Hoard’s Dairyman Launches Belaire Cheese

 

IMG_0795When you hear the words, Hoard’s Dairyman, former farm kids like me immediately think of the oversized magazine we used to pull out of the mailbox and hand to our dad. Today, Hoard’s Dairyman, established in 1885, is a still a national dairy farm magazine based in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. It continues to be the leading dairy magazine in the nation.

This week, however, Hoard’s Dairyman launched a new brand called Hoard’s Dairyman Farm Creamery. The company’s first cheese is Belaire, an American-style Port Salut that’s mild, classic and instantly meltable. The cheese is made by Master Cheesemaker Bruce Workman at his Edelweiss Creamery in Monticello, Wisconsin, and the milk comes from the oldest continuously registered Guernsey herd in North America at the original Hoard dairy farm. In fact, the cows producing milk for Belaire are descendants of the herd W.D. Hoard himself first established in 1899.

I first began meeting with the current generation of the Hoard family years ago and gave input on cheese styles, label design and marketing ideas. In fact, my last contact with them was so long ago, I figured they had given up on the project. But a few months ago, Sandy Speich, whom the Hoards persuaded to join them earlier this year, contacted me with some prototypes of cheese, and just like that, the project was back on track, but this time, with a new style of cheese and a new label.

In America, it is virtually impossible to get historic Port Salut, a stinky, Trappist-style cheese, also known as Saint Paulin, and which is closely linked to the French Revolution of 1789. Trappist monks fled the persecutions of the “Terror”, and in order to survive, relocated their congregation and learned how to make cheese. When they returned to France in 1815, they built a new abbey and continued to make it.

Today, Port Salut is a semi-soft natural cheese that is easily recognized by its painted-on orange rind. You most likely see it in the store as “Genuine Port Salut” and the Hoard’s Dairyman version mimics this modern version. However, the Hoard’s version is smoother, creamier and fresher-tasting than the Port Salut that’s imported, and the natural golden-color of the milk produced by the Hoard Guernseys is a sight to behold. And the name, Belaire? It’s in honor of Captain Belaire, the first to bring Guernsey cattle to the United States.

The folks at Hoard’s are just starting to market this cheese, so it is in extremely limited distribution. You can find it (of course) at my Firefly Coffeehouse & Artisan Cheese in downtown Oregon, Wisconsin, as well as Edelweiss Cheese Authentic Wisconsin in New Glarus, Clock Shadow Creamery in Milwaukee, and Larry’s Market in Brown Deer.

 

Reading Between the Lines in the Obits

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I’m never sure what normal people do for fun, but on Sunday mornings, between the before-church coffee rush and after-church breakfast sandwich rush, I sit down and read the obituaries in the Sunday paper at my coffeeshop.

I’ve done this for years at the Firefly, even before I owned it, because as a writer, I’ve always found it fascinating to see how people (or their families) sum up someone’s entire life in 300 words or less.

Most of the time, reading a poorly-written obituary makes me feel compelled to write my own, but then a sense of morbidity sets in and I’m not ready yet.

I’ve always particularly gravitated toward the obituaries of old women. While old man obituaries are often filled with long and distinguished career paths, professional affiliations, organizational accomplishments and military records, old woman obituaries are different. For the most part, I can’t help but think they don’t do the woman justice. Let’s face it, many of the 80- and 90-year-old women dying today did not have professional careers or affiliations. They were too busy raising a houseful of children, keeping a marriage together, cooking three meals a day and trying not to collapse at the end of the day.

I find myself reading between the lines of many of these obituaries, especially short ones like Joanna Pasowicz, age 82, of Madison, who “was the beloved wife of the late Joseph Pasowicz Jr., with whom she shared a dedicated and supportive 55 years of marriage before his passing in 2009 … She was preceded in death by two children, Cynthia, in 1955 and Joseph III, in 1997.”

Think about that last sentence for a minute. In just 21 words, try to imagine the level of grief and sadness she survived through losing two children.  It’s amazing the woman ever found the strength to get out of bed, much less live a strong and fruitful life as a “loving mother, past president of the VFW Ladies Auxiliary Post No. 7444, member of the Florence County School Board and past president of the Madison Polish Heritage Club.” Joanna, I bet your life was an inspiration for many people, and your obituary is less than 200 words long.

