Cheesetopia Minneapolis: Advance Tickets on Sale January 17

On Sunday, April 9, more than 40 of the best artisan cheesemakers and food producers from seven states will gather in Minneapolis for my third annual Cheesetopia from Noon to 4 pm. A heads up: advance tickets are going on sale exclusively to members of Wisconsin Cheese Originals starting Tuesday, January 17 at 9 am CST.

What is Cheesetopia? Well, it’s where the best artisan and farmstead cheesemakers and food producers from around the Midwest (and beyond) sample and sell 150+ artisan cheeses and foods, attendees enjoy an open bar with free wine, beer and soda, and Fabulous Catering from Minneapolis serves amazing appetizers using local ingredients.

Tickets are $75. Only 500 tickets will be sold.

Cheesetopia 2017 is presented by Roth Cheese and Wisconsin Cheese Originals inside Aria, one of the most beautiful structures in the Minneapolis Warehouse Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. With its soaring original brick walls, cavernous ceilings and crystal chandeliers, the home to Cheesetopia 2017 combines old world elegance with new world chic. Aria is indeed the perfect backdrop to one of the largest ever gatherings of artisan cheesemakers and food producers in the United States.

All attendees will receive a complimentary insulated shopping/lunch bag for their purchases, courtesy of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and the dairy farmers of Wisconsin. Score!

In addition, this year, a very limited number of VIP tickets that include access to skyloft Balcony Lounges will be available only to members of Wisconsin Cheese Originals for $125 each. VIP Balcony Lounges offer a bird’s eye view of Cheesetopia: the perfect place to watch the action from above, get away from the crowd and enjoy a drink with friends.

This event sells out fast. If you’d like to guarantee tickets, consider supporting artisan cheesemakers by joining Wisconsin Cheese Originals for just $35 per year. Membership provides a backstage pass to tours, cheesemaker dinners, classes and events, with all membership dues supporting artisan cheesemakers through scholarships and promotional events. Join here.

Arriving the night before? Join me and the Minnesota League of Cheesemakers for a fun Curd Nerd Trivia Contest at the Renaissance Hotel Minneapolis at 7 pm on Saturday, April 8. Tickets: $25, includes snacks and beverages with cash bar. Prizes for top two teams! Tickets also go on sale January 17.

Wondering who will be sampling and selling at Cheesetopia? You can plan to meet and talk shop with the cheesemaker, producer, owner or senior representative of every company:

