With just 3-1/2 days between us and the descent of the New Year’s Eve Blingy Ball, we bloggers have started writing end-of-the-year top 10 lists and “best of” posts. Between now and Dec. 31, you’re likely to be subjected to such stories as the 10 best cupcake shops in Chicago, the 10 best photos of my cat, and why artichokes were named THE food of 2012.
Not me. I’d rather look forward and see what our innovative Wisconsin cheesemakers are cooking up. That means I’ve set my sights on THE 10 “must-try” Wisconsin cheeses of 2013. Buckle up. Here we go.
|Blurry photo courtesy of Jeanne’s iphone,
prior to consuming entire tub at one sitting.
1. Martha’s Pimento Cheese
My, how good humble pie tastes. After mocking Bon Appétit on this very blog almost exactly one year ago for naming pimento cheese as one of the top food trends of 2011, here I am, naming Martha’s Pimento Cheese as my No. 1 cheese to try for 2013. Dammit. I hate it when I’m wrong. But this cheese is so good, and this cheesemaker is so sweet, that I am nearly giddy to point out the error of my ways.
In fact (the following sentence is more effective if you read it using your best southern accent), we can thank the great city of Tyler, Texas for sending us Ms. Martha Davis Kipcak and her recipe for good ol’ Martha’s Pimento Cheese (stop Southern accent here). Showcasing the evolution of decades, even generations of pimento cheese-eating and pimento cheese-making, Martha combines aged Wisconsin Cheddar, diced peppers, mayonnaise (and in her Jalapeno version, jalapeno peppers sourced locally from Hmong farmers at Fondy Farm and youth gardeners of Alice’s Garden in Milwaukee) to make the best cheese-based concoction I’ve ever tried.
Currently sold only in Milwaukee at Larry’s Market, Glorioso’s, Beans & Barley and Clock Shadow Creamery (where Martha, a Regional Governor for Slow Food USA, makes it in small batches), this is my new favorite cheese for 2013. I am on a mission to get every Madison specialty food store to carry it so I can personally spread it on every cracker at every party I host in the New Year. Yes, Fromagination, Metcalfe’s, Barriques and others – that means I’m coming for you. Save yourself from my lobbying by filling out the Retail Request Form at www.mightyfinefood.us and let me know when you’re carrying Martha’s Pimento Cheese. I’ll be there with my checkbook.
2. The Fawn
A new cheese distributed by Chris Gentine & Company at the Artisan Cheese Exchange in Sheboygan is turning heads. The Fawn, made in 22-pound bandaged and waxed daisy wheels by Kerry Henning at Henning’s Cheese in Kiel, first got my attention when it took a second in its category at this year’s American Cheese Society competition. Then, last month, it captured a silver medal at the World Cheese Awards in London. While this naturally mellow Cheddar cheese will likely hit the West Coast first, (Chris says they received an order recently from a distributor in California for multiple daisies), it should only be a matter of time before it’s available locally. An excellent example of what I call “sweet Wisconsin Cheddar”, this one is a winner.
3. Petit Frère with Truffles
In another “please kick me now” move, I declined an offer this summer from the fine folks at Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese to try their new specialty cheese, Petit Frère with Truffles. Being the corn-fed, meat-and-potatoes-farm-girl that I am, truffles, in general, are not high on my flavor list. (Yes, I know I am aware this is not normal.)
So when the cheese won First Place in the Flavored Cheese Category at the 2012 American Cheese Society in August, I of course changed my mind and wanted to try it right away. The problem then – like many award-winning cheeses – is that the supply was limited. While it’s still hard to find this cheese, it is slowly coming on the market here in Wisconsin, and is worth seeking out. A luxurious, rind-washed semi-soft beauty, it is made in small batches and cave-aged on the Crave farm in Waterloo.
4. La Pinta
Here’s a quick history test for you: what three ships did Christopher Columbus sail with when “discovering” the New World? That’s right, it was the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. Meaning “painted” or “spot” or “marked” in Spanish, La Pinta is the new name of a new cheese from Cesar’s Cheese, made at Sassy Cow Creamery in – you guessed it – Columbus, Wis. Cesar and his wife Heydi, chose the name to reflect the spots on the Holstein cows that produce the milk for this Mexican Manchego-style cheese. (In Spain, Manchego is made from sheep’s milk, but in Mexico – Cesar & Heydi’s home country – it is made using cow’s milk). Look for Cesar’s beautiful wheels of La Pinta – marked in style with the traditional zig-zaggy rind – to hit the market in 2013. A preview I tasted this fall knocked me out. And I’m thinking it’s only going to get better.
