Cosmic Wheel Creamery

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A southern gal who grew up in Louisiana, moved to Minnesota to attend art school, and then fell in love on an Upper Midwestern vegetable farm, is today making some of the best new artisan cheeses in Wisconsin.

Cheesemaker Rama Hoffpauir founded Cosmic Wheel Creamery in 2015 with the goal of crafting a product that would compliment the certified organic vegetables she and her husband, Josh Bryceson, grew on their 80-acre farm near Clear Lake. Today, the family (with two children, ages 3 and 6) offer seasonal CSA shares of fresh vegetables, meat and artisan cheese from their Turnip Rock Farm to nearly 200 customers. (CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and allows urban folks like me to purchase a “share” of food grown by a local farmer).

Rama earned her Wisconsin cheesemaker’s license in 2014, but her cheesemaking journey started in 2010 when she and Josh, who had developed a love for livestock after working for Heifer International, purchased a Jersey cow named Carl. Yes, Carl. After playing with Carl’s milk in the kitchen and making a few stove top cheeses, Rama consulted cheese recipe books and starter culture catalogs to get a feel of what kind of cheeses she wanted to make commercially. “I knew I needed to make at least a half dozen different kinds, because people don’t want the same cheese each week in their CSA box,” Rama said. “The folks at Dairy Connection in Madison really helped me select some styles of cheese that would compliment our milk.”

The milk going into Cosmic Wheel cheeses is pretty special. What started with one Jersey cow has grown into a small herd of 20 Jerseys. Josh, Rama and their livestock manager, Liberty Hunter, rotationally graze the cows on fresh pastures and cover crops. The cows calve, and thereby start giving milk, in the spring, and then “dry off,” or end their natural lactation cycle, around Thanksgiving. This is the old-fashioned way that dairy farmers used to farm: by following the seasons. As a result, Rama only makes cheese in her small, farmstead creamery from May through November. All of her cheeses are 100 percent grass-fed, boasting the beautiful golden color that results when cows are allowed to digest the beta carotene naturally found in grass and then pass it through their milk.

Rama makes a variety of aged, raw milk, natural rind cheeses using a small, 80-gallon vat, and then ages them in a small room connected to the creamery. My two favorites are Circle of the Sun, a Tomme style made in a 12-pound wheel, tightly pressed, then aged nine months. It features bright, herbal and grassy notes on the tongue. Then there’s Moonglow, an alpine style cheese resembling a French Beaufort, aged one year. Both are available starting today at Metcalfe’s Market Hilldale in Madison (Rama ships us wheels as they become available, but because she makes less than 7,000 pounds of cheese a year, quantities are obviously limited).

“I feel like 2017 may finally be the year our cheeses make it out of our neighborhood,” Rama laughs, noting that in her third year of cheese production, she’s grown to a point where she can offer a limited quantity of wheels to select retailers. For her CSA boxes, she also crafts Antares, a cow’s milk Manchego; Deneb, a Gouda-style; Lyra, a creamy and mild cheese; and Moonshadow, an alpine-style made in early spring when cows are still eating hay. She makes a variety of fresh, pasteurized cheeses as well, including cheese curds, Quark, whole milk ricotta, and feta.

“I don’t feel like I’m working a lot of magic, because our milk is so flavorful. The cows really do all the work,” Rama says.

I have a feeling most everyone who tastes Rama’s cheeses for the first time will beg to disagree: the milk coming from Turnip Rock Farm may be stellar, but the magic in the make room at Cosmic Wheel Creamery is second to none. I’d say we’re pretty lucky this Louisiana girl ended up in Wisconsin.

Mike Brennenstuhl Launches Door Artisan Cheese Company

Master Cheesemaker Mike Brennenstuhl

A master cheesemaker who 11 years ago raised the bar for Wisconsin artisan blue cheese is about to do the same with a line of Brennenstuhl original cheeses that will incorporate the heritage of the communities in Door County.

Mike Brennenstuhl is slated to start making cheese in March at Door Artisan Cheese Company, a brand-new 18,000-foot facility in Egg Harbor. The facility includes a cheesemaking plant, specialty food retail shop called Cave Market and a casual fine-dining restaurant called Glacier Ledge that will open to the public in the spring.

Under Mike’s leadership, the facility will produce both traditional Wisconsin cheeses and original-recipe creations. Three man-made cellars on the property’s lower level will be utilized for aging cheeses. The aging “caves” will be the first of their kind in Door County.