  • Alemar Cheese Company, Mankato, Minnesota – Cheesemaker Craig Hageman sampling Bent River Camembert, Blue Earth Brie & Good Thunder Washed Rind
  • Ames Farm Honey, Delano, Minnesota – Artisan Josh King and Owner Brian Fredericksen sampling Single Source Raw Honey
  • Baker’s Field Flour & Bread, Minneapolis, Minnesota – Owner & Head Miller Steve Horton sampling an assortment of Naturally-Leavened Breads, made with flour that is stone-milled from local, organic grains
  • Bleu Mont Dairy, Blue Mounds, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker Aaron Peper sampling Bandaged Cheddar, Big Sky Grana & Cestino Pecora
  • Burnett Dairy Cooperative, Grantsburg, Wisconsin – Kris Henning and Gloria Johnson sampling Wood River Creamery Alpha’s Morning Sun in various flavors, Burnett String Cheese in various flavors & Burnett Dairy Whips
  • Caprine Supreme, Black Creek, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker and Owners Todd & Sheryl Jaskolski sampling Goat Milk Cheese Curds, Mild Cheddar, Lavender Jack, Creamy Parm, Goat Milk Brie, Feta, Gouda & Roh Kase
  • Carr Valley Cheese, LaValle, Wisconsin – Sampling Goat Butter, Menage Butter, Spicy Beer Spread, Aged Asiago Spread, Menage, Airco, Marisa, Cranberry Chipotle Cheddar, Wildfire Blue & Sweet Vanilla Cardona
  • Caves of Faribault, Faribault, Minnesota – Cheese Plant Manager Jill Ellingson sampling St. Pete’s Select Blue Cheese, Fini Cave Aged Cheddar and Winterfest Blues & Brews Blue Cheese
  • Cedar Grove Cheese, Plain, Wisconsin – Meet Master Cheesemaker Bob Wills and sample a variety of artisan cheeses
  • Cosmic Wheel Creamery, Clear Lake, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker Rama Hoffpavir sampling Circle of the Sun, Antares & Moonglow
  • Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Waterloo, Wisconsin – Beth & Karl Crave sampling Marinated Fresh Mozzarella, Mascarpone, Farmer’s Rope String Cheese, Cheddar Cheese Curds & Jalapeno Cheddar Cheese Curds
  • Deer Creek Cheese, Sheboygan, Wisconsin – Representative Kayla Immel sampling Deer Creek 1-Year Cheddar, 3-Year Cheddar, 5-Year, Cheddar, 7-Year Cheddar, Vat 17, The Fawn, The Stag, The Rattlesnake, The Robin, The Doe, The Blue Jay & The Imperial Buck
  • Edelweiss Creamery, Monticello, Wisconsin – Master Cheesemaker Bruce Workman sampling Butterkase, Havarti, Dill Havarti & Muenster
  • Emmi Roth USA, Monroe,Wisconsin – Cheesetopia’s Marquee Sponsor sampling Prairie Sunset, Grand Cru Original, Grand Cru Reserve, Grand Cru Surchoix, Roth Private Reserve, GranQueso & Sriracha Gouda
  • Fortune Gourmet, Bensenville, Illinois – Gourmet Buyer James Croskey featuring a fun “Big Cheese Competition” with Cheddar Tasting, Guess the Weight, Cheese Identification & Guess the Retail Price
  • Hidden Springs Creamery, Westby, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker Brenda Jensen sampling fresh Driftless in various flavors, Wischago, Ocooch Mountain, Vernon County Renegade, Bohemian Blue, Bad Axe, Timber Coulee & Meadow Melody
  • Idyll Farms, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan – Cheesemaker Melissa Hiles and Owner Amy Spitznagel sampling multiple flavors of Idyll Pastures, multiple flavors of Spreadable Idyll Pastures, Mont Idyll, Idyllweiss, Idyll Gris & Camembert
  • Jacobs & Brichford Farmstead Cheese, Connersville, Indiana – Cheesemaker Leslie Jacobs & Maize Jacobs-Brichford sampling Everton, Everton Premium Reserve, Tomme de Fayette, Briana & Briana with Truffles
  • LaClare Farms Specialties, Pipe, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker Katie Fuhrmann sampling Evalon, Martone, Chandoka, Raw Milk Goat Cheddar, Goat Cheddar & Goat Pepperjack
  • Landmark Creamery, Albany, Wisconsin – Cheesemakers Anna Landmark and Anna Thomas Bates sampling Anabasque, Petit Nuage, Pecora Nocciola, Tallgrass Reserve & Pipit
  • Lone Grazer Creamery, Minneapolis, Minnesota – Cheesemaker Rueben Nilsson sampling Grazier’s Edge, Hansom Cab & Northeazy
  • Marieke Gouda, Thorp, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker Marieke Penterman sampling Marieke Gouda Smoked, Marieke Gouda Truffle, Marieke Gouda Cumin, Marieke Golden & Marieke Gouda Young
  • Martha’s Pimento Cheese, Milwaukee, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker Martha Davis Kipcak sampling Martha’s Pimento Cheese Mild, Martha’s Pimento Cheese with Jalapeno & Martha’s Pimento Cheese with Chile de Arbol
  • Olive on Tap, Minnetonka, Minnesota – Owners Rebecca & Don Bouchier sampling Artisan Blended Olive Oils, Balsamic Vinegars, Tapenade, Artichokes in Merlot, Muffaletta, Asiago Parmesan Cheese Dip, Bruschetta Toppings, Honey Mustards, Balsamic Jams, Italiano Antipasto & Bread Dipping Seasonings
  • Organic Valley, LaFarge, Wisconsin – Master Cheesemaker Carie Wagner sampling Organic Valley cheeses
  • Potter’s Crackers, Madison, Wisconsin – Owner Nancy Potter sampling a variety of Potter’s Crackers, Potter’s Crisps and Potter’s Oyster Crackers
  • Quince and Apple, Madison, Wisconsin – Owners Clare & Matt Stoner Fehsenfeld sampling a variety of small-batch preserves, including: Figs and Black Tea, Pear with Honey and Ginger, Peach Chamomile, Raspberry Rose & Tart Cherry and White Tea
  • Red Barn Family Farms, Appleton, Wisconsin – Meet Owner Paula Homan and taste a variety of artisan cheeses
  • Red Table Meat Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota – Owner & Salumiere Mike Phillips sampling Mortadella, Pancetta, Lonza, and Large Caliber Salami.
  • Redhead Creamery, Brooten, Minnesota – Cheesemaker Alise Sjostrom sampling Lucky Linda Clothbound Cheddar, Little Lucy Brie & North Fork Whiskey Washed Munster
  • Rochdale Farms, Minneapolis, Minnesota – President Mary Bess Michaletz sampling Hand Rolled Butter, Yogurt, Goat Cheddar & Organic Cheeses
  • Roelli Cheese, Shullsburg, Wisconsin – Master Cheesemaker Chris Roelli sampling Dunbarton Blue & Red Rock
  • Sartori Company, Plymouth, Wisconsin – Master Cheesemaker Pam Hodgson sampling Extra Aged Goat Cheese, MontAmore, SarVecchio Parmesan, Chipotle BellaVitano, Rosemary & Olive Oil Asiago
  • Saxon Creamery, Cleveland, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker Eric Steltenpohl sampling Big Ed’s Gourmet Cheese Spread, Asiago Fresca Gourmet Cheese Spread, Pastures English Style Cheddar, Big Ed’s Smokehaus Gouda, Big Ed’s Gouda & Snowfields Aged Butterkase
  • Schuman Cheese, Fairfield, New Jersey – Representatives Catherine Thornton, Jim Gregori and Neil Cox sampling Cello Hand Crafted Asiago, Cello Artisan Parmesan, Cello Copper Kettle Parmesan, Cello Traditional Romano, Cello Italian Style Fontal, Cello Whisps & Cello Mascarpone
  • Sheep Dairy Association of Wisconsin – sampling a variety of Wisconsin sheep milk cheeses
  • Shepherd’s Way Farms, Nerstrand, Minnesota – Cheesemaker Jodi Ohlsen Read and Shepherd Steven Read sampling Friesago, Big Woods Blue, Hidden Falls & Shepherd’s Hope
  • Springside Cheese, Oconto Falls, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker Nathan Hintz sampling Bandaged Cheddar, Krakow & Pueblo Jack
  • Treat Bake Shop, Milwaukee, Wisconsin – Owner Sarah Marx Feldner sampling Spiced & Candied Nuts
  • Uplands Cheese, Dodgeville, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker Andy Hatch sampling Pleasant Ridge Reserve
  • Vermont Creamery, Websterville, Vermont – Representative Michele Haram sampling St. Albans, Bonne Bouche, Bijou & Cranberry Orange Cinnamon Chevre
  • Widmer’s Cheese Cellars, Theresa, Wisconsin – Meet Master Cheesemaker Joe Widmer and taste a variety of artisan cheeses
  • Yellow River Dairy, Monona, Iowa – Owners Don & Pat Lund sampling goat cheeses