Then there’s Dorothy Jean Houden, whom I’m gonna guess would have been my best friend if I were 45 years older. Her obituary starts the same as any other 91-year-old woman until we get to this jewel of a sentence: “After much persistence, she agreed to marry Richard A. Houden on May 14, 1949, as long as she could continue to pursue her nursing career.” There’s a show stopper of a statement. Reading between the lines, we can guess Dorothy was a strong woman, and Richard was progressive for his time, allowing his wife to work out of the home.

Dorothy went on to have a distinguished career in nursing, and was even presented with the “first Board of Trustees award for providing exceptional service in the healthcare field to the citizens of Dane County.” The obituary also includes this sentence: “Richard was the love of her life.” He died in 2012. Together, they had seven children, 18 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Dorothy’s obituary is longer than most women her age, because it lists her education (a degree from UW-Madison in nursing), her extended lifelong training and affiliations, and this: “She firmly believed in social justice instilling the belief in her children that everyone should have the opportunity to live their life to the fullest.”

And these sentences, which I’m guessing her family felt needed to be included because her obituary is so unusual for a woman of her time: “Dorothy maintained a household while also working outside the home. She always found time and energy to share and revel in what the world had to offer with her children.”

Before it was socially acceptable to do so, Dorothy did what many women today don’t think twice about: work full-time and participate in professional affiliations while being a mother and wife. I think most modern woman will tell you this juggling routine is a constant struggle, both physically and mentally, because at the end of the day, we often don’t feel like we’re doing either particularly well, and the most we can hope for is that at the end of our final day, our children write an obituary reflecting the way we tried to live our lives. In 300 words or less. It seems a tall order.

 

Driftless Cheese Reigns Supreme on Avocado Toast

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If you think you’ve had every imaginable version of avocado toast, think again. Sheep milk cheese is the secret ingredient you didn’t even know you’ve been missing.

When Wisconsin Cheesemaker Brenda Jensen once again swept the entire fresh sheep milk cheese category at the World Championship Cheese Contest with her fresh Driftless  cheeses, I had one thought: I bet it would make an amazing avocado toast.

That’s because six months ago, my husband and I purchased a coffeehouse and added an artisan cheese case. We revamped the menu using local foods and Wisconsin artisan cheese (shocking, I know).

On May 1, we launched a newly-tweaked menu with our own Firefly Avocado Toast featuring two slices of Madison Sourdough bread, avocado and a healthy dose of Driftless cheese. Simple, yet delicious. In less than a month, it’s proven so popular that Brenda has twice had to make special “emergency cheese” deliveries to our place, bringing 5-pound tubs of Driftless cheese with her.

Since launching Hidden Springs Creamery, near Westby 12 years ago, Brenda has earned more than 80 awards for her original sheep milk and mixed-milk cheeses. Driftless is a perennial winner. Deliciously simple and crafted from fresh sheep’s milk, it is wonderfully light, creamy and spreadable. It is also available in array of flavors, including Cranberry, Honey Lavender, and Sundried Tomato, each of which took first, second and third place at the World Championship Cheese Contest in March.

“To have my cheeses consistently earn awards in the same realm as some of the greatest cheeses and most famous cheesemakers in the world is an honor,” Jensen says. “We are especially grateful to everyone for supporting our signature Driftless cheese – a cheese we simply made up 12 years ago – and today are lucky enough to have featured in specialty shops across the nation.”

The fact is that luck doesn’t have much to do with Jensen’s success. The truth is that while Wisconsin is home to many an amazing cheesemaker, Brenda Jensen is simply one of the best. For 12 years, she and her husband, Dean, have dedicated themselves to growing their farm and improving the genetics and milk quality of their sheep. They reap the rewards from that hard work with award-winning cheese. I can’t think of a better cheese to celebrate with a good avocado toast.