“It’s been my dream for years to open up my own facility in Door County,” says Mike, whose title includes both CEO and president. “My career has deep roots in Wisconsin cheesemaking, and it’s an honor to bring such a versatile facility and cheesemaking excellence to Northeastern Wisconsin.”

Most of Door Artisan Cheese Company’s cheeses will be made with cow’s milk, and the company has partnered with Red Barn Family Farms in Appleton to source milk from its group of small family dairy farms annually certified by the American Humane Association.

Cheeses made on site as well as other American cheeses and imports will be available for tasting and purchase in its Cave Market. The specialty retail space will also stock local and specialty ingredients and feature a wine, craft beer and charcuterie bar for tasting. Adjacent to the cheesemaking plant, guests can observe cheesemakers through a large viewing window in the market. At Glacier Ledge, guests can expect a casual fine dining experience with a seasonal menu packed with local ingredients and expert culinary preparation.

“Ultimately, we want Door Artisan Cheese to provide a three-fold culinary experience that educates, engages and excites our guests,” says Mary Beth Hill, general manager for the project, and a long-time friend of Wisconsin artisan cheese. “Wisconsin cheese has such a rich history, and we want to celebrate that in the products we sell and menus we write.”

Minnesota Artisan Cheesemakers Up Their Game

Grazier’s Edge, a mild, buttery, stinky cheese
washed in 11 Wells Rye Whiskey.

While Wisconsin has enjoyed a near-monopoly on the sheer number of artisan cheesemakers in the Midwest for the past decade, our sneaky neighbors to the West have steadily and stealthily upped their game in the artisan cheese department.

First, Steven and Jodi Ohlsen Read of Shepherd’s Way Farms near Nerstrand, Minn., launched a Kickstarter campaign last year that was 100 percent funded, and which will allow the couple to dramatically expand their flock and make even more of their fabulous sheep milk cheeses including Big Woods Blue, Friesago and Shepherd’s Hope. (View some stunning photography of Shepherd’s Way by Becca Dilley here).

Then, Keith Adams and Craig Hagerman at Alemar Cheese Company simply stomped all over the bloomy rind category with their amazing Bent River Camembert and Blue Earth Brie – two American beauties that rival even the French greats.

And now, two upstarts are taking the spotlight with brand new cheeses that debuted this summer at The American Cheese Society. Both cheeses are now available at Metcalfe’s Market-Hilldale in Madison, mostly because I hounded these fine Minnesotans until they shipped me cheese so I could share it with all of you. Thank you, unfailing Midwestern politeness!

First up: my new favorite cheese – and I don’t say this lightly – is Grazier’s Edge from the fine folks at The Lone Grazer in Minneapolis. Grazier’s Edge is comparable – do I daresay better? – than the original raw milk St. Nectaire I tasted in 2011 in the Auvergne region of France and aged on straw mats in the underground caves of Jean d’Alos Fromagerie.

Cheesemaker Rueben Nilsson – born and raised in Wadena, Minn. – started making cheese seven years ago at Faribault Dairy Company. It was there he had the opportunity to work with grassfed milk, which inspired him to start his own business and specialize in pasture-based cheeses.

The Lone Grazer is a unique cheesemaking model, with milk coming from two local dairy farms – Sunrise Meadows Dairy near Cokato, Minn., milking 25 Brown Swiss and Milking Shorthorn cows, and Stengaard Farm, near Sebeka, Minn (who on earth names these towns?), milking Swedish Reds, Milking Shorthorns and Red and White Holsteins.

Hansom Cab, rich and grassy, washed with 2 GINGERS Irish
Whiskey and smoky Lapsang Souchong tea

Grass-fed milk is shipped to northeast Minneapolis, where inside the Food Building – an urban food production hub home to The Lone Grazer Creamery & Red Table Meat Company – Nilsson crafts two cheeses: Grazier’s Edge, and Hansom Cab. I haven’t even mentioned Hansom Cab yet, which if it weren’t sitting next to Grazier’s Edge, would be a righteous cheese and is very much worthy of its own merit. While Grazier’s Edge is a large-format cheese washed in 11 Wells Rye Whiskey, Hansom Cab is a small wheel washed with 2 GINGERS Irish Whiskey and smoky Lapsang Souchong tea. The result is a savory rind protecting a milky, meaty paste.

