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The Gateway Drug of Cheese

If Master Cheesemaker Sid Cook at Carr Valley Cheese was required to wear every medal, carry every trophy and don every ribbon he’s ever won for making specialty cheeses in the state, he wouldn’t be able to move under all the weight. Clocking in at more than 200 state, national and international awards in the past five years alone, the man officially is a cheese genius.

The inventor of at least 50 American Original cheeses — that means he simply made them up, such as an author writing 50 works of fiction — I like to view Sid’s cheeses as the gateway drug to the artisan and specialty cheese world. While each cheese is a masterpiece in its own right, taken together in a wine and cheese pairing, for example, they can often change the mind of someone who is convinced they don’t like goat, sheep or “those artisan frou frou cheeses.”

While I’ve always been a fan of several of his cheeses, including Cave Aged Mellage – a blend of sheep, goat and cow milk, as well as Mobay – Sid’s whimsical take on the famous French cheese, Morbier, with a layer of sheep milk cheese and a layer of goat milk cheese separated by a layer of grape vine ash and pressed together — I often discover a “new” Carr Valley cheese that I’ve never heard of before, and then I find out he’s been making it for three years.

Take Chevre Au Lait, for example. Yes, say it out loud and you’ll hear an example of Sid’s sense of humor. Behind its silly name, however, is a complex, aged, crumbly goat milk cheese, with just the right amount of flavor kick. The piece I had last week was 1-1/2 years old, and it was at its peak. Pair it with a light bodied red wine, and you’ve got yourself an excellent conversation starter.

While Sid has legions of fans, he also has his detractors. There are those who complain about how many awards he wins at the annual American Cheese Society, and those who insist his American Originals aren’t artisan cheeses because he doesn’t make them in super small batches. I would tell those folks to visit his factories in LaValle and Mauston and watch any and all of his cheeses still being made in open vats, with cheesemakers boasting more than 50 years of experience still putting their hand in the curd to decide when it should be cut.

Sid and the men and women working for him are some of the most knowledgeable cheesemakers in the world. They deserve each and every ribbon they win, and instead of resting on their laurels, are crafting brand new cheeses every year. It sometimes just takes me a while to discover each and every one.
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