Sid Cook at Carr Valley Cheese is probably the master of naming American Orignals, but coming up fast is Tom Torkelson at Natural Valley Cheese, located in a village called – I am not making this up – Hustler, Wisconsin – population 112.
Tom’s been a licensed Wisconsin cheesemaker for 25 years. His father was a dairy farmer in New Glarus, Wis., and two of his cousins have cheese plants. His roots in Wisconsin dairy run deep.
Tom makes several original cheeses from the milk of about 80 nearby Amish dairy farmers and their pasture-fed goats and cows. Farmers bring milk to Tom’s cheese plant in traditional milk cans that have been cold-water cooled. Because the animals are on pasture, the milk varies with the season and the type of grasses and foliage available.
All this makes for some pretty interesting cheese, which lends itself to some pretty interesting names, including:
Lemonweir Gold –an award-winning artisan cheese named for the beautiful Lemonweir River Valley where it was created. This is a semi-soft goat cheese, mild with a hint of Swiss flavor and a smooth creamy texture. A true American Original.
Lindina — Handmade with milk from hand-milked pasture-fed goats from the Lemonweir Valley. This is a semi-soft, mild, sweet early flavor goat cheese; multi-colored rind and aged 60 days in a natural cave. Yummy.
Petenwell Reserve — This cheese won second place in the 2006 World Cheese Championship in its class. It’s a semi-soft, cave-aged goat cheese with an earthy flavor – the rind is made up of distinctive Trade Lake molds.
Redstone Robust — Formed in a wheel and finished in a special curing cellar near the Wisconsin River. It’s a semi-soft, washed rind goat cheese, hand washed for 60 days to produce a red-orange rind with a creamy white interior and hardy, robust flavor. Very unique.
Castle Rock Reserve — Formed in a bandage-wrapped wheel for aging in a natural cave for 90 days, this semi-hard goat cheese has a medium to robust flavor and smooth, firm texture.
Although some of Natural Valley’s cheese is marketed locally, the majority finds its way to such places as El Paso, Texas; New York; Denver; and Los Angeles. In distant cities, it’s likely to be found at many times the price it’s sold for in the little Hustler plant’s store. So the next time you’re driving I-90/94 through western Wisconsin, take the short jaunt off the interstate to Hustler. It will be well worth your time.