Nilssen, a tall, lean, quiet guy with a steady and slow Minnesotan accent, makes the cheese while his sales director, Seamus Folliard (SHAY-MUS FOAL-EE-ARD) – say that three times fast –  sells it in a high-energy, you-have-to-taste-this-cheese style that makes you just want to give him a hug. If he’s not truly Irish (and I forgot to ask), then Seamus sports one heckuva Irish accent. After drinking a beer with them at the ACS opening reception, I decided the pair could go into stand-up comedy if the whole cheese thing doesn’t work out. 

Alise and Lucas Sjostrom of Redhead Creamery.

So, while Rueben and Seamus have the urban artisan cheese market tied up, their neighbors to the north, Lucas and Alise Sjostrom, are making some amazing new cheeses at their farmstead Redhead Creamery near Brooten, Minn. Both have ties to Wisconsin, as Alise, the cheesemaker, worked at Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese in Waterloo, Wis., and Lucas wrote for Hoard’s Dairyman in Fort Atkinson.

However, both being Minnesota natives, they returned to their roots two years ago and are now making a few cheeses: fresh cheese curds, of course – which they market as “ridiculously good,” and Lucky Linda, a bandage-wrapped cheddar-style cheese that’s also available in a natural rind.

But it’s their latest cheese – Little Lucy – that I predict will truly put this pair on the map. Hand-crafted in 6 oz miniature top hats, this Brie is oozy and creamy at six weeks. With grassy and asparagus notes, this little cheese that could is just what we Midwesterners have been waiting for. Production is really just getting going, with 90 percent of it is sold at farmer’s markets, but the Sjostroms have made a case or two available each month to Metcalfe’s-Hilldale in Madison. This is the kind of cheese that if you see sitting on the shelf, you’re going to want to buy two, because they do not last long. I took three Little Lucys to a cheese class last week, and could have sold a round to every person in attendance. Because yes, it’s that good.

So while the lone grazers and redheads are rapidly upping the game in the artisan cheese community, both are so new to the industry that I sense their best cheeses – I know, it will be hard to top the current offerings – are likely still to come. Who knows what amazing cheese awaits us Wisconsin neighbors? I’m glad I live nearby.

CheeseTopia: Bringing Artisan Cheese to the Heart of the City

It’s official: you can book April 12, 2015 on your calendars for the First Annual CheeseTopia, a new one-day cheese festival I’ll be planning each year for the next three years. Year one will be at the Pritzlaff Building, a renovated warehouse in the Historic Third Ward of downtown Milwaukee, Year two will be in Chicago, and Year 3 in Minneapolis.

After retiring the annual Wisconsin Cheese Originals Festival in 2013, I still wanted to do an event to highlight our amazing artisan cheesemakers, but I knew I wanted it to be something different.

CheeseTopia aims to bring the best of Midwest artisan and farmstead cheese to the heart of the city by offering up to 700 attendees the opportunity to sample and purchase cheese from more than 50 cheesemakers from the Great Lakes Region, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and Michigan. The festival will be open from Noon to 4 p.m. on a Sunday and offer a fun open marketplace atmosphere with cheese samples and a cash bar.

I’ll also be asking several favors from long-time cheese industry friends to help me build two large edible displays of cheese to compliment the hundreds of cheese samples available from cheesemakers. While many artisans will sell their products, farmer’s market style, those who don’t will have an opportunity to have them available for purchase from Larry’s Market, which will set up a beautiful table of cheeses for sale at the event. Thank you Steve Ehlers and Patty Peterson!

In addition, several breakout seminars will take place in separate meeting spaces inside the Pritzlaff Building, which was constructed in 1875 and just recently renovated. More than 20,000 square feet of floor space will be filled with cheesemaker tables surrounded by carved wooden beams, industrial age columns, Victorian era arched windows and gritty cream city brick. This is a building you truly need to step inside and appreciate.

Tickets will likely cost $25 and will go on sale after the first of the year. As always, faithful members of Wisconsin Cheese Originals will have first chance to purchase entry and sign up for seminars, which I expect may sell out before the event is opened to the public.

Thank you in advance for supporting our artisan and farmstead cheesemakers and I look forward to seeing you all in April in Milwaukee!

