated Parmesan and original Provolone.
We carry Country Castle’s Limburger and smoked Swiss cheeses.
One of our newer suppliers, Grass Point provides us with a sharp cheddar and an out-of-this-world Pepper Jack.
Another new supplier of flavored cheeses, Sugar River is our only supplier of kosher cheeses. We carry four varieties, including a Monty Jack with tomato and basil that is fantastic.
We carry three types of Brie from President, as well as their Camembert in 8.8 ounce rounds.
Located in Cashton, Wisconsin, Pasture Pride supplies us with its baked juusto cheese, a Finnish style cheese that has won Best of Show in numerous competitions.
So there you have our quite lengthy list of Wisconsin cheese makers supplying the Willy Street Co-op. Please make sure to join us in December for our annual cheese sampler. Once again we’ll be inviting some of Wisconsin’s (and the world’s) finest Cheesemakers to sample and talk about their cheese.This year’s samples will include Edelweiss’ Aged Gouda, Otter Creek’s Pesto Cheddar, Hidden Springs’ Bad Axe, Carr Valley’s Gran Canaria,
Capri’s Stick Bear Goat Muenster, and Sartori’s Bellavitano. See you there!