New stats released this week by the USDA reveal specialty cheese production is up 9 percent in Wisconsin, with 92 of the 126 cheese plants in the state now making at least one type of specialty cheese.
One company contributing to this significant growth is Seymour Dairy, a new blue cheese plant and the brainchild of Mike Brennenstuhl, champion cheesemaker. Only five years old, Seymour Dairy has already won several awards, including a Gold Medal at the 2009 World Cheese Awards in Gran Canaria for its Crocker Hills Organic Blue.
The Crocker Hills Blue – made from pasture-grazed milk – is just one in an impressive line-up of signature blue cheeses Mike developed in cooperation with the University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research. My favorite is his Ader Kase Reserve, a blue cheese crafted in the tradition of German blues, then taken to a new height through a meticulous and intensive aging process.
Although the company itself may be relatively young (it’s housed in the old Beatrice ConAgra plant just on the outskirts of Seymour, Wis.), its three cheesemakers – Mike Brennenstuhl, Ron Laabs and Rob Richter – have more than 100 years of combined experience in making cheese.
During a tour last week for members of the Wisconsin Specialty Cheese Institute, Quality Systems Manager Ron Roethlisberger – an aspiring cheesemaker himself – shared that last year, Seymour Dairy crafted 4.5 million pounds of blue cheese and is on track to produce 6 million pounds this year. All milk comes from small family farms within 40 miles of Seymour, and the plant makes cheese 7 days a week.
Making blue cheese is an intensive process. Ron walked us through the process, from the four, open-air stainless steel cheese vats, where cheesemakers cut the curd by hand, to the brine tanks where the cheeses soak up their luscious salty flavor, to the piercing machine, which can poke holes in 20 wheels a minute, to the flipping tables, where workers flip 7-pound wheels of blue cheese like they’ve been doing it their whole lives. The plant employs 42 people, which is pretty significant in this town of 3,474 people. It’s also growing rapidly – Ron said they had added six employees just in the past 30 days, due to increased customer demand for their award-winning cheeses.
In addition to all of Seymour Dairy’s cheese made on site, all but the crumbles packaging is also done at the Seymour plant, including the cut, wrapping and packaging of the company’s signature triangle-packed 4-ounce wedges. Seymour Dairy blue cheeses sport snappy labels, each color-coded for the style in which it’s made, including:
Green Crest: this Italian style Gorgonzola features a green mold culture imported directly from Italy, giving it an authentic taste. It has a creamy texture and crisp flavor profile.
Blue Crest: this modern interpretation of a classic Danish Blue features a creamy mouth feel and complex flavor profile. This cheese is most often found in crumbles.
Ader Kase: this award-winning blue is crafted in the tradition of fine German cheesemakers. It sports a red label. The Ader Kase Reserve (my favorite) has a black label and is aged at least 6 months. It’s the kind of cheese you take the time to seek out, but then again, with Seymour cheeses, it’s hard to go wrong.
In good news, it sounds like Seymour’s line-up of blue cheeses is set to soon expand, as Mike is working on a new blue cheese unlike anything his plant is making now. He hopes to have it on the market by Christmas. Can’t wait!