2015 American Artisan Cheese Class Schedule Announced

Hey there cheese peeps! If you live in Wisconsin and you’re looking for a monthly night out, tasting and learning about fine artisan cheese, I’m doing another year-long class series in 2015.

We meet at the Firefly Coffeehouse, a fantastic space that serves as the living room of my town, Oregon, Wis., about 10 minutes south of Madison. Each class includes a tasting and storytelling of artisan cheeses, a glass of complimentary wine, beer or beverage and general merriment. Classes begin at 7 p.m. and are limited to 25 attendees. Each class costs $22 and seats must be reserved in advance. Classes generally sell out two to three months ahead of time. I often have special guest cheesemakers and speakers, too.

I’m offering something special through through January 1, 2015: purchase a season pass to all 12 classes and get two classes for free. Makes the perfect gift for your favorite cheese geek! All classes are of course available for a la carte purchase, too.

Here’s the 2015 line-up:

January 20
Cheese 101: Tasting the Eight Categories of Cheese

Start out the year with a refresher course on the eight different types of cheese – fresh, semi-soft, soft ripened, surface-ripened, semi-hard, aged, washed rind, and blue. Learn and taste your way through your very own cheese board of eight American artisanal cheeses, learning the story and characteristics of each.

February 19
Relishing the Rind

To eat or not to eat? ‘Tis the age-old question of cheese rinds. Explore the different types of cheese rinds: bloomy, ash, and washed, taste exquisite examples of each, and learn what cheesemakers must undertake to create a beautiful rind.

March 24
March Madness: American Originals

The United States is home to some of the most innovative cheesemakers in the world. We’ll taste four original cheeses dreamt up by cheesemakers either through sheer genius or, more often, by mistake. Hear the stories of what it takes to create an award-winning American Original.

April 21
U.S. Champion Cheeses

With the United States Championship Cheese Contest held in Wisconsin just one month prior to this class, we’ll taste and learn the stories of four American gold medal winning cheeses.

May 21
You Be the (Cheese) Judge

American Cheese Society Judge Patty Peterson from Milwaukee joins this class and walks attendees through an official cheese judging session. She’ll teach the basics, and then let YOU be the judge with a blind tasting, official score sheets, and lots of fun. Taste both Wisconsin and American award-winning cheeses.

June 16
American Sheep’s Milk Cheeses

Nutty, rich and rare: sheep’s milk cheeses date back thousands of years, with perhaps the most famous sheep’s milk cheese being Roquefort. Taste four American and International sheep’s milk cheeses and learn what makes this category of cheese extra special.

July 21
Brie & Bubbly

Summer is high season for artisan brie and bloomy rind cheeses, as animals are in full milk production mode and cheesemakers have plenty of milk to create luscious, creamy beautiful bloomies for us to enjoy. Taste four brie and camembert-style cheeses and enjoy a glass of bubbly with each!

August 18
Perfect Pairings

From chocolate to spiced pecans to honey, more artisan food makers are crafting perfect accompaniments to cheese. We’ll taste four different perfect pairings and learn why certain foods pair better with cheese than others.

September 24
Stinky Cheeses

Americans are become more sophisticated when it comes to big, bold cheeses that can smell up a room and washed rind cheese is one of the fastest growing categories of artisan cheese. We’ll taste four washed-rind beauties whose bark is often much different than their bite. Get it past your nose, and stinky cheese may just become your new favorite.

October 22
Virtual Road Trip: Cheeses of Switzerland

Having just returned from leading a 10-day tour exploring the cheeses of Switzerland, Jeanne will introduce you to four of her new favorite Swiss cheeses and tell the stories of Alpine cheesemaking.

November 10
Charcuterie & Cheese

Artisanal cured meats and hand-crafted cheeses are a natural pairing in the world of good food. Taste three original pairings of local, award-winning charcuterie and Wisconsin cheeses.

December 8
Ultimate Cheddar Cheese Flight

End the year on a high note, with a vertical cheddar cheese flight. You’ll learn about a new era of Wisconsin Cheddar emerging, with cheesemakers crafting aged and bandaged Cheddars. Taste three aged Cheddars from one to 15 years, as well as a reserve Bandaged Cheddar.

You can purchase tickets online at I look forward to seeing you there!