End of One Chapter, Start of Another

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As many of you know, after living in Oregon for 20 years, my husband and I recently purchased a coffee shop, bakery and restaurant in downtown Oregon and renamed it
Firefly Coffeehouse & Artisan Cheese. After five months of steadily growing this new business with a new breakfast, lunch & dinner menu, daily specials, and an expanded bakery, drink and espresso menu, we are taking it to the next level and adding an artisan cheese case and retail space on May 2, featuring the best artisan cheeses and local foods from Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest.

In fact, my office at the Firefly is currently filled with boxes of Gail Ambrosius Chocolate, Quince and Apple Preserves, Treat Nuts, Potter’s Crackers, Bee Barf Honey and bags of Kickapoo and Anodyne Coffee, all waiting to be put onto shelves next week. Meanwhile, every square inch of cooler space not occupied with Sassy Cow milk is filled with cheese wheels that have been arriving all week and which I will furiously be cutting and wrapping next week. Did I mention we’re also adding a full array of different cheese boards with wine and craft beer pairings?

As a result of this flurry of new activity in my life, last week I announced to members of Wisconsin Cheese Originals that I would be sunsetting the member-based organization. After 10 years of running a non-official non-profit (thanks to a husband with a good heart and a good job), it’s simply time for me to focus on three newer passions:

1) Building a community around good food & good coffee.

2) Bringing artisan cheese and local foods to the heart of my hometown.

3) Continuing to help steer smart and steady growth as a three-term elected member of the Oregon Village Board, a member of the Oregon Planning Commission and the Oregon Library Board. In fact, in the spring of 2019, I plan to run for Village President.

Operating a 5,000 square-foot coffeehouse, restaurant, bakery and retail shop brings a an exciting opportunity to reach a wider audience and share the gospel of good food. After 15 years of marketing, retailing, buying and educating folks about artisan cheese, I am expanding that passion to supporting local farms by purchasing not only local cheese, but local eggs, milk, produce, meats, and educating customers on the importance of sustainable eating with descriptions of daily specials and new signage.

So fear not, if you would like to stay connected to the many events, classes and activities that I used to offer through Wisconsin Cheese Originals, I’ll still be offering many of those things through Firefly Coffeehouse & Artisan Cheese.  Be sure and visit this website for a continually updated listing of classes taking place at the Firefly, and keep reading Cheese Underground, where I will continue to write about cheese and announce events, including a new season of Cheese Underground Radio debuting this summer.

Lastly, if you live anywhere near Oregon, Wisconsin, or have a road trip planned this summer, please stop in at the Firefly at 114 N. Main Street and say hello. So many of you have become my family over the years, and there is nothing better than having family share in your success. The Firefly is my next 20-year project, and I look forward to sharing that journey with you.

— Jeanne Carpenter, ACS CCP
Owner, Firefly Coffeehouse & Artisan Cheese

The Big Winner at The World Championship Cheese Contest? The Consumer.

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I’m writing this six hours before the World Champion Cheese is named. That’s because no matter who wins – whether it be a little-known cheesemaker from the Alps, an artisan cheesemaker from Wisconsin or a woman who’s making donkey cheese on a farm in Turkey – the winner of this year’s contest has already been determined. It’s us. The consumers. The cheese eaters.

Media interest in this year’s World Championship Cheese Contest is unreal. There are television cameras, documentary crews and print journalists from around the country camped out at Monona Terrace. I find myself looking around for Hollywood celebrities, given the amount of paparazzi that’s patrolling the place. And, I keep comparing today’s scene to 10 years ago, when the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association asked me to help organize the first-ever evening public event. I was thrilled when two local tv news crews showed up, 300 people bought tickets, and we sampled 30 cheeses. Tonight, we’re expecting more than a dozen tv crews, 800 attendees, and 30 volunteers will work with me all afternoon to cut up and sample 100 cheeses from 25 different countries. Why? Because all of you demanded it.

Since 2008, consumer interest in good cheese – whether it’s made in a big factory, little factory or on someone’s farm – has skyrocketed. I emphasize GOOD in that first sentence. Consumers want food that tastes good. In a country where half of us are overweight and the other half are on a perpetual diet (I fall into both of those camps), all of us are looking for cheese that awakens our taste buds and satisfies our stomachs without eating half a pound of it with a box of crackers. Today’s cheeses are doing that.

