2017: The Year of the Egg Yolk and American Artisan Cheese

It’s starting: national food trend experts have labeled 2017 as “the year of the egg yolk.” African flavors, Spanish flavors and a Middle Eastern spice mix called baharat are all supposed to be hot, while almost everyone is excited about sorghum grain bowls for breakfast and foods grilled on a plancha.

I don’t even know what the hell a plancha is*.

What I can tell you is that 2017, similar to the last 10 years, will be the year of American artisan cheese. That’s because American cheesemakers continue to up their game in quality and innovation. And in Wisconsin, we’ve got a whole new generation of cheesemakers coming up who are pushing block cheddar and shredded mozzarella to the side and stocking specialty cheese counters with American Originals such as Le Rouge, Vat 17 and Wischago.

So do what you want with egg yolks this year, but seek these cheeses out, too:

1. Le Rouge — this alpine-style cheese from Red Barn Family Farms is made by Master Cheesemaker Jon Metzig. It’s reminiscent of a table Alp cheese you might eat at in a farmer’s kitchen in Switzerland, and is made from the milk of six Wisconsin dairy farmers who all follow the Red Barn Rules.

2. Vat 17 — this sweet cheddar-style cheese from Deer Creek has been on the market for two or three years, but never gets the credit it deserves. The story goes that Deer Creek owner Chris Gentine worked with Master Cheesemaker Kerry Henning for years to develop an exact flavor profile of a cheese he was seeking, and the 17th vat of cheese they made finally fit the bill. Creamy yet crumbly, and chock full of calcium-lactate crystals, this cheese puts your average block cheddar to shame.

3. Wischago — Until about six months ago, Cheesemaker Brenda Jensen of Hidden Springs Creamery marketed this cheese as Manchego, but then a rather threatening letter from the Spanish Manchego Consortium persuaded her to change the name to Wischago. No matter. This aged sheep milk’s cheese is better than any imported Spanish Manchego you’ll find in an American grocery store.

*I googled plancha and according to Steven Raichlen’s Barbecue! Bible, a plancha is “a sort of griddle—a thick, flat slab of cast iron you place on your grill for searing small or delicate foods.” You can get a plancha insert for your gas grill for about $35, or you can purchase a Vulcan V1P18-NAT V Series Natural Gas 18″ Modular Heavy-Duty Plancha Range, 17,500 BTU for $3,538.75 here. I’m likely to do neither.

Beauty and Brains: Red Barn Cupola Wins Design Award

It’s not often a cheese gets national recognition for its package design. But that’s exactly what happened recently with Red Barn Cupola, a Wisconsin artisan cheese. Boasting both beauty and brains, Cupola is a 2016 American Package Design award winner along with brands like 3M, Target and Whole Foods. Pretty cool, huh?

This year’s American Package Design Competition received 2,000 entries worldwide, placing Red Barn’s winning entry among the best-designed and most innovative packaging in the food and beverage industry.

In case you’re not familiar with Red Barn Family Farms, let me fill you in. The company was founded by Dr. Terry and wife Paula Homan in 2008. It consists of five farms in the Black Creek area, each selected for their ability to meet the “Red Barn Rules.” These rules revolve around rigorous quality, animal health, and operational requirements, linking excellence in what we used to call animal husbandry (but what today folks refer to as humane treatment of cows), to excellence in food quality.

Red Barn farmers are compensated with a pay rate for milk above and beyond the commodity market. This rate helps sustains their lifestyle of small, traditional dairy farming. Each farm must be family-owned and family members must perform the majority of the farm labor. Average herd size is 55 cows. Just like when I was a kid, cows are known and cared for by name and live longer lives than today’s industry standard. Each farm is annually inspected and certified by the American Humane Association.

Milk from Red Barn farms is bottled and sold as fluid milk, or crafted into award-winning cheese at one of three Wisconsin creameries – Springside Cheese in Oconto Falls; Willow Creek Creamery in Berlin, and LaClare Farms in Pipe. Cupola is crafted at LaClare by U.S. Champion cheesemaker Katie Fuhrmann. The cheese is fruity and nutty with hints of caramel and toasted pineapple. In other words, it’s amazing.

Cupola was named after the small structure at the top – or pinnacle – of traditional Wisconsin barns. A pinnacle cheese for Red Barn, Cupola is an American original that combines top-quality milk, a world-class cheesemaker, and a recipe perfected with the help of the Center for Dairy Research at UW-Madison over a three-year time period.

“Red Barn’s mission is to honor and sustain excellent small family farms in Wisconsin,” says company president Paula Homan. “We worked closely with Scott Mueller of Design Incites to create packaging that would communicate the tradition of excellence that our farms represent and the quality of the products they produce.”

Congrats, Red Barn Family Farms, for dedicating your lives to rewarding dairy farmers for producing quality milk that’s made into stellar cheese.

Just Released: Red Barn Family Farms Cūpola

Three years after working to perfect the recipe for a new farmhouse cheese, Red Barn Family Farms in Wisconsin unveiled its new masterpiece, Cūpola this week.

Cūpola is a semi-hard cheese crafted in 11-pound wheels. The flavor is fruity and nutty with hints of caramel and toasted pineapple, while the texture is firm, yet supple enough to cut and eat with a cracker. Aged seven months, the first batch was pre-sold to select retailers, so it’s a bit hard to find. But another batch will be ready in late June, so chances are you’ll find it in more stores later this summer.

I pre-ordered two wheels back in April for Metcalfe’s Market-Hilldale in Madison, and then promptly forgot about it. So you can imagine how excited I was when the cheese magically appeared on my counter this week. After demoing it exactly twice, one wheel is already gone, so you can bet the farm I’ll be pre-ordering more wheels when they become available in June.

You may know Red Barn Family Farms for their Heritage Weis Cheddars, which have won multiple gold medals in national and international competitions, and which are made by cheesemaker Wayne Hintz at Springside Cheese in Oconto Falls, Wis.

For Cūpola, they partnered with U.S. Champion Cheesemaker Katie Fuhrmann at LaClare Farms, and worked with the folks at the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research to perfect the recipe. As always, the cheese is crafted using milk exclusively from a group of eight small family farms, all certified by the American Humane Association and held accountable to the Red Barn Rules, stringent standards of animal health care and milk quality.

Company owners Paula and Terry Homan say the cheese will always be made in small batches, but consistent availability will likely happen by the holiday season.

As for the name, Paula and Terry coined it themselves. If you’re not familiar with the term, a cūpola is the small structure on top of traditional Wisconsin barns (which are usually red). The Homans describe a cūpola as a pinnacle. 

“We think this cheese is a pinnacle product for Red Barn,” Paula says. “We’ve got a world-class cheesemaker, top-quality milk, an American original, and a recipe perfected over three years with the help of cheese experts at the Center for Dairy Research.”

With its stellar pedigree and a flavor that delivers, Cūpola reflects everything Red Barn Family Farms stands for. Founded in 2008 with a mission to help preserve excellent small family farms in Wisconsin, the Homans (Terry is a licensed veterinarian) believe there is an intrinsic link between the health and care of dairy animals and the quality and flavor of the milk they produce

Over the years, the Homans have hand-selected small family farms that meet their Red Barn Rules. Each farm has an average herd size of 55 cows. “Cows are known by name and live longer lives than the industry average,” Paula says.

Happy cows + great milk + champion cheesemakers = awesome cheese. Congrats, Red Barn Family Farms!