Wisconsin Cheese Originals Announces Basque Region Cheese Tour

Exciting news, cheese friends! If you’d like to spend 10 days tasting your way through the Basque Country of France and Spain, it just so happens that I’m organizing a custom-made, 20-person tour that highlights the ancient cheese making traditions of the Basque Country in the French Pyrenees and northern Spain.

From September 21-30 this fall, we’ll visit and tour six Basque Country cheese factories, a Txakoli winery, the Asturias Coast, stay in boutique hotels and spend an entire day exploring San Sebastian, the most popular foodie city in the world. I’m excited to be your host for this tour, and am partnering with some amazing tour operators in Europe to visit off-the-beaten-path farms and creameries.

Here’s a glance at the itinerary:

Day 1 – Thursday, Sept. 21 – Arrive Biarritz, Ainhoa
Upon everyon’es arrival in Biarritz, France, we depart in our own private coach bus for the French Basque cheese country of Ossau-Iraty in the French Pyrenees. We’ll stop in the main hamlet of St. Jean Pied de Port, a delightful historic village on the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrim route. Then enjoy a cheese themed lunch and an afternoon visit to a small cheese factory producing Ossau Iraty. We’ll settle into the picture postcard little village of Ainhoa for a free evening on our own. Overnight at Hotel Ithurria in Ainhoa. Meals: LUNCH

Day 2 – Friday, Sept. 22 – Ainhoa
We start right away with a visit to a farm and French Pyrenees Basque cheesemaker of sheep’s cheese, Ardi Gasna, in the Nive valley. Ardi Gasna is a semi-hard cheese aged between four and six months. We’ll enjoy this scenic visit to the French countryside, see the farm’s animals, enjoy a fabulous tasting of all cheeses, and then spend the afternoon sightseeing to cheese shops and quaint villages. Dinner this evening is at the Michelen-starred restaurant of Hotel Ithurria and features a rustic French Basque experience. Overnight at Hotel Ithurria. Meals: BREAKFAST, DINNER

Day 3 – Saturday, Sept. 23 – Asturias
After breakfast, we’ll pick up and hit the road for Spain, crossing the border and traveling on to Asturias, known as the land of cheeses. We’ll arrive in Vidiago, a stunning Llanes province and enjoy a tasting and tour at the tiny artisan producer, Queso Vidiago Collera. These cheeses are made from cow, goat and sheep milk, and are cured and macerated in olive oil for at least 90 days before being cut into wedges. A wonderful cider house lunch will follow at Casa Poli on the coast. In the afternoon, we’ll visit the seafront and see the Bufon de Arenillas (natural sea geysers). Then travel to our Asturias hotel, which features a beautiful, cave-like spa. Overnight at Maria Manuela Hotel & Spa. Meals: BREAKFAST, LUNCH.

Day 4 – Sunday, Sept. 24 – Asturias
Engage in local culture with a visit to the delightful small country weekly market in Cangas de Onis, featuring local cheeses, foods and wares. Enjoy a walk up to the Roman bridge in Cangas. Lunch at a rustic, fun tapas restaurant, followed by a panoramic drive to Covadonga and its ethereal lakes. There is an easy and relaxed walking path along the lakes, featuring views of the Picos de Europa mountain range. You’ll have a free evening to relax or spend in the spa. Overnight at Maria Manuela Hotel & Spa. Meals: BREAKFAST, LUNCH.

Day 5 – Monday, Sept. 25 – Asturias
In the morning, enjoy a visit to a Gamoneu cheesemaker, a Protected Designation of Origin cheese made in Asturias. Then the rest of the afternoon is devoted to Cabrales, a Spanish blue cheese. We’ll visit the CuevaMuseo of Cabrales to get an overview of the traditions of the area, and then follow with a full Cabrales experience from pasture to plate, experiencing a family run dairy making this famous blue cheese and visit the famous Cabrales caves. We’ll stop for sightseeing in Sotres and Tielves and enjoy an afternoon panoramic drive in the absolutely gorgeous Picos de Europa mountain range. Dinner tonight is at a wonderful, quaint, local restaurant in Cangas de Onis. Overnight at Maria Manuela Hotel & Spa. Meals: BREAKFAST, DINNER.

Day 6 – Tuesday, Sept. 26 – San Antolin, Pais Vasco
Pick up and head back towards the coast of Llanes and visit an artisan cheese producer near San Antolin, a famous surfer beach. Tour and taste mixed milk cheeses. Carry on to the amusingly named hamlet of Poo. Poo de Llanes, that is, and pronounced “Po”. Stop at the gorgeous Poo beach for coffee on the terrace, overlooking the sea and enjoy free time to get in a beach walk. This afternoon, we’ll enjoy a unique Cider experience at El Romano, where on a beautiful Atlantic stretch of northern Spain, the production and consumption of cider has a history that stretches back to the first century B.C. Visit a plantation with more than 200 apple trees and learn the cider making process. Enjoy a lovely lunch. In the afternoon, carry on to Pais Vasco and enjoy coastal scenery. Overnight at Villa Soro in San Sebastian, with a free evening to explore this famous city. Meals: BREAKFAST, LUNCH.

Day 7 – Wednesday, Sept. 27 – Ordizia, San Sebastian
After breakfast, we’ll visit an open air food market in Ordizia. This bustling market is located in a handsome columned marketplace and has operated every Wednesday since Queen Juana granted permission in 1512. We’ll have an hour to immerse ourselves in local culture before leaving to enjoy a full Idiazabal cheese experience on the “Idiazabal Gaztaren Ibilbidea” (cheese route). Nestled in the valleys of the lush green mountain ranges that rise up from the Aralar and Aizkorri Natural Parks, the area of Goierri is known for its shepherding tradition that has remained largely unchanged for thousands of years. Many farmers still practice transhumance, following ancient grazing routes up the mountains with their flocks in early summer, and retreating down to the valleys in winter. Lunch will be in a cozy Basque “Caserio” farm house where roast beef is usually the star of the day, served with rich Riojan wines. The afternoon will include stops at one or two medieval hamlets for photos and exploring, and then head back to San Sebastian in early evening for free time. Overnight at Villa Soro in San Sebastian. Meals: BREAKFAST, LUNCH.