Vermont Wins Second Consecutive ACS Best in Show

Tarentaise Reserve. Photo by Cheese Chick Productions

California may have its cheesy flags and Wisconsin its stoic cheesemaking heritage, but Vermont proved this week at the American Cheese Society annual competition it indeed has the real deal artisan cheesemaking goods, backing up its perennial claim of being “the premium artisanal cheese state with the highest number of cheesemakers per capita.”

For the second year in a row, an artisan Vermont cheesemaker took Best in Show at the annual ACS conference, held this year in Sacramento, California. Tarentaise Reserve by Farms for City Kids  Foundation in Vermont, claimed the top prize, succeeding last year’s fabulous Best in Show, Winnimere, from the Cellars of Jasper Hill, Vermont.

Jeremy Stephenson, Cheese Program Director of Farms for City Kids Foundation, said of the Best of Show win: “The more I’m involved in this work, the more it becomes clear to me that what we’re doing is so much a part of agriculture and working to develop a new sustainable food system. We’re a small part of that.”

He continued: “When we do this work we have to remember we’re part of something much bigger than an individual or individual farm, we’re a part of a community. The people that buy our cheese are supporting something very important for the future.”

The future of American cheese is indeed very strong, based on the quality and quantity of winning cheeses. At the ceremony, Wisconsin, as expected, cleaned house with the sheer number of winning cheeses, earning 97 first, second and third place ribbons, more than twice the number of California and three times that of Vermont.

Bob Wills of Cedar Grove Cheese and
Clock Shadow Creamery in Wisconsin.

In fact, several Wisconsin cheesemakers became weighted down with multiple awards by the end of the night – including Brenda Jensen of Hidden Springs Creamery in Westby. Brenda, a farmstead sheep’s milk cheesemaker, claimed nine awards – one for virtually every cheese entered. She was topped only by Carr Valley Cheese of LaValle, which won 10 awards.

And Wisconsin icons BelGioioso and Klondike Cheese both earned seven awards apiece, while Clock Shadow Creamery and Cedar Grove Cheese, both owned by Master Cheesemaker Bob Wills, earned 6 ribbons total, including a first-place award for Quark. Holland’s Family Farm earned five awards, as did my hometown cheese plants: Montchevre-Betin and Lactalis, both in tiny Belmont, Wisconsin, population 986. Woot-woot – go Braves!

Unlike last year, however, Wisconsin was shut out of the top three. While Vermont won the whole deal, runner-up Best in Show went to Pt Reyes Farmstead Creamery for their new Bay Blue. The entire Giacomini clan was on hand, most of them in tears, and led by patriarch Bob Giacomini to accept the award. Tying for third place runner-up Best in Show were Aged Gouda from Oakdale Cheese & Specialties in California and a cheese called Eden from Sprout Creek Farm in New York.

Overall, cow’s milk cheeses dominated the contest with 194 winners. A total of 67 goat’s milk cheeses won ribbons, 40 sheep’s milk cheeses claimed awards, and 21 mixed-milk cheeses were in the winner’s circle.

The 2014 ACS Judging & Competition saw 1,685 entries of cheeses and cultured dairy products from 248 companies. Entering companies represented 39 U.S. states, 4 Canadian provinces, and even the country of Colombia – with Annabella Creamery, Inc. taking a blue ribbon. In all, 325 ribbons were awarded: 89 first place ribbons, 109 second place ribbons, and 127 third place ribbons.

For a printable list of this year’s winners, click here and then navigate to the link that downloads an Excel spreadsheet with all the info. Congratulations to all the winners!

Small Cheesemaking Operations Lead Growth in U.S. Cheese Industry

Specialty Food News today reports that while the overall U.S. cheesemaking industry is on the rise, interestingly enough, the number of small cheesemaking establishments is far outpacing the growth of larger operations in America.

According to the Census Bureau’s 2012 Economic Census, between 2007 and 2012, the total number of cheesemaking establishments in the U.S. rose by 13 percent to 542, while growth in small establishments, (defined as employing up to 19 people), rose more than double that rate, by 28 percent, to 250.

The report reveals that in 2012, small cheesemaking facilities accounted for 46 percent of all cheesemaking establishments, compared with 41 percent in 2007. As for employment statistics, 44,432 people in the U.S. were employed in cheesemaking in 2012, 7 percent more than five years earlier.

The census has all sorts of raw data in it – you can view it by clicking here. It contains tidbits like this: in 2012, cheesemaking operations spent $809.9 million on capital expenditures, three-quarters of which was spent on machinery and equipment, a 37 percent jump compared to 2007.