In the last 10 years, it’s been heart-warming to watch the camaraderie between cheesemakers, cheesemongers, cheese scientists and judges from across the country and the world bloom and grow at the World Championship Cheese Contest. My Facebook feed has lit up all week with photos like the one below, showing Kari Skibbie and Lisa Hall, two women who work for different companies in the Wisconsin cheese industry, and perhaps who only see each other only a few times a year, volunteering to slog cheese all day on the B Team:

camOf course, winning the World Championship Cheese Contest is a BIG deal. Two years ago, Emmi Roth from Monroe, Wisconsin, took home the big trophy. It was the first time in decades Wisconsin had won the top prize.

So who will be the big cheese this year? For a preview of the cheeses in contention, you can peruse the list of first place winners on the contest’s official website. As I write this, every first-place cheese is being judged from scratch by nearly 60 accredited cheese experts from around the world. The top 20 cheeses, and finally the big winner, will be revealed at tonight’s sold-out shindig. No matter who comes out on top, we’re all winners. Good cheese is in our future.

Cheesetopia Milwaukee: Thank You Marieke Gouda

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Here’s a huge shout out to Wisconsin Cheesemaker Marieke Penterman, her amazing family and all the staff at Marieke Gouda for making Cheesetopia possible this year in Milwaukee.

What is Cheesetopia, you ask? It’s a festival I organize with the goal of bringing some of the best artisan cheesemakers from the Midwest to the heart of a different city every year. This year, Cheesetopia calls Milwaukee home, and thanks to the sponsorship of Marieke Gouda, the event is sure to be a success.

Already, the event is nearly sold out, with little to no publicity, thanks to the hundreds of loyal members of Wisconsin Cheese Originals. Today, less than 100 tickets remain on sale. Act quickly if you’re interested in attending.

Here’s the scoop:

Cheesetopia Milwaukee 2018
Presented by Marieke Gouda & Wisconsin Cheese Originals
April 8, 2018
The Grain Exchange, 225 E Michigan St, Milwaukee, WI
Noon – 4:00 PM

Cheesetopia 2018 returns to downtown Milwaukee in the historic Grain Exchange room of the Mackie Building. Finished in 1880, the room was built as a sunken trading pit, where traders set the price of wheat. It was considered to be the most lavishly decorated public space of its time. The walls are adorned with large murals depicting the themes of transportation, agriculture, trade and commerce. Colossal faux-marble pillars boast carved depictions of locomotives and steamships. It is inside this room that 40 of the best artisan cheesemakers from across the Midwest will sample and sell more than 150 artisan cheeses.

Tickets
$35. Includes appetizers & samples of 150 cheeses. Cash bar. Click here to purchase.

More Information
Cheesetopia brings a star-studded line-up of award-winning cheesemakers and artisan food producers to a unique venue in the heart of a different city every year. A cheesemaker, company owner, farmer or senior representative is required to be present for each company, ensuring attendees meet the makers of their favorite cheeses.

Here’s the line-up in 2018:

  • Alemar Cheese Company, Mankato, Minnesota – Cheesemaker Craig Hageman sampling Bent River, Blue Earth Brie & Good Thunder
  • Ames Farm Honey, Delano, Minnesota – Artisan Sarah Mogilevsky sampling Single Source Raw Honey
  • Caprine Supreme, Black Creek, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker and Owners Todd & Sheryl Jaskolski sampling Goat Milk Cheese Curds, Feta, Lavender Jack, Brie, Cheddar & Chevre
  • Carr Valley Cheese, LaValle, Wisconsin – National Sales Director Dave Christoff sampling Marisa, Black Sheep Truffle, Porto Duet, Billy Blue, Cocoa Cardona, Menage, Mobay, 6-Year Cheddar, Wildfire Blue, Penta Creme, Fontina de Provence, Cheese Stix & Flavored Butters
  • Caves of Faribault, Faribault, Minnesota – Head Cheesemaker Rueben Nilsson Cheese Plant Manager Jill Ellingson sampling St. Pete’s Select Blue Cheese, Jeff’s Select, St. Mary’s & Smoked Amablue
  • Cedar Grove Cheese, Plain, Wisconsin – Master Cheesemaker Bob Wills sampling Olive Cheese Spread, Quark with S.A. Braai Chutney, Montague, Extra Sharp Organic Cheddar & Ovella
  • Cosmic Wheel Creamery, Clear Lake, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker Rama Hoffpauir sampling Circle of the Sun, Antares & Moonglow
  • Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Waterloo, Wisconsin – Owner George Crave sampling Fresh Mozzarella, Marinated Fresh Mozzarella, Part-Skim Mozzarella, Mascarpone, Cheese Curds & Jalapeno Cheddar Cheese Curds
  • Deer Creek Cheese, Sheboygan, Wisconsin – Representative Kayla Immel sampling The Doe, The Rattlesnake, Vat 17, The Blue Jay, 5-Year Cheddar, Stag & Moonrabbit
  • Edelweiss Creamery, Monticello, Wisconsin – Master Cheesemaker Bruce Workman sampling Grass Based Raw Milk Aged Gouda, Havarti, Dill Havarti, Butterkase & Tuscan Dream
  • Hidden Springs Creamery, Westby, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker Brenda Jensen sampling fresh Driftless in various flavors, Wischago, Ocooch, Vernon Renegade & Bohemian Blue
  • Hook’s Cheese, Mineral Point, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker Tony Hook and National Sales Manager Sara Hill sampling Colby, 5-Year Cheddar, 10-Year Cheddar, Galway Bay, Triple Play, Goat Pepper, Sheep Milk Cheddar, Sheep Milk Butterkase, Blue, Blue Paradise & Little Boy Blue
  • Jacobs & Brichford Farmstead Cheese, Connersville, Indiana – Owner Matthew Brichford sampling Everton, Everton Premium Reserve, Tomme de Fayette, Briana & Ameribella
  • Kettle Range Meat Company, Milwaukee, Wisconsin – Artisan Mark Bearce sampling Kettle Range Cured and Charcuterie products including Guanciale, Pancetta, Summer Sausage, Snack Sticks, Bacon Jam, Nduja & Smoked Sausages
  • LaClare Farms Specialties, Pipe, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker Katie Fuhrmann & owners Larry & Clara Hedrich sampling Evalon, Martone, Cave Aged Chandoka, & Raw Cheddar
  • Landmark Creamery, Albany, Wisconsin – Cheesemakers Anna Landmark and Anna Thomas Bates sampling Petit Nuage, Aged Anabasque, Samwell & Pecora Nocciola
  • Maple Leaf Cheesemakers, Monroe, Wisconsin – Owner Shirley Knox & Cheesemaker Jake Huffman sampling English Hollow Cheddar, Smoked Gouda, Jalapeno Jack & 10-Year Cheddar
  • Marieke Gouda, Thorp, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker Marieke Penterman sampling Belegen 4-6 month Gouda, Marieke Golden, Foenegreek Gouda, Truffle Gouda & Summer Fields
  • Potter’s Crackers, Madison, Wisconsin – Owner Nancy Potter sampling crackers, crisps and oyster crackers
  • Quince and Apple, Madison, Wisconsin – Owners Clare & Matt Stoner Fehsenfeld sampling a variety of small-batch preserves
  • Redhead Creamery, Brooten, Minnesota – Cheesemaker Alise Sjostrom sampling Lucky Linda Clothbound Cheddar, Little Lucy Brie, North Fork Whiskey Washed Munster & Cave Aged Garlic Cheddar
  • Renard’s Cheese, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin – Master Cheesemaker Christopher Renard & Sales Director Samuel Perlman sampling Farmers Cheese with Pesto, Sriracha Cheddar, Legacy, Morel & Leek Monterey Jack
  • Roelli Cheese, Shullsburg, Wisconsin – Master Cheesemaker Chris Roelli sampling Dunbarton Blue & Red Rock
  • Sartori Company, Plymouth, Wisconsin – Master Cheesemaker Pam Hodgson & Master Cheesemaker Apprentice Jeremy Werdeo sampling Black Pepper BellaVitano, SarVecchio Parmesan, Merlot BellaVitano & MontAmore
  • Saxon Creamery, Cleveland, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker Eric Steltenpohl & Anthony Servais sampling Saxony Alpine, Snowfields, Asiago Fresca, Big Ed’s Gouda & Various Spreads
  • Sheep Dairy Association of Wisconsin – Sheep Dairy Farmer Laurel Kieffer sampling a variety of Wisconsin sheep milk cheeses
  • Shepherd’s Way Farms, Nerstrand, Minnesota – Cheesemaker Jodi Ohlsen Read sampling Friesago, Big Woods Blue, Hidden Falls, Shepherd’s Hope, Friesago & Sogn Tomme
  • Tulip Tree Creamery, Indianapolis, Indiana – Cheesemaker Stephanie Montalban & Sales Director Laura Davenport sampling Trillium, Tigerlily, Foxglove, Fromage Frais, Nettle & Dutch Tulip
  • Uplands Cheese, Dodgeville, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker Andy Hatch sampling Pleasant Ridge Reserve
  • Vermont Creamery, Websterville, Vermont – Representative Molly Browne sampling St. Albans, Bonne Bouche, Cremont & Fresh Chevre
  • Widmer’s Cheese Cellars, Theresa, Wisconsin – Master Cheesemaker Joseph C. Widmer, Sr. and Cheesemaker Joseph C. Widmer, Jr. sampling Aged Brick, Mild Brick, 4-Year cheddar, 12-Year Cheddar, Caraway Colby & Brick Spread