Day 8 – Thursday, Sept. 28 – San Sebastian
We’ll start off our experience in the most famous foodie city in the world with lunch at a traditional secret gastronomic society, including a visit beforehand to the local market to buy ingredients. Then our guides will give us options on exploring this fabulous city on our own for the afternoon. San Sebastian is one of Spain’s most attractive, charming and popular cities, and this sophisticated coastal gem, situated in the north of Spain, has much to offer. Lying on the coast of the Bay of Biscay, surrounded by hills, and offering a lively beach front means San Sebastian is a city that boasts a range of natural beauty. Its fabulous architecture, plazas and parks dotted throughout the city adds to its well-deserved label as the “pearl” of the North of Spain. At 7 pm, we’ll meet up as a group for a walking, eating and drinking tour of the beautiful old town of San Sebastian. Overnight at Villa Soro in San Sebastian. Meals: BREAKFAST, DINNER.

Day 9 – Friday, Sept. 29 – Hondarribia, San Sebastian
This morning, we’ll visit Talai Berri, a Txakoli winery making one of the world’s greatest novelty wines. Produced in the breathtakingly beautiful Basque coast, the Txakoli winemakers have to fight the elements to make this famous white wine to supply the restaurants of San Sebastian. Txakoli is a genuine Basque product, unique in that it is only made in three main villages, and Basque Country is literally the only place on earth where you can find it. The owner, Bixente Eiagirre Aginaga, is the 4th generation of winemakers in his family, and is the head winemaker with his daughter, Itziar, second in command. In the afternoon, our guide will take us on a walk around the charming village of Hondarribia, one of the prettiest in Northern Spain. Twisted cobblestone alleys are lined with ornate churches, shady plazas and stately manor houses with balconies overflowing with flowers. We’ll celebrate with a farewell lunch at the best seafood restaurant in Northern Spain, Elkano, with Idiazabal cheese ice cream for dessert. The last evening of the trip is on your own to relax, enjoy a drink in San Sebastian and start packing for departure. Overnight at Villa Soro in San Sebastian. Meals: BREAKFAST, LUNCH.

Day 10 – Saturday, Sept. 30 – Departure
At our preferred time, ouor coach will transfer us to Biarritz airport for the journey home.

Price: $3,995 per person, (single travelers $599 extra), includes hotel accommodations in 3- and 4-star boutique hotels, eight private cheese experiences with tastings, visits and educational presentations, a cider experience, two local farmer market visits and numerous walking tours of medieval hamlets and villages, nine full breakfasts, six lunches with wines/cider, and three dinners with wines/cider, and private transportation via coach bus while in-country. We’ll enjoy the services of a professional bilingual guide for the duration of the trip, as well as a detailed keepsake itinerary book with tour info, maps, shopping tips and more. Travelers must be 18 years of age or older.

Airfare is additional. You may reserve your spot with a $1,100 deposit by clicking here. I hope you’ll consider joining me on this trip of a lifetime! To view the full brochure, please visit my website by clicking here.

Wisconsin Cheddar Tour with Gordon Edgar

Exciting news, cheese peeps! If your lifelong dream has been to tour three cheddar cheese factories, eat lunch on a goat farm, enjoy dinner at a swanky Italian restaurant, and ride a bus with an acclaimed cheesemonger author, than I am about to make all of your dreams come true.

On Friday, October 23, my friend and author Gordon Edgar (of Cheesemonger fame) is coming to America’s Dairyland to celebrate the October release of his new book: Cheddar: A Journey to the Heart of America’s Most Iconic Cheese.

To celebrate, Gordon and I are going to lead an all-day tour to the heart of Wisconsin Cheddar country. We’ll meet at Larry’s Market in Brown Deer at 8:30 am to talk Cheddar with co-owners Steve Ehlers and Patty Peterson.

Then we’ll board our private coach bus and drive north for an exclusive tour of Henning’s Cheese in Kiel, the only cheese factory in America still making Mammoth Cheddar wheels. We’ll tour the factory, talk shop with Master Cheesemaker Kerry Henning, visit their charming retail store, eat some cheese, and get back on the bus.

Mammoth Cheddar Wheels at Henning’s Cheese

Next stop: famous LaClare Farms, a farmstead goat dairy crafting raw milk goat cheddar and award-winning American originals, including the 2011 U.S. Champion Cheese, Evalon. We’ll tour the goat farm on a tractor and wagon with farm patriarch Larry Hedrich,  enjoy lunch in the creamery, prepared especially for us by farm chef Jim McIntoshk, and do a little shopping in the farm retail store.

Then it’s south to Theresa, this time for a tour and Cheddar talk with Master Cheesemaker Joe Widmer at his third-generation family cheese factory, Widmer’s Cheese Cellars. Joe and his son, Joey, are making some of the best Cheddar in the country, and we’ll hear from the dynamic duo on their secrets to success.

Master Cheesemaker Joe Widmer making cheese.

The evening concludes with a four-course dinner and cheddar tasting at destination Italian restaurant Trattoria Stefano with chef and owner Stefano Viglietti in Sheboygan, along with a Cheddar tasting and talk with Chris Gentine, of The Artisan Cheese Exchange and founder of Deer Creek Cheeses, including such award-winning cheddars as Deer Creek The Fawn, The Stag and The Doe. We’ll be back to Larry’s Market by 8 pm.

On the bus in between stops, Gordon will entertain us with readings from his favorite chapters of his new Cheddar book. At the end, all tour attendees will receive their very own autographed copy!

Larry Hedrich giving a tour in the dairy
goat barn.

Cost for this Cheddar extravaganza is just $149 per person and includes:

•    Round trip coach bus transportation from Brown Deer to all tour stops
•    Lunch on the farm at LaClare Farms
•    Dinner and Cheddar tasting at Trattoria Stefano
•    Autographed hard-cover copy of Gordon Edgar’s new Cheddar book, to be released Oct. 5

This tour is limited to 30 attendees, and is already half sold out. Book your spot early at: www. WisconsinCheeseOriginals.com. I look forward to seeing you on the bus!

On Location: Making Taleggio & Strachitunt in Vedeseta, Italy

Taleggio is one of those cheeses you either hate or love. With its soft, sticky texture, stinky aroma and washed-rind flavor, I am firmly in the love, love, love category. And seeing it produced in an authentic alpine dairy was high on my to-do list while in Italy this week.

Simona, my tour guide from Cellar Tours, did not disappoint. She put 22 of us on a bus and we proceeded to motor up the steep, windy roads of the Valtaleggio valley in the Orobian Pre-Alps. Two hours later, a little car-sick, but in awe of the alpine view, we arrived in the remote village of Vedeseta, home to cheesemaker Arturo Locatelli’s artisan cheese plant, where he was just finishing up that day’s production of a cheese I had never heard of: Strachitunt.