Here in Wisconsin, these numbers come as no surprise. Cheese factories have heavily reinvested in their facilities in the past few years. Official estimates from the governor’s office put the number at $230 million in private investment in Wisconsin’s dairy industry since 2010.

And, Wisconsin continues to lead the nation in the production of specialty cheese. In May, the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service reported that specialty cheese accounted for 22 percent of Wisconsin’s total cheese production in 2013, an increase of 29 million pounds over the year before.

Just as with dairy farming, there is room – especially in Wisconsin – for cheese plants of all sizes – big, small and in-between. While the mammoth plants churn out the state’s cash crop of pizza mozzarella, smaller plants help put Wisconsin on the map for high quality artisan cheese. The past two U.S. Champion cheesemakers are both from Wisconsin, and are both small operations: Katie Hedrich Fuhrmann of LaClare Farms and Marieke Penterman of Holland’s Family Cheese.

The pair are part of a growing trend. The USDA reported in May that of Wisconsin’s 126 cheese plants, last year, 93 manufactured at least one type of specialty cheese, up from 80 plants in 2007. You can view a handy dandy table of specialty cheese production in Wisconsin by clicking here.

This is an exciting time to be in the cheese business, as more folks are continually joining the specialty cheese ranks. Not even counted in the census numbers is the growing trend in Wisconsin to forgo building a factory and instead partner with established creameries to rent space and churn out award-winning artisan cheese. A few examples come to mind:

  • Cesar’s Cheese: Cheesemaker Cesar Luis won the gold medal at the World Championship Cheese Contest for his string cheese this spring. He and wife Heydi own their own cheese vat, but rent space at and buy milk from Sassy Cow Creamery near Columbus.
  • Landmark Creamery: Cheesemaker Anna Landmark is crafting small-batch cow, sheep and water buffalo creations, such as Petit Nuage, Tallgrass and Arista at Cedar Grove Cheese in Plain and Clock Shadow Creamery in Milwaukee. She was recently profiled in Edible Madison
  • Creme de la Coulee Artisan Cheese: Cheesemaker Bill Anderson is making artisan cheeses at Willow Creek Cheese in Fremont. His new St. Jenifer is a semi-soft washed-rind cheese, made in the style of a French Munster.
  • PastureLand Cooperative: Dairy farmer Bert Paris and four partner farms haul their grass-fed milk to cheesemakers where it is made into specialty cheeses, such as Grass Valley and Grass Kase. Both are available in Madison at Willy St. Coop and Metcalfe’s Market-Hilldale.
  • Timothy Farmhouse Cheeses: Karen and Tim Kelley ship milk to Cheesemaker Katie Furhmann at LaClare Farms, where it is crafted into cheddars and BallyByron, a new American Original inspired by Double Gloucester.
  • Red Barn Family Farms: Veterinarian Tim and Paula Homan ship their Red Barn dairy milk both to Springside Cheese (where it’s made into World Champion Heritage Weis Cheddar) and to LaClare Farms, where Katie Fuhrmann crafts it into Cupola, a new American Original.
  • Koepke Family Farms: Dairy farmers John and Kim Koepke in Oconomowoc ship milk to Cedar Grove Cheese in Plain, where it’s made into the LaBelle line of Gouda-style cheeses.
  • Bleu Mont Dairy: last but not least, there is the venerable Cheesemaker Willi Lehner, who perfected the don’t-build-a-cheese-factory-model, and makes cheese at four different Wisconsin factories. His Bandaged Cheddar and Big Sky Grana were runner-up for Best in Show last year at the American Cheese Society.

What an exciting time to be a cheese eater in Wisconsin! With more than 600 types, styles and varieties of cheese to choose from, we cheese geeks have never had it so good. Here’s looking forward to the next five years of cheesemaking growth in America’s Dairyland.

Screw Velveeta, Eat Juustoleipa

Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

As Kraft continues to perpetuate its “Velveeta Shortage = World is Ending” public relations campaign to drive sales for the Super Bowl — seriously, show me a store where the shelves are bare of processed cheese — I say it’s time to start a new trend here in Subarctica and eat warm cheese that does not consist of milk and whey protein concentrate. 