3,000 Cheeses. 25 Countries. 1 Winner. Tickets to Cheese Champion on Sale

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Big news, people! The world’s largest technical cheese competition is coming to Madison, giving the public a rare opportunity to taste more than 50 cheeses from across the globe and witness the reveal of the 2018 World Champion Cheesemaker.

Tickets to Cheese Champion, an evening of global cheese tasting presented by Wisconsin Cheese Originals and the World Championship Cheese Contest, are $25 and went on sale today. Held on Thursday evening, March 8, in the Monona Terrace Exhibition Hall, this signature event of the biannual contest is open to only 500 attendees, with all tickets sold in advance. Click here to get yours!

In addition to tasting more than 50 cheeses from 20 countries, you’ll learn cheese evaluation from international cheese experts while enjoying local specialty foods and craft beer samples, all the while tasting samples of some of the rarest cheeses from every corner of the globe. Plus, you’ll be on hand for the reveal of the 2018 World Champion Cheese, as 53 expert judges from 20 countries stand in salute of the winner. Doors open at 6:30 pm. See you there!

My Next Big Adventure: Firefly Coffeehouse & Artisan Cheese

fireflyFExciting news, cheese peeps. My cheese world is changing, and it’s about to get filled with a whole lot more caffeine. Beginning Friday, December 1, my husband, Uriah and I are the proud new owners of Firefly Coffeehouse in Oregon, Wisconsin, and will be renaming it to (you guessed it): Firefly Coffeehouse & Artisan Cheese.

Next year marks 20 years that Uriah and I have lived in Oregon, and for much of the second half of that time, the Firefly has literally been our second home. We are regulars every morning for our game of pre-work cribbage while drinking our small lattes (the staff often sets up our drinks as we walk in the door). I teach at least two cheese classes there every month, Uriah runs a Euchre tournament on the second Thursday, and you can find me working on my laptop several times a week in my favorite lounge chair next to the fish tank.

For years, most every cheese distributor, cheesemaker and local government official has known where to find me when I don’t answer my cell phone: the Firefly. Folks have figured out that Oregon’s Living Room is my hideout. And starting next week, my hideout will be my official place of employment, as Uriah and I take the reigns from owner Erika Weidler and attempt to carry on the massively successful dynasty she has created in my town.

So what does this mean?