Simona explained to us that the name Strachitunt derives from the Bergamo dialect for “stracchino tondo,” and is produced with whole raw cow’s milk using the ancient method of layering the evening curd (commonly called “cold curd”) and the morning curd (“hot curd”). We arrived just in time to witness Arturo scooping “hot curd” out of the vat and placing on top of the “cold curd” in round cheese forms, like this:

From there, it is allowed to drain on tables and is flipped twice over the course of two days, in which it looks like this:

It’s hard to tell from the picture, but Strachitunt is actually a blue cheese without any added blue mold into the milk. During the minimum aging of 75 days, holes are made into the wheels to encourage the growth of mold which is naturally present in the cheese. It smells like a blue cheese, looks like a blue cheese, tastes like a blue cheese, all with no penicillium roqueforti or other blue mold added. It also has two different textures, because of the layering of the curd. Finished wheels look like this:

Strachitunt is one of the many alpine Italian cheeses that was made for centuries, but then neglected in the 20th Century. In just the past 10 years, the cheese has made a comeback in its hometown Valtaleggio region. It is available in the United States through Forever Cheese.

After introducing us to Strachitunt, Arturo also made time to tell us about the Taleggio squares he had made the day before, and which were ready to turn while we were there. He showed us the straws that are placed on the bottom of the stainless steel drying tables to give Taleggio its famous rind texture. You can also see the plastic brand that is placed under the Taleggio after turning, which is imprinted into wheels of DOP Taleggio, like this:

Arturo makes one of just a few raw-milk Taleggios available on the market, and makes two or three vats of Taleggio a week. Each vat, which holds 1,000 liters of milk, will make 72 squares of Taleggio. However, since it is still summer, and the cows are on high alpine pastures, or alpages, they are not producing as much milk as they will in the winter when they stand around in barns all day and eat hay. So he will be under-production of Taleggio until about November.

All of his Arturo’s Taleggio is purchased and aged by the artisan cheese aging company of casArrigoni, located a few miles down the mountain in the village of Peghera. CasArrigoni is a third-generation cheese aging family, and owners Tina Arrigoni, her daughter, Adele Ravasio, and nephew, Cesare Brissoni, gave us a 2-hour tour and tasting at the impressive modern facility that prides itself in aging cheese in the traditional manner of placing Taleggio in wooden boxes covered with cheese cloths. Here’s what the cheese looks like when we peeked under the cloths:

As it matures, Taleggio is aged in four different successive curing rooms, each at a different temperature and humidity. Each square is flipped and washed at least once weekly, and every week, the box and cloths are cleaned. Cesare showed us how it’s done.

CasArrigoni ages its Taleggio for 50 days to achieve a maximum flavor and texture. Most industrial Taleggio is aged for a mere 35 days. Taleggio exported to the United States is put on a boat at about 30 days, so that in a month, it arrives at port at the magical age of 60 days, the minimum age a raw-milk cheese can be imported into the United States. The folks at casArrigoni also hand package every square of Taleggio.

By law, squares of Taleggio must weigh between 2.2 – 2.4 kilos. The Arrigoni family is firmly committed to aging Taleggio in only a traditional matter, and is proud of the product it puts on the market.

“The economy of this valley is based on Taleggio. It is important for us to stay here and age the cheese where it is made,” Adele said. “That’s why we still work by hand and personally choose each piece of cheese for our clients.” With 20 employees and a third generation in strong position to carry on the Arrigoni name, it looks like Taleggio will continue to be aged in the Valtaleggio valley for a long time.

Next up: witnessing the making and aging of the king of cheeses: Parmigiano Reggiano at Caseificio San Paolo.
All photos by Uriah Carpenter.

On Location: Beppino Occelli in Valcasotto, Italy

Before traveling this week to northern Italy, I was already a big fan of Beppino Occelli butter, made in Italy and available in American in select specialty stores. But I never realized the extent to which the company has transformed an alpine community once in decline into a real “cheese village,” aging rare Langa and Cuneo mountain cheeses using traditional Old World methods I assumed were long lost.

After driving two hours from the Village of Bra up a series of mountains through tinier villages full of people who looked at our bus like we were from outer space, our group arrived at Beppino Occelli in the hamlet of Valcasotto. In 1976, Mr. Occelli began restoring the community’s buildings into cheese aging facilities, and today, the community is home to a world-class underground affinage facility, restored flour mill, retail shop and restaurant.

Felice Costardt, a young affineur, was generous enough to give us an hour-long tour of the extensive aging cellars, which are truly underground rock cellars that look exactly like the cobwebbed hand-hewn rock rooms below the farm house in which I grew up. Humidity in the cellars is controlled by gravity-fed, pure spring water transported through a series of wooden troughs (pictured below), while each room is temperature controlled via more modern air in-and out-take methods.

Felice is in his 20s and is one of five full-time affineurs at Beppino Occelli. He came to the trade of aging cheeses by accident, after being hired as a chef by Mr. Occelli. After gaining more than 100 pounds while working in the kitchen, he begged for a different job, and began to work in the aging cellars, caring for the cheeses and learning from the previous “cheese master.” Today, it is nearly impossible to believe the young man once weighed 300 pounds. “This job suits me much better,” he said.

The first cheese we learned about was Cusie, a Beppino Occelli original, which takes its name from the local dialect and means “that which there is” or as Felice put it: “What’s in the cheese?” It  refers to the fact that Cusie is made with whatever milk is available, and can be a blend of cow and sheep’s milk or cow and goat’s milk. After production, it is aged 45 days in barrels filled with grape skins and then placed on wooden shelving for 2 months to age.

When young, it is turned two to three times per week and is then moved to a second cellar with a different humidity level, where it is aged another two to four months. Here, it forms unique molds on the rind, ranging from brown to white to orange. It is flipped once per week. It is then transferred to a third cellar for six months or more, with a lower humidity level. At each stage of the aging, different types of wooden shelves are used, ranging from apple to pear to cherry wood. Felice mentioned he never uses chestnut wood, because the wood is rich in tannins and would stain the cheese with dark spots. At a final age of 18 to 24 months, before being sent to market, Cusie is vacuum cleaned and stamped.

Several more cheeses are aged in the maze of underground aging rooms, but my favorite was entering the Castelmagno di Alpeggio DOP cheese aging room, which contained a large manger of dried hay – yes, dried hay in a cheese aging room. The cheese is unique in both its production method – the curds are crushed, broken twice, and then pressed into molds – and also in its aging practice, in which it attains its characteristic flavor of aromatic mountain herbs from absorbing the aroma of actual dried mountain herbs in the aging cellar.