Yes, I made up the term Subarctica to represent where I live in Wisconsin, even though we appear to be on the tail end of an arctic polar vortex blitz featuring temps of minus 20 degrees F for the past week. So it seems to be a good time to talk about something warm. And what’s better than warm cheese?

People, I give you the best warm cheese outside fresh curds from a vat. Called Juustoleipa (pronounced oo-stah-lee-pah, with the first syllable rhyming with the word who), this cheese originates from Scandinavia, where the fine folks in northern Finland have been making it from reindeer, cow and goat milk for 200 years. 

In Wisconsin, you’ll sometimes see it labeled as Bread Cheese, because a) that’s how Juustoleipa translates in English, and b) the cheese is actually baked (like bread) during the cheesemaking process. Made without a starter culture – a process similar to making feta – Juustoleipa is merely fresh curds pressed into blocks. It it then briefly baked. The result is a squeaky cheese with a mild, buttery flavor. The best part is the splotchy brown crust, formed when heat from baking caramelizes the sugars on the outside of the cheese. The cheese is made to be grilled in a skillet or warmed in an oven (it doesn’t melt when heated) and eaten for breakfast with coffee and maple syrup or honey, or after a meal with jam or jelly.

Juustoleipa first came on the scene in Wisconsin back in 2002, when scientists at the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research (CDR), via funding from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, worked to recreate the original Finnish recipe in an effort to preserve a traditional, ethnic cheese and develop a safe manufacturing method to share with small Wisconsin cheese factories and farmstead operations. Cheese Scientist Jim Path, now retired from CDR, traveled to northern Michigan, where he found an elderly couple producing it in tiny quantities, and then to a farmstead in Finland just 150 miles from the Arctic Circle where he studied the manufacturing technique.

In September of 2002, CDR hosted a seminar attended by 28 Wisconsin cheesemakers and 10 Wisconsin Master Cheesemakers that included a hands-on demonstration of making Juustoleipa. The idea was that the cheese would be ideal for a small factory or start-up.

Today, you’ll find six different Wisconsin cheese companies crafting it under a variety of names.

  • Carr Valley Cheese Bread Cheese (in Traditional, Garlic, Chipotle and Jalapeno flavors)
  • Babcock Hall Juustoleipa and Jalapeno Juustoleipa
  • Pasture Pride Cheese Juusto (in Traditional, Italiano, Jalapeno, Chipotle flavors, as well as with Nueske’s Bacon), Guusto (goat’s milk version) and Oven Baked Cheeses filled with 5yr cheddar, Parmesan, and aged goat cheese
  • Bass Lake Cheese Juustoleipa (Cheesemaker/Owner Scott Erickson is the only certified master cheesemaker in Juustoleipa)
  • Brunkow Cheese Brun-uusto Cheese
  • Noble View Creamery Juustoleipa (in Traditional, Jalapeno and Habanero flavors, and with bacon)

So while here in Wisconsin we enjoy all the taste of Juustoleipa, we haven’t yet adopted its cultural practices. Legend has it that in Finland, mothers of “eligible women” – I love that phrase – used to offer suitors a cup of coffee with the cheese and, if the man liked the cheese, he married the girl. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me. Who wouldn’t want to marry a man who didn’t like cheese?

As a side note, if you’re looking for a way to taste all of these Juustoleipas, I’ve created an “Juustopalooza” event in the specialty cheese department at Metcalfe’s Market-Hilldale in Madison on Saturday, Feb. 1 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. We’ll be frying up 3 different Juusto cheeses for you to sample with many more available for sale. See you then!

Three Wisconsin Cheeses You Won’t Want to Recall from Office

With the recall elections finally behind us, it’s time to get back to what we Wisconsinites do best: eat cheese. Here are three Wisconsin cheeses sure to help you recover from recall fever.

Red, White & Blue
Three Wisconsin Artisan Cheeses to Celebrate This Summer

1. Red Rock, Roelli Cheese, Shullsburg, Wis.
This cheese is the Miss America of Wisconsin artisan cheeses – it’s got it all – brains and beauty. Heck, we bet it would even look good in an evening gown. Hand-crafted by Cheesemaker Chris Roelli at Roelli Cheese Haus in Shullsburg, Red Rock is the must-have cheese of 2012. Made with a double-dose of annatto giving it that deep red color, Red Rock is a creamy Cheddar with blue veins. Dubbed the little brother of Chris’ other signature cheese, Dunbarton Blue, Red Rock is perfect on a sandwich or as the stand-alone star on a cheese plate.