New Fall Cheese Class Series Announced

Hey Cheese Peeps! In an effort to alleviate the hate mail I’ve been getting because all of my Wisconsin Cheese Originals classes are sold out through the end of the year, I just added four new tasting and talking classes. Whoo-hoo!

Here are the details:

You get to hang out with me, Jeanne Carpenter, American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional, on a Sunday evening and taste and learn about at least four different cheeses each time. You may purchase classes separately for $25 each, or purchase the entire four-class series for $90.

We meet at the lovely Firefly Coffeehouse, 114 North Main Street in downtown Oregon, Wisconsin, located just a quick 10 minutes south of Madison. Classes start at 6:00 pm. Each is limited to 20 attendees. Classes include a complimentary glass of wine, beer or beverage of your choice.  

This is important: These classes sell out fast, so reserve your seat in advance at

September 25
Cheese 101: Taste the Eight Categories of Cheese

Start out with an introduction to 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 artisan cheeses, then take the board home and impress your friends with your new-found knowledge.

October 23
American Farmstead Cheeses

Perhaps some of the most eye-appealing and palate-pleasing cheeses are those hand-crafted on the same farm as where the animals – cows, sheep or goats – are milked.  Learn the stories and taste four of the best farmstead cheeses made in America today.

November 20
The Best of American Original Cheeses

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.

December 4
Cheese & Chocolate Pairings

Give yourself an early holiday gift with tickets to this festive tasting of four American artisan cheeses paired with four different chocolates from local chocolatiers. Learn tips and tricks of pairing sweet with savory, and get ideas for holiday gifts for your friends and family!

New Cheese Classes Announced in Madison

Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

Looking for a fun way to taste and learn about artisan cheese? Bummed because most of the Wisconsin Cheese Originals cheese classes at the Firefly Coffeehouse in Oregon are sold out for 2016? Fear not! I’ve just announced a new spring cheese class series at Metcalfe’s West Café in Madison.

