Standard Market Cave Aged Chandoka

Cave Aged Chandoka sign created by Cheesemonger
Natalee, who should also be a professional artist.

Oh yeah, baby. I’m doing my happy dance.

My colleagues at Metcalfe’s Markets in Wisconsin often mock me for two things, both of which occur when I get really excited about cheese: my dorky happy dance that looks like a 1970s disco move gone wrong, accompanied by a loud: “Oh yeah, baby.”

I can’t help it. Both occur without warning, and both often occur on Wednesdays or Thursdays, when loads of cheeses from far away and not-so-far-away factories, farms and warehouses arrive at our stores in Madison and Wauwatosa and I am there to open boxes to reveal glorious wheels of cheese we’ve been waiting on for weeks, and sometimes months.

Two weeks ago, on my way to the Isthmus Beer & Cheese Fest to teach beer and cheese pairings every 30 minutes, I stopped quickly at Metcalfe’s Hilldale to load up on supplies and sample cheeses. I did a double take at a pile of shiny black and silver repack labels sitting on the counter that said “Standard Market Cave Aged Chandoka.” My heart may have actually stopped.

“Do. Not. Tell. Me. That. This. Cheese. Came. In. And. No. One. Told. Me.” I enunciated to my cheesemonger colleague, Dean, who began to look at me in what can only be described as sheer terror. He promptly sprinted to the walk-in cooler and came out holding a half wheel of Standard Market Cave Aged Chandoka. This is the cheese that won Runner-Up Best in Show at the 2015 American Cheese Society competition, and of which only 20 wheels are available every few months.

Dean holding a half wheel of the elusive
Standard Market Cave Aged Chandoka. Oh
yeah, baby.

Cue the happy dance and “Oh yeah, baby.” Even though we were still awaiting a PLU number from pricing to sell the cheese, my glorious co-workers had cut the wheel open to see its amazingness first-hand. After making Dean hold it for a quick iPhone shot (see right), I was about to hurry out to the aforementioned Beer & Cheese Fest, when Dean asked if I wanted to see a whole wheel. I stopped in my tracks. Turns out that Standard Market had sent us two wheels. Two. Whole. 22-Pound. Fricking. Wheels. Cue another happy dance, and you guessed it, “Oh yeah, baby.”

So why am I getting so excited about this cheese? Well, you’ll recall that this cheese is one of the first really-successful examples of what can happen when one cheese has two makers. Americans are finally embracing the European model of separating cheese making from cheese aging, while celebrating both the cheesemaker and the affineur.

Standard Market Cave Aged Chandoka is a mixed milk cheese crafted with goat and cow’s milk by Katie Fuhrmann and her team on LaClare Farm, and cellar-aged by David Rogers and his team at Standard Market in Westmont, Illinois. Last summer, it was named the second best cheese in America at a competition widely regarded as the Oscars of the artisan cheese industry. The Cave Aged Chandoka tied Roth’s Private Reserve from Emmi Roth in Monroe (another cue the happy dance cheese) for runner-up honors, while Best in Show went to Celtic Blue Reserve from Ontario, Canada.

At the time of its winning, only four wheels – yes, just four wheels – of the winning batch existed in the cellars at Standard Market, with 20 wheels scheduled to be available around Christmas. Until now, the cheese has been available in very limited retail in the Chicago market at Standard Market, Eataly and Mariano’s. The night that the cheese won at ACS, I basically trapped David Rogers in a corner (in a nice way, of course) and made him promise to get Metcalfe’s on the list for a wheel on the next round of aging. Being the awesome guy he is, he not only kept his word, but sent us two wheels.

That means that anyone living within walking, driving or running distance of Madison can now eat one of the best cheeses in the world. If you’re into bandage-wrapped, earthy, crumbly and melt-on-your-tongue goodness, please visit us at Metcalfe’s Hilldale at the corner of Midvale and University Ave. Because when these two wheels are gone, they’re gone, and I’m not about to push my luck of trapping David Rogers in a corner again to budge in line for awesome cheese.