First, if you’re a regular at the Firefly, do not panic. We’re not changing anything for awhile. I’ll be busy for a couple of months just trying to figure out vendor contracts, credit forms, water filtration systems and navigating a payroll of 12 employees. I’m already having dreams I’ve forgotten to order cups. And so far, I’ve pulled a whopping 12 shots of espresso, most of them being mildly terrible. Luckily, I will soon be the very proud supervisor of six full-time trained baristas and an additional six part-time amazingly friendly staff, all of whom can pull a perfect shot every time, make a Hammy Bagel Breakfast Sandwich in under four minutes, and bake a perfect scone every morning.

Second, my life will still revolve around cheese. While I’ve saying goodbye to the awesome job I’ve had for the past five years as the specialty cheese buyer for Metcalfe’s Market, the hundreds of members of my Wisconsin Cheese Originals can still expect me to send them news of classes, dinners, tours and festivals. In fact, mark your calendars now for Cheesetopia Milwaukee on April 8, 2018.

Third, I will of course be introducing artisan cheese to the Firefly (duh), but please don’t be in a super big rush, because I want to do it right, and that takes time. You can expect the Firefly to become a whole lot cheesier closer to spring. Between now and then, we’ll be tweaking the menu to include more local ingredients. And some night in January, we’ll host a big party for everyone to drink practice shots of espresso until Jeanne pulls 12 perfect ones in a row.

One more date to mark on your calendar: Friday, December 1 at 2 pm. That’s when the Oregon Area Chamber of Commerce is bringing their spool of red ribbon and giant scissors and we officially christen the new Firefly Coffeehouse & Artisan Cheese. I am so flipping excited (and nervous and overwhelmed, but mostly excited, but really nervous) and I can’t wait to share this journey with all of you. I’m finally marrying the two food loves of my life: cheese and coffee. And best of all, I’ve got Uriah beside me. Cheese on.

If You’re Buying a Story, It Should be a Story You Can Taste

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People who don’t work in the dairy industry are always amazed when they visit my house and come across back issues of Cheese Market News and The Cheese Reporter.

“Wait, you actually read these? How on earth can there be TWO national weekly newspapers dedicated to just cheese?” and the standard: “Wow, you’re weird.” These are the same comments I get when I take past issues into a coffee shop and dare to catch up on cheese news in public.

While I appreciate keeping up on the latest technology, industry news, commodity block prices and Class III milk futures that these publications provide, it’s always a jolt to sit down and read them after I’ve visited a small-batch, artisan cheesemaker in a far away place. I get reminded in a hurry of what’s important to Americans.

For example, here are three headlines from the current issue of Cheese Market News: “Laughing Cow Adds New Flavors to Cheese Dippers Line” and “Fairlife Introduces SuperKids Ultra-Filtered White and Chocolate Milks With Omega-3” and “Borden Cheese Unveils Snack Bars.” I’m not even cherry-picking headlines from multiple pages – all of  these stories actually exist on the centerfold pages of 8 and 9 in the October 13, 2017 issue of CMN.

When I compare these American dairy industry headlines to passages of the new book by Bronwen and Francis Percival: Reinventing the Wheel: Milk, Microbes, and the Fight for Real Cheese, I get a little depressed. In America, we are so focused on creating the next biggest, boldest flavor and punching it into the most-convenient-to-eat dairy package, that I’m not sure we still appreciate what actual milk can taste like when we turn it into cheese without adding starter culture cocktails, berries or peppers.

Creating – and appreciating – simple cheese is going out of style in America. In an instant gratification society of snap chats, instant messaging and presidential orders issued in 140 characters, more of us are demanding every bite of cheese should rocket every one of our senses. Every. Single. Time.

I compare those headlines to the half dozen sheep dairies I visited in the French and Spanish Basque region last month, and I remember tasting cheeses made from just milk, rennet and salt. No added berries. Not a pepper in sight. Most of these cheesemakers weren’t even adding starter cultures. The tools at their disposal included a recipe for “mountain cheese” that had been passed down through generations, and a reliance on raw milk that contained enough natural bacteria to acidify on its own. (If you’re not familiar with what I mean by starter cultures, here’s an excellent primer from HomeCheeseAdam).

Were these Basque sheep milk cheeses flaming rockets of flavor? Did they transform my every sense into rainbows and unicorns? They did not. But each cheese was slightly different. Each was startling in its simplicity. And each allowed me to taste and appreciate the valley, mountain top or farm on which it was made.