As if this weren’t impressive enough, Felice explained that in ancient times, the rock-walled room in which we were standing was the basement of an inn, and housed the animals of its guests. So the manger does not seem out of place to the folks aging cheese there, but it certainly seemed out of place to Americans used to sanitary rooms with stainless steel floor drains.

Following the cellar tour, we were treated to an amazing lunch and cheese tasting at Beppino Occelli of the following cheeses:

  • Tuma dla Paja: this soft and creamy mixed milk cheese sports a white, wrinkled crust with an aroma of hazelnuts. In Italian legend, at the end of the harvest in the farmhouses of the Langa, it was customary to place a fresh ‘tuma’ to mature under straw, or “paja” in the Piedmontese dialect. You can occasionally find this cheese in the United States, as it was named the best cheese at the 1997 Fancy Food Show in New York.
  • Toma del Monte Regale: made from raw cow’s milk, this soft cheese has tiny holes in the paste and is milky and buttery. Think Taleggio without the stink. Yum.
  • Valcasotto Il Formaggio Del Re: in the past, Valcasotto farmers would offer their cheeses to the royal castle in exchange for the use of the meadows. Tradition says the square-shape of this cheese came about because it perfectly fit into the saddle of mules for transport to the king’s palace, and its intense (read: stinky) scent reminded the king of the sun and the fragrant grass of the pastures.
  • Ocelli in foglie di Castagna: produced from goat or sheep and cow’s milk in quantities that vary according to the availability of the season, this cheese is left to age for about a year and a half. The wheels are then wrapped in chestnut leaves which imbue them with a strong flavor. Interestingly enough, some wheels used to be wrapped in tobacco leaves, until the company was forced to put health warnings on the cheese label about the risk of using tobacco. Thanks for nothing, label nazis.
  • Escarun: the rarest of all cheeses invented by Beppino Ocelli, its name means “little herd.” Made from the milk of sheep and cows grazing the highest pasutres of the Alps of Cuneo, the cheese sports a thin, dimpled rind and finely grained, crumbly texture. Each Escarun wheel is branded and numbered, almost as a unique piece of art. This is the largest piece of cheese pictured in the foreground, next to the spinach, below.

Of course, no tasting at Beppino Occelli would be complete without butter! And I’m pretty sure we ate our weight in the gold stuff.

Thank you to all the wonderful folks at Beppino Occelli for a truly remarkable experience. I will be searching out your cheeses from now on in the United States!

Next up: Making & Tasting Tallegio on the mountain top of Vedeseto, Italy

All photos by Uriah Carpenter.

    On Location: Quattro Portoni Caseificio Water Buffalo Dairy in Italy

    Alert readers are expecting today’s blog to be on Beppino Occelli in Valcasotto, Italy, and I do promise that will be coming. But it’s not every day that I visit a water buffalo farm, and I can’t wait to share my excitement. So here we go!

    It had been three years since I last visited and wrote about Dubi Ayalon’s water buffalo farm near Plain, Wisconsin, but the memory of a giant snorting bull with a ring in his nose trotting menacingly toward me was front of mind when we pulled into the Quattro Portoni Caseificio water buffalo dairy yesterday near Cologno al Serio, Italy.

    Visiting a working water buffalo dairy was high on my list of to-dos when I began planning this year’s Wisconsin Cheese Originals’ cheese and wine tour of northern Italy. While almost all Mozzarella di Bufala is made in southern Italy as part of the Government Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP, there are a couple of buffalo dairies in northern Italy. We visited the farm of the Gritti family, who in 2000, decided get off the commodity milk train, sold their herd of Friesian cows that they had milked since 1982, switched to water buffalo, and added value to their farm by building a farmstead creamery.

    Brothers Bruno and Alfio Gritti, along with their wives, Elena and Marina, and their beautiful daughters – two in graduate school to become doctors, and the third to be a lawyer – today make their own cheese and yogurt from water buffalo milk and operate an on-farm retail store. Bruno is the cheesemaker and Alfio is the herdsman, but the whole family is involved either through marketing, sales or just doing chores. The entire family was on hand to enthusiastically give us a spectacular tour of their family farm, followed by a tasting of nearly a dozen cheeses they make on site.

    First of all, let me just say that water buffalo are not necessarily attractive creatures. They naturally look a little mean, and because they have lightening-quick reflexes, their sudden movements can make you think are going to trample and eat you. This of course is not the case, not only because they are herbivores, but also because the genetics of breeding calm, gentle water buffalo has been underway in Italy for hundreds of years.

    The Gritti family has 900 water buffalo and milk the cows, which live in large freestall barns, twice a day in a double-15 parlor. Each cow gives, on average, about 7 liters, or almost two gallons of milk a day. This is incredibly low compared to Holstein cows, who think nothing of pumping out six to nine gallons a day. Water buffalo, however, live and give milk longer than the average U.S. dairy cow, with the Gritti’s buffalo averaging 10 to 12 lactations (they just sold a cow last week that was a whopping 21 years of age). Cows must get pregnant to give milk, and in the dairy industry, we measure a cow’s life span by how often they get pregnant. So that means the average water buffalo on the Gritti farm gives birth to 10 to 12 calves over the course of 10 to 12 years (their gestation period is 10 months). This is far longer than the average U.S. Holstein cow who lives to perhaps see four lactations in her productive lifetime.

    We were lucky to see an hour-old newborn calf while at the farm. It stood for the first time while we were watching, and as we were cheering, promptly teetered on its new-found legs and fell down. We left it to bond with its mother and aunts (the buffalo are left to give birth in small groups of cows to calm them) and walked to the calf pens, where calves are kept until they are about one week old and are bottle-fed with buckets. After one week, they move to another pen, and learn how to eat corn and grain on their own. That takes about another 3 weeks. They are then moved in groups to larger pens, and gradually moved to successive pens as they age. The males are sold at 14 months for meat, and desirable females are kept as heifers to breed and give birth when they are two years old. The Gritti family uses both bulls and artificial insemination to impregnate the cows.

    Anyone who has been on a dairy farm knows there are two main outputs to cows: milk and manure. In this case, the manure is hauled to a local, cooperative manure digestor, where the methane is converted into electricity. Meanwhile, the milk is pumped via an underground pipeline to the cheese plant and creamery across the road. There, all of the farm’s milk – 500,000 liters, or more than 1 million pounds a years – is transformed into an array of award-winning buffalo milk cheeses and yogurt.