Well, maybe I will. Grin. Because there’s no better feeling than getting so excited about cheese than spontaneously breaking into dance and being willing to embrace your inner dorkiness amongst friends and strangers. Because yeah, this cheese is that good. Prepare for a happy dance of your own.

Chicago’s Standard Market Ups the Ante in Affinage

Photo by Uriah Carpenter

A small specialty Chicago grocer with a chef-driven product selection modeled after European markets is finding itself in the curious position of leading a growing renaissance in the affinage of American artisanal cheese.

Although the focus at Standard Market in Westmont, Illinois is on perishables, the cheese case, with its 200-300 cheeses from around the world, is where the action is at. That’s because Cheesemonger David Rogers and staff are dedicated to showcasing the quality of artisan cheeses. And while some shops focus on imports, Rogers says: “American artisan cheeses is where the most interesting things in cheese are happening right now.”

Rogers patterns his Standard Market’s affinage program after Murray’s Cheese in New York. Yet, while Murray’s has built a stellar selection of five different aging caves, each built below street level and dedicated to a different category of cheese, Standard Market is focusing on just one 10 x 11 foot aging room, glass fronted right in the retail area so customers can watch the aging process.

In this micro aging room, Rogers adopts small batches of local Midwest cheeses and puts his own spin on them. And as Standard Market grows as a company, he hopes each store will have its own cave dedicated to aging one particular style of cheese.  

Most recently, Rogers has been aging a batch of Little Darling from Fayette Creamery/Brunkow Cheese in southwestern Wisconsin that he’s pretty proud of. He’s also just released a version of LaClare Farms’ Evalon, and is working with cheesemaker Katie Hedrich on a bandage wrapped cheddar.

“Our goal is always to partner with the cheese maker,” Rogers says. “And while we do hope that what we age shows a unique perspective on their cheese, we also look at it as an opportunity to connect our customers with the cheesemaking process and to have them get as excited about local cheesemakers and creameries as we are.”

In a taste test of three of Rogers’ specially aged cheeses, pictured above – clockwise from right – LaClare Evalon, Fayette Creamery Little Darling, and a semi-hard cheese from Ludwig Farmstead Creamery in Fithian, Illinois, the most stellar of the trio was the Standard Market Aged Evalon.

Original Evalon, a perennial favorite of mine, is a goat’s milk cheese, typically aged about six months and is creamy and tangy with a clean finish. Standard Market’s version, however, is 10 months old and is a bit dryer, yet creamy on the tongue. But a magical transformation happens in the finish – where once all one could taste was the tang of goat’s milk, a new pineapple candy flavor has emerged. It’s as if Evalon has become the Pleasant Ridge Reserve of goat’s milk cheeses.

“I’m eager to both age out cheeses that we sell all the time, like the Evalon, to show a side by side comparison to our customers, as well as working with cheesemakers to develop unique cheeses for us,” Rogers says. “It’s nice in that we can continue the conversation about what makes these cheeses special and what sets artisan production apart. And, since the aging room is glass fronted and clearly visible to customers, it helps encourage that conversation.”

Rogers says the aging program has been an interesting journey for him and his mongers, and all feel fortunate to be working directly with cheesemakers to create cheeses unique to Standard Market. And he only sees the program growing.

“Right now we have just one store, but will be expanding to a second location in late 2013 in Naperville,” Rogers says. That location will also have a small cheese aging room, enough to handle around 4,500 pounds of cheese at a time. He plans to set up each store’s cave for a particular style of  cheese. Because the current cave in the Chicago shop is mostly set up for natural rind cheeses – nothing that would require more than 90% humidity – the cave at the next store will likely be set up for soft ripened cheeses.

“We will age and then distribute cheeses to all our stores, grills and restaurants,” says Rogers. (Each store has a grill built in and a freestanding restaurant nearby). “It’s one of those things where I can’t believe how fortunate I am to be able to work with the cheeses I am most passionate about.”

If Rogers’ success with Evalon and Little Darling is any indication of what Standard Market is capable of, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!