And no one works more magic than the combo of Chef Jason and Master Cheesemaker Sid Cook, the wizard behind the curtain at Carr Valley Cheese. As part of the Carr Valley Cooking School in Sauk City last week, Sid hosted Chef Jason for “A New Perspective on Steak and Cheese.” We had the opportunity to taste three different gourmet steak and cheese combos.
Chef Jason runs Dream Dance restaurant, located inside the Potawatami Casino near Milwaukee. His motto: “Go ahead, use the wrong fork. It’s your call.” Completely devoid of frou-frouism, Chef Jason started the evening by telling the 30 attendees that there are three things that make a good chef. The first: good ingredients – which was the reason he was at Carr Valley that night. As Jason – a native of Chicago – became more acquainted with Wisconsin cheeses during the course of his career, he says the varieties at Carr Valley immediately began to stand out because of their quality and originality.
“People ask me – ‘What’s your favorite cheese?’ and I say, ‘The one that Sid’s making right now,'” Jason laughed. In fact, last year, Jason worked with Sid to make a signature cheese specifically for Dream Dance. The result is Sweet Vanilla Cardona, which you can also now purchase at the Carr Valley retail stores – go here for a listing.
At this point, Chef Jason began searing the first steaks of the evening, so we never learned what the two remaining keys to being a good chef were. But no matter. Jason then started talking about salts, which turned out to be fascinating. He says the key to have food taste good is either salt or acid. The key to using salt correctly is to not actually taste salt in the dish when you’re done – but to treat it as an equalizer.
Each of the three steaks we enjoyed were each seasoned with a different salt. The first steak, a grass fed beef tenderloin from Australia, was served with Maldon Sea Salt, from Essex, England, and Carr Valley Apple Smoked Cheddar. The dish was garnished with was a Saba balsamic syrup, resulting in a sweet finish. The theme of this dish was “sweet and smoky,” with the smokiness coming from the cheese.
Carr Valley Apple Smoked Cheddar is made in 12 pound wheels and is bandage wrapped. At 60 days, the bandage comes off and it’s cold smoked for 12-15 hours. Sid generates the smoke from apple wood and can smoke between 500-600 wheels at a time. Then the wheels are hand rolled in paprika. It takes between 10-12 days for the smokiness to work itself to the center of the wheel, Sid says.
As good as the grass-fed steak was, the next dish was even better. A choice New York strip steak, it was served with Carr Valley Goat Feta, tomatoes, black olives, lemon olive oil and red clay salt, harvested from volcanic clay in Hawaii. The lemon really came through strongly, but the Goat Feta provided a nice balance.
Carr Valley Goat Feta boasts a strong, flavorful taste with a chalky body and crumbly texture. Most Feta for sale in the United States is actually made with cow’s milk, and some cheesemakers add goat lipase, a cheesemaking additive, to give it a more traditional Feta taste. But Sid’s is made with the real deal. It’s also dry salted instead of brined, resulting in a slightly sweeter taste. Sid also makes a sheep feta, and occasionally, a goat/sheep feta mix.
The last dish of the evening was a Japanese Kobe Ribeye with Carr Valley Black Truffle Sheep Milk’s Cheese, deep-fried Spanish Marcona almonds and finished with truffle oil. The steak was flown in from Japan and sells for $120 apiece at Dream Dance. Kobe beef comes from the black Tajima-ushi breed of Wagyu cattle, raised according to strict tradition in Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan. According to popular belief, the cattle are fed one beer per day, massaged with sake daily, brushed to set their fur, and fed on grain fodder.
As Chef Jason says, “Up to the time I get them, these cows have had a better life than me.”
As if the steak wasn’t amazing enough, the kicker was the seasoning. Finished with Himalayan Sea Salt, a block of sea salt over 250,000 years old, this fabulous dish
was perfectly balanced with Sid’s Black Sheep Truffle cheese. Inspired by the truffled cheese of Italy, Sid created this award-winning sheep milk cheese, which is washed in truffle oil and aged more than six months. It sports a sweet unique earthy flavor and took first place at the 2006 American Cheese Society Competition.
All in all, an amazing evening and an amazing meal. Thanks to Chef Jason and Sid Cook for making a little magic.