    Bruno explained to us that he did not necessarily grow up wanting to become a cheesemaker, but he is the kind of man who likes a challenge, and isn’t afraid to try something new. After the family decided to move forward with water buffalo, he went back to school and took a short course in Lombardy in cheesemaking. He then partnered with a cheese technician from Piedmont for six months, working on cheese recipes and to perfect the cheesemaking process.

    Then he hired two young men who had just graduated from university in Milan with degrees in dairy science and trained them to be his full-time cheesemakers. In Italy, teenagers can go to a special high school to learn practical cheesemaking skills, but Bruno was not interested in hiring someone with experience.

    “I was looking for someone with a virgin mind when it came to making cheese,” Bruno said. “We were doing something completely different here, and I wanted someone who could think differently.” The plan worked, as the two men are still on board as full-time cheesemakers, and the farm now has an employee roster of 12 people.

    Because the farm is located outside the official Government Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP region, the Grittis make only enough fresh mozzarella to sell locally. What they really focus on is creating aged cheeses from buffalo milk that are traditionally made with cow’s milk. Their most famous cheese is Blu di Bufala, which won the Best Italian Cheese award at the 2012 World Cheese Awards. A blue-veined cheese with square shape and a dry and wrinkly crust, it is mild and creamy, showcasing the natural sweetness of water buffalo milk.

    Another well-known cheese is Quadrello, a soft cheese, made according to the local Bergamo region’s traditional recipe for washed-rind cheese. The paste is straw-yellow in color, with small holes, elastic and soft especially near the crust. The Grittis also makes Crescenza, Ricotta, Caciocavvalo, Scamorza and a wide variety of what we usually think to be cow’s milk cheeses using water buffalo milk. Aging takes place in modern, above-ground, temperature- and humidity-controlled rooms.

    All but one cheese, Granbu, a semi-hard cheese made in a tall wheel that is similar in texture and flavor to the Swiss Sbrinz, are made using pasteurized milk. Sixty percent of the cheese production is exported, primarily to Germany, France and Singapore. About 25 percent is exported to the United States, where it is distributed exclusively through Forever Cheese in New York. Many of Quattro Portoni Caseificio cheeses are available in Whole Foods stores in Chicago.

    Many thanks to the entire Gritti family for their amazing hospitality, tour and tasting! And tomorrow – I promise – a look inside the underground Beppino Occelli cheese aging caves.
    All photos by Uriah Carpenter.

    On Location: Bra Cheese Fair in Piedmont, Italy

    Known across the world as simply “Cheese,” the Bra Cheese Festival in Piedmont, Italy is one of the biggest cheese affairs in the world. Organized by Slow Food and held for five days every two years in mid-September, the event draws more than 150,000 turophiles who turn the village of Bra into a pedestrian-only celebration of all things food. And since I first learned about the event in 2005, it’s been on my bucket list to attend.

    This year was my lucky year, as I organized my biannual international cheese tour for members of Wisconsin Cheese Originals around the Bra Festival date. Our group of 20 arrived on Saturday to a day of perfect weather and split up into mini-groups, each accompanied by our own translators and graduates of the University of Gastronomic Sciences. We set off with an agenda to taste rare cheeses, drink local beer, enjoy local wine, and basically eat for the next seven hours straight.

    Now, while the event’s overall aim is to promote regional Italian cheesemakers and local cheeses that are either in danger of extinction or exploitation via industrial commercialization, there are cheeses featured from around the world that you’ll never have the opportunity eat unless they are handed to you on the tip of a knife by a cheesemaker at Bra.

    First up was a cheese called Macagn, a whole raw cow’s milk made in the mountains of the Piedmont region. Cheesemaker Gino Garbaccio gave us a tasting of the cheese made at three different elevations, at two different ages. At just one week old, this cheese has more flavor than many cheeses I’ve tasted at six months, and at three months, it felt, looked and tasted mature.

    The neat thing about Macagn is that it is made at every milking. My handy dandy “2013 Slow Food edition of Italian Cheeses” says this probably came about because of the need to take advantage of the milk’s natural temperature. Straw-yellow in color, the cheese contains scattered eyes and turns golden as it ages.

    The other thing about Macagn is that each of the nine cheesemakers who make it use different make procedures and milk from animals on a variety of pastures at different elevations. We learned the Slow Food Presidium is working with these cheesemakers to draft production regulations to establish a uniformity and to give this summer mountain cheese a distinctive personality of its own. Perhaps the next time I visit “Cheese,” Macagn will be even better!

    Just down the street, we encountered our next rarity, Montebore, a Piedmont-based cow and sheep’s mixed milk cheese shaped like a wedding cake. The cheese has a long history, dating back to 300 A.D. It was made continually until 1982, when the last cheesemaker decided to stop production. Thanks to the Slow Food Presidium, the unique cheese made a comeback in 1999, when two cheesemakers learned the secret of making the ancient cheese from Carolina Bracco, the last of the Montebore cheesemakers.

    Montebore is made with 75 percent cow’s milk and 25 percent sheep’s milk. The curd is cut with a wooden curd knife and placed in molds called “ferslin”, and then turned and salted. Three cheeses of decreasing diameter are removed from the molds, and allowed to stand for four to five hours. They are then washed with warm, slightly salted water and left to mature, one atop the other, for a period ranging from seven days to two months.

    At one month old, the cheese tasted fresh and spongy. Yum. We also tasted it at 2 months old (mushroomy), 3 months old (clean and complex) and at 5 months old, which was beyond its prime. The rind had darkened to a soft grey color and smelled extremely of ammonia. If you ever get a chance to eat this cheese, I’d recommend the 3-month age.

    Next up was the rare Morlacco di Vacca Burlina, made in the Italian provinces of Treviso, Belluno and Vicenza. The cheese is crafted from the milk of Burlina cows, a highly endangered breed (there are only 270 left in the world) that have the unfortunate characteristic of not giving much milk. Farmers breeding the cows are currently working with the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy to encourage more farmers to use the cows and save the breed.