Each of the spring classes will be held on Tuesday nights and each revolves around a specific topic, including why Cheddar tastes different in Wisconsin, a look at the science and art of cheese rinds, and the terroir of Alpine style cheeses. You’ll enjoy a tasting and storytelling of four artisan cheeses, as well as a complimentary blended drink, coffee or beverage made by the fine folks at Metcalfe’s West Café.

We’ll meet in the spacious new cafe area at Metcalfe’s West Towne at 7455 Mineral Point Road. Be sure to arrive at 6:45 pm to order your drink and get settled by 7 p.m. Classes are limited to 20 attendees. Each class costs $22 and seats must be reserved in advance at

Here’s the line-up: 

April 19
Why Cheddar Here Tastes Different

Cheddar in Wisconsin comes in every size and age imaginable. But the difference in taste can be significant, and is attributable not only to the forms used or aging techniques, but to the region in which it was made. Ask any old timer with Cheddar still stuck in his teeth, and he’ll tell you Cheddar used to taste different from one local factory to the next. Today, thanks to modern science, distinct flavor differences are being recorded between Cheddar made in western Wisconsin’s Driftless Region and in eastern Wisconsin’s glaciated region. Discover four different Wisconsin Cheddars, from aged block Cheddar, to Bandaged Cheddar to Cheddar made in 22-pound “daisy” wheels, to Cheddar Blue.

May 17
Relishing the Rind

To eat or not to eat? ‘Tis the age-old question of cheese rinds. In this class, we’ll explore different types of cheese rinds: from bloomy mold on Brie, to ash on surface ripened cheeses, to natural rinds on Alpine-style and washed rinds on stinky cheese. And of course, we’ll taste exquisite examples of each. Learn more about the science and art that cheesemakers must undertake to create a beautiful and edible rind.

June 21
Alpine Style Cheeses: The Taste of Terroir

Why do cheeses made in the mountains of France and Switzerland taste different than cheeses made elsewhere? Is it the alpage grasses, the techniques of making cheese, or hundreds of years of experience? We’ll taste two European Alpine cheeses and two Wisconsin Alpine-style cheeses and compare to see if cheesemakers in America’s Dairyland can match the terroir – or taste of place – of the Alps.

On Location: Making Alp Cheese in Switzerland

Andreas Michel with the wooden milking stool his
father made for him.

It’s early September, and Andreas Michel – who goes by “Dres,” as do most Swiss men named Andreas, is using the wooden stool his father made for him as a boy to milk his herd of 11 Simmental cows on the Eigeralp in Switzerland. Dres doesn’t speak English, so he doesn’t understand my question of how many generations his family has spent summers with the cows on this Alp, but when he shows me a wooden stool, with his name carved in the seat, and says his father made it for him, I suspect he comes from a long line of Swiss dairyman.

I’ve been on a mission since first discovering Alp Cheese 10 years ago to see the tradition in which it is made. I was almost too late. Very few alpine cheesemaking chalets still exist – just six on the Eigeralp above Grindewald. This is a country where hundreds of chalets existed years ago. And quite frankly, the only reason this particular chalet is still in existence is because Dres, a herdsman first, and cheesemaker second, found an executive from SAP – the world’s largest inter-enterprise software company – whose life dream was to become an Alpine cheesemaker.

Michael Utecht is 50 but looks 10 years younger. He attributes whey baths to his youthful look. He grew up in a village on the Swiss-German border, and like a lot of city kids, had romantic notions about caring for cows and making cheese. But like most city kids, he went to college instead. Three years ago he was a career communications executive for software giant SAP. Then, remembering his childhood dreams, he took a six-month leave to learn how to make cheese in the Alps. Today, he makes cheese every summer for Dres’ family and lives in Paris the rest of the year, freelancing as a communications coach. “I am fascinated by big cities, but I love to come back to the countryside,” he says.

It’s easy to see why. We arrive at 8 am on the Eigeralp, after a harrowing bus ride up hairpin corners and a dozen switchbacks on a one-lane road that the locals use for sledding in the winter. It’s early, and the morning fog is lingering in the air, and the hills are suprisingly quiet – no cowbells in the mist. That’s because all the cows are still in the alpine milking barns. Just five minutes after we arrive, a dozen cows start to slowly emerge from a wooden barn, having just been milked. Their clouds of breath – it is about 35 degrees F – fill up the valley as they emerge to stare at us, I suppose wondering what this group of 20 people is doing on their mountain. Soon, another dozen cows emerge from a nearby barn, then another dozen from another. In total, there are seven barns on this alp, each milked and owned by a separate farmer, but all released onto the same alp to graze during the day.