2. Snow White Goat Cheddar, Carr Valley Cheese, LaValle, Wis.
Crowned as Best in Show by the American Cheese Society in 2008, this creamy white goat cheese crafted by Master Cheesemaker Sid Cook at Carr Valley is cave-aged for six months to achieve a deep, complex flavor. We hear the folks at Disney occasionally complain about Carr Valley’s use of their character’s name, but that’s just silly. We’d advise they partner with Carr Valley instead, and have Snow White start eating goat cheddar in every Disney classic. Win-win!

3. Bohemian Blue, Hidden Springs Creamery, Westby, Wis.
This cheese is the tale of what happens when two cheesemakers get together over a cup of coffee and ask: What if? A few years ago, Brenda Jensen of Hidden Springs Creamery, and Tony Hook of Hook’s Cheese, teamed up to save America from a potential cheese embargo. The result: Bohemian Blue, designed to compete with Roquefort, lest America and France ever decide to add that threatened 300% tariff on Roquefort, the world’s most famous French-made sheep’s milk blue. Bohemian Blue, a cave-aged, rindless blue made from sheep’s milk from Hidden Springs, and crafted by Hook’s Creamery, is an ode to Jensen’s Bohemian grandparents. Dry and crumbly, compared to drippy and wet Roqueforts, Bohemian Blue sports a sweet, slightly sour finish. Tres bien!

Slow Food

Matt Feifarek, chair of Slow Food Madison, said yesterday that good food is born not just from good ideas, but from good ideals. In other words, it’s not enough to make a food that tastes delicious. That same food should also be made in a way that is good, clean and fair.

As a way of living and eating, Slow Food has got it going on. At its annual member meeting yesterday in Madison, about 75 people gathered to celebrate the spirit of Slow Food in Madison, which it turns out, was one of the first adopters of the movement in the United States. Madison Chefs Leah Caplan and Tami Lax chartered Slow Food Madison back in 1999, before Slow Food USA even hit New York in 2000. As usual, our city’s foodie ladies led the way, and today, Slow Food Madison boasts about 250 supporters.

At the meeting, much of the talk by Feifarek and Slow Food District Governor Martha Davis Kipcak centered around the “fair” in Slow Food’s mantra. Because let’s face it, good, clean and fair food is not available in all parts of our city, state or country, and is not affordable to all people in our society.

This thought made me remember a commencement speech given by L’Etoile Founder and Chef-Author Odessa Piper, to the graduating class of 2006 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Here’s my favorite part:

“Hey, if all you can afford to eat is fast food, you can still eat it slowly. And don’t discount the big solutions that can emerge out of small acts of faith in an idea. In my life, I have witnessed the decline and rebirth of entire farming communities in Wisconsin. By the ’70s so many small farms were losing their hold in an ever-industrializing agriculture. Conventional farming practices were sending too much of Wisconsin’s best topsoil down the troubled Kickapoo River. And yet the same region now has one of the highest concentrations of vibrant, vital small family farms organic farms, sustainable farms in the country and is rebuilding its communities through a new urban/rural partnership.”

Piper continued: “I predict that the good farmers, the citizens and the partners, and educators at the University of Wisconsin and all educators of this state of Wisconsin will lead the country in the coming decades by demonstrating regionally reliant alternatives for our food systems to the current oil-dependent food distribution system that we have. And I believe that this good state and this partnership in the Wisconsin Idea are going to do much, much more.”

Every once in a while when I sneak a small fry and chocolate shake at McDonald’s, I think of Piper’s comments. There was a time in my life when meager starting salaries meant that going to McDonald’s on a Saturday night with our 15-month-old daughter was that week’s one and only night out – a highlight filled with Happy Meals and a McDonald’s “Play Land” with pink slides and plastic ball pit. As a family, we were on our way to realizing what good food was, but we didn’t yet have the resources to eat it full-time. Today, when I open my fridge and see an entire drawer of artisan cheeses made by hand from that same Driftless Region of which Piper remembers, I appreciate the good, clean and fair food I now enjoy on a regular basis.

I am proud to be a member of Slow Food and am appreciative this young organization is working to attain a goal of finding ways of good, clean and fair food for all. If you’re not already a member of your local chapter, check out Slow Food USA to see where you can make a difference.