    Morlacco is a soft, uncooked, low-fat cheese made from milk from the evening milking, skimmed by allowing the cream to rise to the top, to which whole milk from the following morning’s milking is added. The cheesemaking technique has remained the same over the centuries. The milk is heated to 38-42 degrees Celsius  and coagulated with liquid calf’s rennet. The curd is cut up into walnut-sized lumps, left to stand for a short while, and then transferred to wicker baskets. The whey is allowed to drain. The cheeses are then salted and carefully turned over several times a day for 12 days. They are ready to eat at about 2 weeks, but can mature up to 5 months. We tried a cheese at both 2 weeks and 3 months, and both were outstanding. If I could get this cheese in the United States, I’d eat it every day.

    While we tasted dozens of cheeses throughout the day, the last, but not least cheese I’d like to mention is San Ste, named for the patron saint of Liguaria, Saint Steven. While the cheese was made for centuries, it went extinct sometime in the 20th Century. Caseificio Val D’Aveto dairy revived the traditional cheese, making it with milk from Bruno Alpina and Cabannina cows that graze in the local pastures in the province of Genoa.

    To make the cheese, raw milk is heated to 35 degrees Celsius and inoculated with powdered calf’s rennet. It is then left to coagulate for 35 minutes. Next, the mass is cut into rice-sized curd, collected in a cloth and place on a board, where it is kneaded. Coarse salt is added and the mixture is transferred to forms, which are then pressed to drain off the whey. Next, the rounds are removed and soaked in brine for two days to harden the find. Finally, San Ste is moved to a damp, cool cellar and aged for at least 60 days, where it is regularly turned and oiled.

    Cheesemaker Silvio Cella was extremely kind to us, and led us through a tasting of  San Ste at 2 months, 4 months and 8 months. At each stage, the cheese just got better. The 2 month-cheese was more yellow in color than the 8-month cheese, as it had been made in the summer when the cows were on pasture, and the 8-month cheese was made during the winter when the cows were eating hay. However, the butterfat from each of the ages stuck heartily to my tongue. Yum.

    Cella was also kind enough to give us a sample of his company’s raw-milk yogurt, as well as an aged ricotta-type cheese named Prescinseua that is made from cream instead of whey. I had never had anything like it, but it is well-known in Genoa. It’s made by allowing cow’s milk to sour, and once coagulated, filtered through a cloth. The cheese is traditionally eaten by sprinkling with sugar and served at the table. It is also used in the kitchen, especially for Easter cakes.

    Over the course of 7 hours, I learned about and tasted more than a dozen cheeses I never knew existed. Thank you to Slow Food and the village of Bra for hosting such an amazing event. I hope to visit you again someday.

    Next up: visiting the Beppino Occelli cheese aging caves in Valcasotto, Italy.

    All photos by Uriah Carpenter.

    On Location: Luigi Guffanti Formaggi per Tradizione in Italy

    I’m not going to lie: when third generation affineur Carlo Fiori Guffanti led us through a glass door, down a series of steps, and into the underground aging cellars of the renowned Luigi Guffanti affineur house of hanging provolone, pecorino, parmigiano reggiano and rounds of cheeses I had only ever seen in books, I started to cry. Even in a room full of 20 members of Wisconsin Cheese Originals on the first day of a 10-day Grand Cheese Tour of Northern Italy, I could not contain the emotion of being in a room where so much history, care and passion of this simple, but oh-so-complex thing we call cheese, has taken place over the course of 150 years.

    It could be that we arrived after 36 hours of traveling via delayed planes, bus and automobile, or that my luggage was “untraceable” via British Airways, or that I was facing the fact I’d be wearing the same clothes I left home in for days, but the emotion that cheese can elicit always surprises me. And Carlo Fiori Guffanti, our tour guide for a 2-hour visit to one of the most famous aging houses of Europe summed it up best: “Cheese is easy, but not simple.”

    An exceptionally kind, small man with bright eyes, fluent in Italian, French and German, but halting English, Carlo Fiori knows cheese. His grandfather, Luigi Guffanti, began to season Gorgonzola in 1876 in an abandoned silver mine in Valganna, in the Varese province of the Lombardy region of northern Italy. With the mine’s consistent year-round temperature and humidity, those first Guffanti cheeses matured so well that Luigi quickly cornered the markets. His sons, Carlo and Mario, at the beginning of the 1900′s, exported as far as Argentina and California, where people of the Piedmont and Lombardy had emigrated.

    Today, Carlo Fiori Guffanti is the elder of two upcoming Guffanti generations set to take over an operation aging 180 types of cheese. And if he teaches them half of what he taught us over the course of two hours, the Guffanti house of cheese will endure forever.

    Here’s how our tour started: with the stomach of a goat, aged five years, cut into tiny pieces for us to eat. It turns out that goat stomach tastes a lot like goat cheese, except stronger. Carlo’s point: cheese starts with basic ingredients: milk, enzymes taken from the stomach of an animal, cultures and salt.

    “Cheese was not invented, it was discovered. It is the result of men who discovered that instead of eating animals for protein, they could have them eat green grass in the summer, hay in the winter, and then use their milk to make a new kind of protein: cheese,” Carlo told us. “Cheese is the only way man has found to preserve milk, and it has changed the world.”

    At that moment, he brought out a board of nearly a dozen Robiola cheese rounds, one of Guffanti’s more famous cheeses. They ranged in age from just right to really scary, but Carlo’s point was that they were all still edible. “Cheese never dies. It just changes,” he said. I made the mistake of referring to him as an amazing “affineur,” and he quickly corrected me that there is no word in Italian for a man who ages cheese for a living. “Affineur” is French. The closest words are “stagionatura”, which means seasoning, or “affinate”, which means refined, or improved. I guess perhaps Carlo is an “affinater” which is a word I pretty much just made up.

    After leading us through a series of caves, or cheese aging rooms containing some of the most beautiful cheeses I’ve ever seen, including: Pecorino Foglie, a pressed sheep’s milk cheese from Tuscany, wrapped in walnut leaves and rubbed daily with olive oil; Piacentinu Ennese DOP, a  sheep’s milk cheese from Sicilia infused with saffron and black peppercorns, and Quartirolo Lombardo DOP, a rectangular cheese similar to Tallegio, but made with milk from the end of summer, Carlo led us down a hallway lined with Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padana, and a wooden shelf of wheels marked with names and dates. These cheeses had all been made in honor of the birth of his nephews, and will be eaten on a special occasion in the boys’ lives. “This is our tradition,” Carlo said.

    After the tour, it was time to go upstairs. “I have shown you the cheeses. Now they will speak for themselves,” Carlo told us. And they did. The Guffanti staff had set up an impressive spread of more than a dozen Guffanti aged cheeses, including a one-year aged Gorgonzla Piccante, the cheese that first put Luigi Guffanti on the map.