Of these seven farms, only three make cheese. The rest contract with the remaining cheesemakers to use their milk. Dres and Michael use only the milk from Dres’ herd – 11 beautiful Simmental ladies with bells as big as melons hanging from their necks. In the morning, it takes Michael and Dres at least an hour to round up their cows for milking. They find them by the bells.

“Our cows all have names. They are part of the family,” Michael explains. “Dres know each of his cows at a distance – by how she holds her head, or how she moves. If it’s too foggy to see, he listens for their bells – every cow on this alp has a different pitch bell – and we set off in the direction of his cows’ bells.”

Two days ago, Michael and Dres moved the herd to the middle pastures – we are at 6,000 feet. The cows and men spent the early summer in the high pastures – at nearly 7,000 feet, and when the grass from this altitude is spent, they will move to the lower alpine pastures at at 5,200 feet. There is a cheesemaking chalet with attached barn at each level, and the cheese aging hut is built at the middle level.

The barn, with attached cheesemaking room.

Michael is explaining all of this to us, when Dres yells at him through the window of the barn, letting him know the morning’s milk has been added to the previous evening’s milk, and it’s time for him to get to work making cheese. We follow. What we find is a traditional alpine cheesemaking hut, with a cauldron over an open fire, and milk beginning to heat. At 86 degrees F, Michael adds the starter cultures, and a bit later, the rennet. Thirty-five mintues later, Dres “rolls over” the curd, and Michael scoops a bit heavy cream with chunks of early curd into a wooden bowl, for all us to try a bit of Schluck (shl-oahk). We use the same wooden spoons Dres and his siblings used when they were younger.

Eating Schluck – heavy cream with a few lumpy curds – the morning tradition.

The cheesemaking chalet dates to 1897, but parts have been renewed every few years. The roof was last replaced 15 years ago, and the small living quarters – with stove and table – were remodeled two years ago. Meanwhile, the cheese house (where the cheese is aged) dates back to the 1600s – no one knows for sure, because the two numbers after 16 that are carved by the door have rubbed away.

Today, we will make only two wheels of cheese, instead of three, and Dres is not happy about it. He had to keep the cows in the barn last night because it was unseasonably cold, and they have not given as much milk this morning as they would have if they had been released to the alp overnight. So the work is less, but the reward also less. It’s time to stir the curd for 45 minutes, and when Dres gets out a small, electric metal stirrer, I pipe up that there are two cheesemakers in the room, and perhaps they wouldn’t mind stirring the curd for 45 minutes. So the modern agitater is put away, and the traditional stirring paddle is washed and sanitized in a tub of steaming hot water near the door.

Dres hands the tool to fourth-generation American cheesemaker Chris Roelli, of Roelli Cheese, and Chris begins to stir the mass of curds and whey, I suspect much like his great grandfather did 100 years before him in Switzerland. A few minutes later, cheesemaker Brenda Jensen takes a turn. The rest of us file out to eat breakfast at two picnic tables outside the hut. While we’re huddling for warmth and eating homemade bread, jams and yogurt, Dres is cutting the perfect size pieces of wood to put in the fire to slowly increase the temperature to 123 degrees F. Chris and Brenda constantly stir the curd for 45 minutes.

American fourth-generation cheesemaker Chris Roelli
stirring curd, much the same way as I suspect his great-
grandfather did 100 years ago in Switzerland.
Wisconsin cheesemaker Brenda Jensen, of Hidden Springs Creamery,
takes a turn at stirring the curd.
While I was eating breakfast, Chris Roelli snapped this picutre for me of
Michael cutting wood next to the cheesemaking cauldron to keep the fire
going slowly, raising the temperature of the cheese mass to 123 degrees.
Everything about alpine cheesemaking is a learned art.
Eating breakfast on the alp – fresh bread, homemade jam, yogurt, and of
course, Alp Cheese made by Dres Michel and Michael Utecht.

Then it’s time to scoop the curd out of the cauldron with a cheese cloth. Dres is an expert, and scoops out the first batch of curd, putting two corners of the cloth in his mouth, and the other around a metal bar. He bends down into the hot mass and slowly scoops up a bag of curd, wraps up the top, to let some of the whey drain out, and then takes the piping hot mass to a form on the counter. He repeats the process a second time.

