Bet you didn’t know May is American Cheese Month—don’t worry, there’s still plenty of time to celebrate. I got started early with a webinar sponsored by Culture Magazine, featuring “Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin”.
The 3 Master Cheesemakers sent each participant some cheeses to taste throughout the webinar. However, when a big box packed with cheeses—11 in total – arrived on my doorstep, I wasn’t expecting such a wealth of cheese! Before you think, “but I won’t be able to find any of them near me”, all of them ship, so read on.
The Wisconsin’s Master Cheesemaker program is an intensive program, similar to a PhD in cheese, only offered in Wisconsin. All 3 of the cheesemakers who spoke had finished the 13-15 year program, some of them multiple times (for different cheeses), so these were the cream of the crop.
During the webinar, we tasted 4 of the cheeses (and I can’t wait to dig into the others) and compared notes on what we were eating and drinking with them.
First up was Widmer’s Brick cheese. A family business, the signature brick cheese is made the same way his grandfather made it, using the same bricks to weigh it down. The best way for me to describe it is that it’s a washed rind cheese on its way to being a “stinky” cheese, like a Pont l’Eveque, but has firm texture (from the bricks). I liked it a lot just on a cracker, but Joe Widmer suggests putting it on a slice of pumpernickel with some red onion and whole grain mustard and pouring yourself a dark beer. We also tried his aged brick spread, which is made with the aged brick cheese and cheddar. It was great and reminded me of how good cheese spreads (which seem to have fallen out of favor) can be.
Next up was a Colby Swiss cheese from Decatur Dairy. Theirs is a co-op with local farmers, so the milk goes from cow to cheese almost instantly. The Colby Swiss came about when someone decided to take the Colby and mix it up with some Swiss. It was a nice blend, with the robust Swiss taste tempered with the Colby. I thought it would be great on sandwiches or a grilled cheese and tried it on a ham and cheese recently, where it was a nice change from the usual.
Now, I have to admit, I cheated a little and made myself a grilled cheese using what turned out to be the third cheese we tasted. It was the Aged Cheddar from Henning’s. They make cheddar and mix them with lots of different flavors. They’re also known for making big wheels of cheese, ranging from 75-12,000 pounds. Can you imagine how huge a 12,000 pound wheel of cheese is? Anyway, the cheddar (aged for 13 months) was really tasty on it’s own and made an excellent grilled cheese. Kerry Henning recommends also pairing it with a dark beer and some apple slices.
Henning’s also included 2 of their flavored cheddars that weren’t part of the tasting. One is a Mango Fire Cheddar, which Kerry said he likes to use for cooking, especially lasagna. The other is a Blueberry Cobbler Cheddar, which he uses as a dessert cheese, paired with chocolate. Hmmm…
As it turns out, the last cheese we tasted, from Carr Valley Cheese, was my favorite. They have 4 small factories and use milk from sheep, goats and cows to make their cheeses. We tasted Menage, a blend of all three milks, it was a little like a Spanish Manchego but with a smoother texture. It was the one I found myself nibbling all afternoon. And I liked that Sid Cook said to pair it with a big red wine, or single malt Scotch, both of which we happen to have.
Now, I’m left with the wonderful dilemma of having to taste the remaining 7 cheeses. Tough life, right?