Cheese worth eating has a story. It doesn’t come conveniently packaged, and it doesn’t have the words super or ultra in its name. What it does have is a story you can taste. In fact, my favorite passage from the Percivals’ book, Reinventing the Wheel, comes near the end, and after reading 250 pages that reignited my passion for artisan cheese, this passage was like salve to my soul: “If it is a story that we are buying, then it should be a story that we can taste. And if we value environmental and farming decisions, these are the attributes that we need to value. This is the ‘best’ taste for now. It is the moral dimension of flavor.”

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You can meet the Percivals and hear them speak on Sunday, November 5 at The Edgewater in Madison, Wisconsin. The pair, along with Uplands’ cheesemaker Andy Hatch, are presenting a 90-minute “Taste of Place” seminar featuring cheeses from Europe and America. Tickets available only in advance here. The seminar is part of Wisconsin Cheese Originals’ Wisconsin Cheese Camp.

Tickets to Wisconsin Cheese Camp on Sale Oct. 3

20170627-IMG_7178If you’ve ever dreamed of meeting the person who makes your favorite Wisconsin artisan cheese, then I have great news. Tickets to Wisconsin Cheese Camp, a two-day cheese festival I’m hosting in Madison next month, go on sale Tuesday, October 3 at 8 a.m. Set your alarm now.

What is Wisconsin Cheese Camp, you ask? Well, it’s a series of events over the course of two days during the weekend of November 4-5, all located at The Edgewater in Madison. Each event is designed to help you get to know your favorite artisan cheesemaker better while eating the cheeses you like best. Basically, it’s a big cheese  party, and I’d love for you to attend.

The weekend kicks off bright and early Saturday morning with two all-day bus tours, each visiting three different dairy and cheese plants, where you’ll tour the factory, talk shop with the owner, and taste their favorite cheeses. Each tour includes lunch, transportation in a big comfortable coach bus, and all tastings. With increasing food safety regulations, most cheese plants no longer offer tours, so this is your chance to see things up close and personal.

A huge thank you to Carr Valley Cheese, who stepped up to sponsor Wisconsin Cheese Camp. In fact, aged Cheddars crafted by Carr Valley’s Master Cheesemaker Sid Cook, as well as a variety of Wisconsin cheesemakers, will be featured in the Saturday night Wisconsin Cheddar Dinner at The Edgewater. Plus, author Gordon Edgar, cheese buyer for Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco, will be the dinner’s keynote speaker, and all dinner attendees will receive a complimentary copy of his book: Cheddar: A Journey to the Heart of America’s Most Iconic Cheese.

On Sunday, a 90-minute Tasting Seminar on “Taste of Place” will be presented by Uplands Cheesemaker Andy Hatch and Bronwen and Francis Percival, authors of the new book: Reinventing the Wheel: Milk, Microbes, and the Fight for Real Cheese. Bronwen is the cheese buyer for Neal’s Yard Dairy in London, and Francis is a cheese and wine writer and educator in the United Kingdom. All seminar attendees will receive a complimentary hard-cover copy of the Percivals’ new book, which is earning rave reviews, including this one in the Wall Street Journal.

Of course, no cheese camp would be complete without the chance to meet all of your favorite cheesemakers in one room, so that’s why Sunday afternoon marks a Meet the Cheesemaker Gala. You’ll get to meet 30 Wisconsin cheesemakers, taste 150 cheeses, drink free beer and wine (drinks are included in the ticket price) and nosh on yummy appetizers from The Edgewater. Check out the list of cheesemaker rock stars appearing here. 

A big thanks to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board for its support of Wisconsin Cheese Camp. Thanks to their generosity, all attendees to the Sunday Meet the Cheesemaker Gala will receive a complimentary insulated lunch bag with the Wisconsin Cheese logo. Plus, VIP attendees will even get a bag stuffed with Carr Valley cheese (VIP attendees also get in one hour early to Meet the Cheesemaker).

For ticket prices and a listing of all cheesemakers involved, please visit my website, Wisconsin Cheese Camp. I’d love to see you in Madison during the first weekend of November!