There are just a few curds left in the cauldron, so Michael asks Chris Roelli to scoop them out. This is the second time in his life Chris has done this method – the first was last year at the old Imobersteg factory at the National Historic Cheesemaking Center in Monroe. That time, he went too fast and the curds rolled out of the cloth. This time, on the Swiss Alps, he does it perfectly. ‘This is the best day ever. Ever,” he says.

After the cheeses are put in the forms, Dres uses the stone press to keep releasing the whey.

Using a press weighted by stones to expel the whey.

 About an hour beforehand, while we were all busy watching Chris stir curd, Dres had taken yesterday’s cheese out of the press and trimmed the edges.

Dres trims yesterday’s wheels.

Now that we are done making cheese, Michael carries yesterday’s wheels to the cheese house, where another helper puts them into a small brine tank for 24 hours, and then proceeds to wash and turn 74 days of wheels from that season. It will take him between two and three hours to hand wash each wheel with a brine solution, flip and then put back on the wooden boards.

Michael carries yesterday’s wheels into the cheese house
for brining and aging.

While we are busy organizing a group photo in front of the cheese house, Michael is back at the cheesemaking hut, persuading Dres to play a bit of accordion and yodel for us. Dres comes down the hill with his instrument, and plays a lovely Swiss song for us, but says no to yodeling. We insist. The man then stands up and sings the most beautiful song you’ve ever heard, in perfect pitch, against a backdrop of cowbells ringing around him. His favorite cow approaches from behind us and begins to beller, recognizing her owner’s voice. It is the perfect ending to a perfect morning.

Your Next Future Wisconsin Cheesemaker: Christopher Eckerman

A University of Wisconsin-Madison student aiming to develop his own brand of sheep milk cheeses is the recipient of the 2015 Beginning Cheesemaker Scholarship from Wisconsin Cheese Originals.

A committee of industry leaders selected Christopher Eckerman, Antigo, for the $2,500 annual award. As you know, Wisconsin is the only state to require cheesemakers to be licensed, an 18-month process that involves attendance at five university short courses, 240 hours of apprenticeship under a licensed cheesemaker, and passing a written exam at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture.

Eckerman is a full-time student at UW-Madison majoring in Food Science. He grew up on a sheep farm of 200 milking ewes in Antigo. He is a member of the Dairy Product Evaluation Team on campus, and hopes to apprentice this summer in the Babcock Dairy Plant under Master Cheesemaker Gary Grossen. His long-term goal is to continue the family farm and craft his own brand of seasonal sheep milk cheeses.

This marks the sixth year Wisconsin Cheese Originals has offered a $2,500 scholarship to a beginning cheesemaker. Past recipients include:

•    2014: Sandra Acosta, dairy goat farmer in Port Washington, Wis. She is continuing to work toward obtaining her cheesemaker’s license.
•    2013: Jennifer Digman, licensed cheesemaker and dairy farmer in Cuba City, Wis.
•    2012: Anna Landmark, licensed cheesemaker and owner of Landmark Creamery. She won a gold medal at the 2015 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest for Petit Nuage, a fresh sheep’s milk cheese.
•    2011: Rose Boero, licensed cheesemaker and dairy goat farmer in Custer, Wis.
•    2010: Katie Furhmann, licensed cheesemaker at LaClare Farms in Pipe, Wis. At the 2011 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest, she took Best in Show for her goat’s milk cheese, Evalon, and was named U.S. Champion.

Congrats to Christopher – we can’t wait to watch you grow in this industry!

CheeseTopia Debuts in Milwaukee April 12 – Tickets on Sale Soon!

Exciting news, cheese peeps. Today I announced that CheeseTopia, a new one-day traveling festival that aims to bring the best of the Midwest’s farmstead and artisan cheeses to the heart of the city, officially debuts in Milwaukee on April 12.

Tickets are $25 and go on sale to the public on Feb. 24 at 10 a.m. Members of Wisconsin Cheese Originals may purchase tickets one week earlier. All tickets will be sold in advance.

The event will take place inside the Pritzlaff Building, a renovated warehouse in the Historic Third Ward of Milwaukee. More than 20,000 square feet of floor space will be filled with cheesemaker and artisan food tables surrounded by carved wooden beams, industrial age columns, Victorian era arched windows and gritty cream city brick. Year two of the festival will be in Chicago, while year three is set to take place in Minneapolis.

The goal of CheeseTopia is to bring the best of Midwest artisan and farmstead cheese to the heart of major cities by offering attendees the opportunity to sample and purchase cheese from 40 cheesemakers and local artisans from the Great Lakes Region, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa. The festival will be open from Noon to 4 p.m.  and offer a fun open marketplace atmosphere with cheese samples and a cash bar.