    After we were nearly done, Carlo brought out two more cheeses: my favorite, Robiolo, and a special treat: 2-year Comte, cut from a series of wheels we had drooled over in the aging rooms.

    Then it was time to say goodbye. Many cheek kisses and thank you’s later, I talked Carlo into signing the brim of the Luigi Guffanti hat I had bought in the cheese shop. “Wear it the next time you come to see me,” he said with a smile. Will do.

    Next up: Bra Cheese Fair and checking off another item on Jeanne’s bucket list.

    All photos by Uriah Carpenter.

    Next Up on the Bucket List: Cheeses of Northern Italy

    It started with a bucket list: visit France before I turned 40 and taste a raw milk Camembert. After checking that baby off my list last fall, when I took 20 members of Wisconsin Cheese Originals on a 10-day cheese tour to France, I’ve decided to check off another bucket list item: meet a shepherd and taste his cheese at the Bra Cheese Fair in Italy.

    That’s why I’m excited to announce I’ll be taking 20 people on The Grand Cheese & Wine Tour of Northern Italy, September 20 – 29, 2013. Whoo-hoo!

    What will we do? Well, we will eat cheese obviously. But we’ll also do much more. In summary, we’ll visit six cheese makers, three wineries, dine in a castle, stay in luxury hotels and spend an entire day walking the famous Bra Cheese Fair, one of the largest and most prestigious cheese festivals in the world. In short, we’ll spend 10-days eating and drinking our way through the Piemonte and Lombardia Regions in Northern Italy.

    A quick snapshot:

    Day 1: After flying into Milan, we’ll travel to Arona to visit Guffanti Cheese, named by the Wall Street Journal in 2010 as one of the Top Ten Cheese Shops in the world. We’ll spend the late afternoon shopping in this quaint village, enjoy a group welcome dinner at a local restaurant, and then stay overnight in an 18th Century-inspired Villa.

    Days 2-4: We’ll visit Ceretto Wine Estate, Barolo Castle, and Beppino Occelli, a butter and cheese producer and affineur. Most importantly, we’ll take a full day walking the Bra Cheese Fair, featuring the finest cheeses from Italy, Europe and the Americas. The Festival commands the entire historical center of Bra. On the “Street of the Shepherds”, we’ll meet small cheesemakers who tend to their flocks of sheep and goats and produce a limited quantity of extraordinary cheeses that rarely make it out of their home region. Tasting booths, seminars discussing the preservation of traditional methods, The House of Goat Cheeses, with more than 100 different goat cheese products from all over the world, are just some of the events open to tour attendees. Overnight in the Piemonte region.

    Days 5-7: These days are dedicated to exploring, visiting and tasting some of Italy’s finest cheeses. We’ll enjoy private tours and tastings with Gorgonzola, Tallegio, Buffalo Mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano cheesemakers, along with a visit and tour at a balsamic vinegar producer. Overnight in the Lombardia region.

    Days 8-10: It’s time to enjoy the final days in Milan, with a cooking class, private art tour with viewing of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous The Last Supper painting in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, time to explore and shop in the city, capped with a farewell dinner.

    And now for the game show deal. All this and more can be yours for the low low price of $3,895 per person. This price includes all hotel accommodations, most meals, and transportation via private motorcoach while in-country. However, airfare is additional. View a detailed brochure by clicking here.

    Once you’ve checked out the full brochure, I know you’ll want to join me. That’s why I’ve made it super easy to click here to reserve your spot by November 15, 2012 with a $1,450 deposit. I look forward to traveling with you to Italy next September!

    Tours! Tours! Tours! Tours!

    I’m not sure what you do when you get bored, but when I’m tired of sitting at my desk writing about cheesemakers, I organize a tour to go see them. Then I take 20 people along with me. Sound like fun? Here’s 4 upcoming tours in 2012 in which I’d love for you to join me!

    Tickets on Sale Now
    Sept. 21 – 22: The Driftless Region Artisan Cheese & Craft Beer Tour

    If you’ve ever wanted a backstage pass to Wisconsin’s artisan cheese plants and craft breweries, this exclusive two-day tour is the bee’s knees. Get an inside look as to why the cheese and beer produced in the Driftless Region of Southwest Wisconsin is routinely judged as some of the best in the world. Limited to just 20 people, this overnight adventure includes custom tours and tastings at:

    Plus, we’ll indulge in a fabulous local-foods dinner and overnight bed and breakfast stay at The Roth House and Old Oak Inn in Soldiers Grove. Tour price includes all meals, tours, tastings, accommodations and transportation via air-conditioned motorcoach. Reserve your spot by July 15.Price: $345 per person, based on double occupancy. $395 for single travelers. View a detailed itinerary by clicking here. Save your seat by clicking here.

    Tickets to go on sale in September

    Nov. 9:  Driftless Cheeses of Wisconsin

    It’s been called the Napa Valley of the Midwest, and for good reason. With its own micro-climate of plentiful rainfall, sweet soils and limestone-filtered water, the unglaciated corner of Southwest Wisconsin is dairy paradise. 

    Start out the day with a tour at Uplands Cheese in Dodgeville, where you’ll meet Cheesemaker Andy Hatch and tour the farmstead creamery crafting the best-known cheese in America: Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Then motor to Cedar Grove Cheese in Plain and meet Bob Wills, Wisconsin’s chief incubator of up-and-coming cheesemakers. You’ll tour this historic cheese factory as well as the facility’s “Living Machine,” a working ecosystem using natural microbes and a collection of hydroponic plants to biologically treat cheese wastewater back into clean water that is discharged into nearby Honey Creek. 

    After lunch and time for shopping at the charming General Store in downtown Spring Green, you’ll cruise to Dreamfarm in Cross Plains to meet Cheesemaker Diana Murphy, ooh and ahh over her super cute herd of milking goats and pastured chickens, and taste her farmstead goat’s milk cheeses. Scenic views of rolling hills and winding rivers from the expansive windows of a luxury bus included for free.

    This customized, small-group tour is part of the Fourth Annual Wisconsin Original Cheese Festival (come for the whole weekend) and will depart Madison at 7:45 a.m. and return to Madison by 5 p.m. Limited to 20 people, with time for personal conversations with cheesemakers at a casual and enjoyable pace. Price: $115 per person. Includes transportation via an executive air-conditioned motor coach, specially-arranged lunches, custom tours, and cheese tastings at each stop. Tickets go on sale in September.