5. Little Mountain
Those of who you were lucky enough to score tickets to this year’s Meet the Cheesemaker Gala at the Monona Terrace may have stopped by fourth generation cheesemaker Chris Roelli’s table and tasted his newest creation, Little Mountain. An Alpine-style cheese, Little Mountain from Roelli Cheese in Shullsburg is, hands down, one of the best new Wisconsin cheeses that will hit the market in 2013. Firm and nutty, it boasts the pineapple notes of Pleasant Ridge Reserve and the lasting sweet finish of cave-aged Swiss Gruyere. Look for this new American Original in the coming year.
This fall, Red Barn Family Farms introduced Edun, a New Zealand-style raw milk cheddar. The cheese joins an award-winning family of cheddars from owners Ted & Paula Homan. You may recall another Red Barn cheddar – Heritage Weiss – swept its category with Gold, Silver and Bronze medals at the 2011 U.S. Cheese Championship.
Edun, while still in the cheddar category, has a richer, more buttery taste and is made with raw milk, raw cream and vegetable rennet. It’s crafted in small batches at Willow Creek Creamery in Wisconsin, and is made in blocks using milk from seven family farms, each audited at least annually for treating cows humanely. Known as the “Red Barn Rules,” the system was developed by owner and veterinarian Dr. Terry Homan to make sure farmers know each cow by name, not just by number. Read about each of the Red Barn Family dairy farmers here.
7. PastureLand Greek Style Yogurt
Okay, so it’s not a cheese, but this new pasture-grazed, non-homogenized Greek Style Yogurt is worthy of making any “best of”list for 2013. Look for it come spring, when the dairy farmers of the new Wisconsin-based PastureLand cooperative will start making it again from the milk of pastured cows. Made with whole milk, the yogurt naturally separates into an inch of golden cream on the top of each 24-ounce tub, with luscious and thick yogurt underneath. The top inch is thick enough to hold a spoon – as illustrated to the right.
When you hear the name PastureLand, you may think of the former Minnesota-based dairy farm cooperative, that sadly, went out of business. In good news, earlier this year, the five families of the former Edelweiss Graziers Cooperative in southwest Wisconsin bought the PastureLand brand and are continuing the cooperative’s commitment to producing small-batch products with milk from pastured cows. In fact, the yogurt’s naturally golden color stems from carotene found in grass that cows eat. Look for the Greek Style Yogurt and one or two new cheeses – rumor is one may be named “Peace of Pasture” – to come from PastureLand in 2013.
8. Mystery Sheep Cheese
Willi Lehner, Wisconsin’s well-known Swiss-American cheesemaker and owner of Bleu Mont Dairy, is famous for bringing his experience of authentic Alpine cheesemaking to a collection of Wisconsin original cheeses. Always made in small batches, each cheese reflects the mountain tradition of using raw milk from pastured animals. Following a trip to Switzerland earlier this year, Willi is now experimenting and producing various sheep’s milk cheeses, natural and washed-rind. I tried one at the Meet the Cheesemaker Gala in November and it blew me away. When I asked what the name of it was, Willi didn’t know. He hadn’t yet come up with a name, and if history proves correct, he’ll just keep making new cheeses anyway, so naming them is really not that important. Willi’s cheeses are available in specialty cheese shops in the Midwest and at the Dane County Farmer’s Market in Madison.
9. Timothy Farmhouse Cheddar
When Karen Kelley, co-owner of the hugely successful Kelley Country Creamery, a farmstead ice cream factory near Fond du Lac, emailed me a few weeks ago to tell me the family was making their own Cheddar, I breathed a heavy sigh. Why does every farmstead dairy in this state feel the need to make a boring old Cheddar, I asked myself. And then I tasted it. And now I admit I was wrong. Currently available in both mild and medium – both aged just a matter of weeks or months – Timothy Farmhouse Cheddar is a classic Wisconsin cheddar with a sweet, clean finish and is most worthy to be on this list. Crafted by the current U.S. Champion Cheesemaker, Katie Hedrich, of LaClare Farms, Timothy Farmhouse Cheddar will be available in sharp versions in 2013, as the Kelley family is holding back some wheels for aging. Can’t wait!
10. Duda Gouda
Ten years ago, there were people who had written off super-cheesemaking-couple Tony and Julie Hook as aging cheesemakers who were more interested in retiring than in making new cheeses. Well, I guess the Hooks showed them. Launching more than a dozen new cheeses in the past decade, Hooks Cheese in Mineral Point has done it again with its Duda Gouda, an aged sheep’s milk Gouda named after Julie’s family nickname. Sweeter and more crumbly than a cow’s milk Gouda, Duda Gouda is different than any other Gouda on the market. It’s worth seeking out.
And there you have it – my top 10 list of Wisconsin cheeses to search for in 2013. Know of other new cheeses coming in the New Year? Leave a comment or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy new year!