Here’s a list of participating cheesemakers, with more likely to be added in the next week or two:

  • Alemar Cheese Company, Mankato, MN
  • Burnett Dairy Cooperative, Grantsburg, WI
  • Capri Cheese, Blue River, WI
  • Caprine Supreme, Black River, WI
  • Carr Valley Cheese, LaValle, WI
  • Clock Shadow Creamery, Milwaukee, WI
  • Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Waterloo, WI
  • Crème de la Coulee Artisan Cheese, Madison, WI
  • Emmi Roth USA, Monroe, WI
  • Harmony Specialty Dairy Foods, Stratford, WI
  • Hidden Springs Creamery, Westby, WI
  • Holland’s Family Cheese, Thorp, WI
  • Klondike Cheese, Monroe, WI
  • Koepke Family Farms, Oconomowoc, WI
  • LaClare Farms Specialties, Malone, WI
  • Landmark Creamery, Albany, WI
  • Ludwig Farmstead Creamery, Fifthian, IL
  • Maple Leaf Cheese, Monroe, WI
  • Marcoot Jersery Creamery, Greenville, IL
  • Martha’s Pimento Cheese, Milwaukee, WI
  • Montchevre-Betin Inc, Belmont, WI
  • PastureLand, Belleville, WI
  • Prairie Fruits Farm, Champaign, IL
  • Roelli Cheese, Shullsburg, WI
  • Sartori Company, Plymouth, WI
  • Saxon Creamery, Cleveland, WI
  • Springside Cheese Corp, Oconto Falls, WI
  • Tea-Rose Toggenburgs, Custer, WI
  • The Artisan Cheese Exchange, Sheboygan, WI
  • Treat Bakehouse, Milwaukee, WI
  • Uplands Cheese, Dodgeville, WI

While many of these artisans will sell their products, farmer’s market style, those who don’t have the opportunity to make cheese available for purchase from Larry’s Market. Owners Steve Ehlers and Patty Peterson will set up tables of cheeses for sale at CheeseTopia, bringing a slice of their Brown Deer market to the heart of the city. Thank you, Larry’s Market!

In addition, breakout seminars will take place in separate meeting spaces inside the Pritzlaff Building, which was constructed in 1875 and just recently renovated. Seminar topics will be announced next week. Stay tuned!

Want To Be A Wisconsin Cheesemaker?

Good news aspiring cheesemakers! Wisconsin Cheese Originals announced today applications for its 2014 Beginning Cheesemaker Scholarship are available. The $2,500 award will help one aspiring cheesemaker earn his or her Wisconsin cheesemaking license and make new artisan, farmstead or specialty cheeses.

As you know, Wisconsin is the only state in the nation to require cheesemakers to be licensed, a lengthy process that can take as long as 18 months, requires the attendance at five cheesemaking courses, and 240 hours of apprenticeship with an existing licensed Wisconsin cheesemaker.

Applications for the 2014 Wisconsin Cheese Originals Beginning Cheesemaker Scholarship are available for download at Applications are due March 20. The recipient will be chosen by a review committee and notified by April 7.

Wisconsin Cheese Originals has awarded $10,000 in scholarship monies to beginning cheesemakers since 2010. Past program scholarship recipients include:

2013: Jennifer Digman owns and runs Krayola Sky Dairy, a goat dairy in Cuba City. She successfully obtained her cheesemaker’s license in 2013 after earning the Wisconsin Cheese Originals scholarship. She works at both Uplands Cheese and Roelli Cheese as a professional affineur (cheese aging specialist). Digman has dreams of building her own on-farm creamery to craft fresh, hand-dipped chevre, aged mixed milk artisan cheeses, and hand-washed Alpine-styles. She hopes to pass the operation down to her two young daughters.

2012: Anna Landmark owns and runs a small-scale sustainable farm with her husband and children in Albany, Wis. In 2013, Anna successfully launched Landmark Creamery and began making seasonal sheep, cow and water buffalo cheeses, using the facilities at Cedar Grove Cheese in Plain, Wis. At the 2013 Wisconsin Cheese Originals Festival, her Bawdy Buffalo, a water buffalo Taleggio-style cheese, was named one of the best up-and-coming American Original cheeses in the nation.

2011: Rose Boero, a dairy goat breeder in Custer, Wis, successfully obtained her cheesemaker’s license after receiving the scholarship in 2011. Today, she makes a variety of goat’s milk cheeses at Willow Creek Cheese and teaches beginning cheesemaking classes in her home for amateur cheesemakers. She is developing plans to build her own cheese plant at her dairy goat farm, where she and her husband have raised Toggenburg dairy goats for 25 years.