    Nov. 9: Green County Cheese & Beer Experience

    Saddle up for a day of eating cheese and drinking beer, folks. You’ll motor in a luxury bus to fabulous Green County, home to more than a dozen cheese plants in a 585-square mile area. First up: a tour and tasting with Cheesemaker Myron Olson at Chalet Cheese Cooperative, home to World Champion Baby Swiss and the only cheese factory in North America still making Limburger, the king of stinky cheese. 

    You’ll have a chance to cleanse your palate at the next stop: Minhas Brewery in downtown Monroe, where dairy maids will lead a 1-hour tour and tasting of some of the finest craft beers made in Wisconsin. Lunch is up the street at Baumgartner’s, one of Wisconsin’s best-loved and historic taverns. If you’re lucky, the bartenders might even flip a dollar bill on the ceilings while you’re there! 

    Round out the afternoon at Emmi Roth USA in Monroe with a tour of the company’s impressive Gruyere aging rooms, and an exclusive cheese tasting in their elegant Culinary Center. Word to the wise: bring a pillow, as you’ll most likely be napping on a full stomach all the way home.

    This customized, small-group tour is part of the Fourth Annual Wisconsin Original Cheese Festival (come for the whole weekend) and will depart Madison at 7:45 a.m. and return to Madison by 5 p.m. Limited to 20 people, with time for personal conversations with cheesemakers at a casual and enjoyable pace. Price: $115 per person. Includes transportation via an executive air-conditioned motor coach, specially-arranged lunches, custom tours, and cheese tastings at each stop. Tickets go on sale in September.

    Nov. 9: Wisconsin Farmstead Dairy Backstage Pass

    More than 20 farmstead dairies have sprouted in Wisconsin in the last 10 years, and this tour gives you a backstage pass to two of the best. You’ll start your day with Cheesemaker George Crave at Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese in Waterloo, with a tour of the cheese factory, followed by a farm tour and opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with farm cows and calves. Afterward, enjoy an elegant cheese tasting and lunch in the Craves’ new on-farm Culinary Center, where you’ll taste the Crave cheeses in exciting new dishes. 

    Next, motor in your luxury bus to Sassy Cow Creamery in Columbus for a dairy plant tour of milk bottling and ice cream making with owner James Baerwolf. After ordering your choice of ice cream cone, milkshake or sundae, you’ll tour the Baerwolf dairy farms, where each brother milks a herd of organic and conventional cows. 

    End the day with a private cheese tasting at Fromagination in Madison, where you’ll have a chance to taste a half dozen of the best farmstead cheeses from Wisconsin. We promise you won’t go home hungry.

    This customized, small-group tour is part of the Fourth Annual Wisconsin Original Cheese Festival (come for the whole weekend) and will depart Madison at 7:45 a.m. and return to Madison by 5 p.m. Limited to 20 people, with time for personal conversations with cheesemakers at a casual and enjoyable pace. Price: $115 per person. Includes transportation via an executive air-conditioned motor coach, specially-arranged lunches, custom tours, and cheese tastings at each stop. Tickets go on sale in September.

    To stay updated on all tours, tastings, dinners and events regarding Wisconsin artisan cheesemakers, visit www.WisconsinCheeseOriginals.com — membership is only $35 per family or company! I’d love to see you at my next cheesy event.

    On Location: The Making of L’Epoisses

    You know you’re having a good time in France when you forget you’re going to tour the only raw-milk commercial cheese factory in the world making Epoisses.

    Such was the case yesterday morning, as our group of 20 climbed on the bus for another day of cheese touring. After an amazing dinner the night before – and several bottles of wine – I couldn’t quite remember where we were headed. So you can imagine my delight when our guide and driver (thank goodness someone is in charge) directed the bus to Gaugry Fromagerie for a tour and tasting of raw milk L’Epoisses.

    Oh. My. God. I’d forgotten how much I liked this stinky, washed-rind AOC cheese. Traditionally manufactured for centuries by the monks and farmers of the region of Epoisses, today it is made by three commercial factories and one small farmstead dairy in the Dijon region. Gaugry Fromagerie is the only commercial factory making raw-milk Epoisses, and we were delighted to get a tour of the plant and a tasting.

    When we arrived, Francoise Gaugry herself greeted us at the door. She and her two brothers currently own and run the company, started by her grandfather in 1946 in the city of Dijon. Seven years ago, they built a large and modern factory on the outskirts of town, complete with a long hall of viewing windows, tasting room and retail shop.

    In her beautiful, lilting and very formal French (one of the pleasantries for me on this trip is listening how people in different regions of the country have different accents and styles of speaking), Francoise explained the make process, which our guide, Catherine, translated.

    In a nutshell, the milk from local, regional farms is brought to the factory, where it is pumped into vats, with cultures and animal rennet added, and allowed to coagulate for 18 hours. Francoise explained this is the ancestral method of “lactic clotting” practiced by the monks.

    The clotted milk is then placed into forms. This is the part we got to witness, as workers were filling forms when we arrived. I had not before seen the technology they were using to do this – bringing stainless steel tubs of curd to a machine, placing knives and forms over the tub, inserting into a rotating cylinder, which then turned upside down, cutting and dropping the curd into forms in one fell swoop. Here’s a series of photos so you can better see what I mean:

    Once the cheese is put into molds, it is allowed to drain, flipped twice, and then removed. The cheeses then go through a dry salting machine, which coats the wheels in a “cloud of salt” – we saw a video of this process, as they weren’t doing it during our visit. Wheels are then placed in the drying room. Here they are:

    Then, they are moved once again to the aging room, where workers wash them with a mixture of salt, brine and red bacteria, which gives the wheels they’re reddish-orangish final look. Wheels shipped to market have a 10-week shelf life.

    In addition to AOC Epoisses, Gaugry Fromagerie makes several other types of Epoisses-style cheeses. We had the opportunity to try five of their cheeses in the new tasting room, built beautifully with plates of cheese and wine waiting for us at the bar. Francoise led us through the tasting.

    The picture at right says more than I could ever say with a few words. I’ll just say that each cheese was amazing in its own right, and if there were any way I could get this cheese back to the U.S. in my suitcase without TSA confiscating it, I’d do it.

    Oh well, that’s why we came to France — to taste and learn about cheeses we’re not able to get in the United States. Thanks so much to Francoise and her team at Gaugry Fromagerie for a wonderful tour and tasting.

    While we can’t take their cheese with us, we did leave a bit of Wisconsin behind, in the tasting room’s guest book. Au revoir, raw milk Epoisses.