I’m not sure how well Aesop’s fable, the Tortoise and the Hare, translates into Spanish, but I’m always reminded of this story every time I talk with Cesar Luis, cheesemaker/owner of Cesar’s Cheese in Random Lake, Wis.
I called Cesar last week and asked him to ship me some of his infamous Queso Oaxaca, or as we boring Americans call it: String Cheese. I wanted to buy a bunch and sample it at the Food for Thought Festival in Madison on Saturday. As promised, the cheese arrived right on time, still cold from the ice packs, and I went to work cutting it up for samples. I figured 10 packages of 10 sticks, cut up into bite size pieces would be enough for a morning of sampling, right?
Uh … wrong. I started sampling Cesar’s Queso Oaxaca at 9 a.m.. and it was gone by 10:30. Good thing I had brought a variety of other Wisconsin artisan cheeses with me, as Cesar’s string cheese was the hit of the day (by the way, you can buy it in Wisconsin at Fromagination in Madison, Larry’s Market in Brown Deer, at select Sendik’s stores, including the one in Germantown, and nationally via Cowgirl Creamery).
Why is Cesar’s string cheese so good? Because it’s the only 100 percent hand-pulled string cheese that I know of currently being produced in Wisconsin. Each Tuesday, Cesar and his wife, Heydi, drive 3-4 hours from their home in Random Lake to Roelli Cheese in Shullsburg, spend about 8 hours stretching 15-pound, 50-foot ropes of string cheese in a vat of 100+ degree hot water, and then drive home again. An auto mechanic by day, Cesar may be the best part-time cheesemaker I know.
He’s also incredibly wise. Cesar is slowly building his company, one step at a time, without going into debt. I’m always encouraging Cesar to make more cheese, attend more trade shows, start building his own cheese factory, etc., because I want everyone in the United States to be able to eat his amazing cheeses. And he always tells me: “I follow my grandfather’s advice. He said to do as much as you can with what you have. Build slowly, or pretty soon you have nothing.”
I’m thinking that if Cesar and his grandfather were in charge of our country’s economy, we may have avoided the current recession, because Cesar takes his grandfather’s advice to heart. He’s been working incredibly hard and steadily building his business the past year. When I called him last week, he was excited because he had just acquired the needed permits to expand his garage at home and build a 10′ x 10′ cooler to store more cheese.
He was also excited because his new cheese labels are finally finished (see above). Picturing him and his wife, Heydi, with the words: “Handcrafted in Wisconsin … the Authentic Mexican Way”, the labels tell Cesar’s story perfectly.
Cesar is also busy crafting new kinds of cheese. He recently started making a Mexican Manchego, which he calls “Cheeser” (an obvious combination of the words Cesar and Cheese). It’s creamy, flavorful and holds its own on a cheese board or in a recipe. He’s also working on a new Cave Aged Cheeser, which is his Manchego with a washed rind. He took a wheel of this newest creation to a cheesemonger recently and got an order for several more wheels.
I told him this was exciting news and since it looks like he’s going to have another hit on his hands, I started dreaming up new ways for him to market his business. He very politely let me finish, and then, again repeated his grandfather’s mantra to me: “Build slowly, or pretty soon you have nothing.”
Ahh yes. Cesar’s right. Slow and steady WILL win the race. I just need to learn some patience. In the meantime, I’ll just keep ordering more of his cheese.