2010: Katie Hedrich Furhmann, a goat’s milk cheesemaker, obtained her license after receiving the first Wisconsin Cheese Originals Scholarship. At the 2011 U.S. Champion Cheese Contest, she took Best in Show for her goat’s milk cheese, LaClare Farms Evalon, and was named the 2011 U.S. Champion Cheesemaker, the youngest cheesemaker to ever earn the title. In 2013, she and her family built a new farmstead cheese plant on their farm near Pipe, Wis. She launches new cheeses annually.

For those of you not in the know, Wisconsin Cheese Originals is an organization I started in 2009. Our motto is: Have Fun. Do Good. Eat Cheese. We are a membership organization sharing information about Wisconsin artisan cheeses through a variety of events, all in the spirit of celebrating Wisconsin cheesemakers. You can join for just $35 a year and be invited to tours, dinners, classes and super cool tasting events. More info on becoming a cheese geek here: Wisconsin Cheese Originals.

Announcing the 2014 American Artisan Cheese Series

Exciting news, cheese geeks! If you’re looking for a monthly night out, tasting and learning about new artisan cheeses, then Wisconsin Cheese Originals has a deal for you. Tonight, I’m announcing my all new 2014 American Artisan Cheese Series with monthly classes at the Firefly Coffeehouse in Oregon, Wis.

This will mark the third year of the monthly classes, which include a tasting and storytelling of at least four artisan cheeses. I also often bring in guest speakers, such as Wisconsin cheesemakers, dairy farmers, and industry leaders. Classes begin at 7 p.m. at the Firefly Coffeehouse at 114 N. Main St. in Oregon, Wis., just 10 minutes south of Madison. Each class includes a complimentary glass of wine, beer or beverage. Cost is $22 per class and tickets must be reserved in advance at All classes typically sell out.

As a special offer through January 1, 2014: purchase a season pass to all 12 classes and get two classes for free, a perfect gift for your favorite cheese geek.

The 2014 class line-up includes:

January 16: Gourmet Grilled Cheese
Warm up long January days and kick off the new year with an introduction to three gourmet grilled cheeses. We’ll taste each cheese separately, and then compare each when warmed in a grilled cheese sandwich. Special treat: Uplands Cheese’s seasonal Rush Creek Reserve and a rustic baguette as an appetizer.

February 11: Blue-Veined Cheeses & The Wines That Love Them
Taste four of Wisconsin’s best blue cheeses, paired with four different wines. Learn the mystery behind blue cheesemaking, and what makes one blue taste different from another. If you think you don’t like blue veined cheese, we may change your mind with this evening of perfect pairings.

March 13: Fondue Fun & Swiss Specialties
Start the evening with a communal pot of yummy fondue and crusty bread. Then taste and learn about four classic Swiss cheeses perfect for fondue. Leave with a booklet of recipes to make your favorite at home.

April 17: World Champion Cheeses
With the World Championship Cheese Contest held in Wisconsin just one month prior to this class, we’ll discover and taste four gold medal world winners. Learn what it takes to make an award-winning cheese.

May 13: Butter Makes Everything Better
A few years ago, Wisconsin updated its buttermaking licensing requirements, allowing a new generation of licensed craftsmen and women to make seasonal and artisan butters. Learn and taste four of the best with breads and accompaniments.

June 12: American Farmstead Cheeses
Perhaps some of the most eye-appealing and palate-pleasing cheeses are those hand-crafted on the same farm as where the animals are milked.  Learn the stories and taste four of the best farmstead cheeses made in America today.

July 15: Summer Break: Sassy Cow Ice Cream
Take a summer break and celebrate national ice cream month with four local ice creams from Sassy Cow Creamery. Learn about the process of making farmstead ice cream and submit an idea for your favorite flavor. We’ll pick the most original and have it custom made for this class.

August 21: Pasture-Based Cheeses
Pasture-grazed cheeses are just one Wisconsin’s claims to fame, thanks to three seasons of green grass perfect for animals to eat. We’ll taste four seasonal cheeses, each made only when animals are grazing on grass.

September 16: Wisconsin Women Cheesemakers
In the past 10 years, more than a dozen women have entered the Wisconsin cheesemaking scene, winning awards and changing the face of American artisan cheese. Taste and hear the stories of four of the best women-inspired cheeses.

October 14: Amuse Bouche Cheeses
Looking for the perfect appetizer? Look no further than artisan cheese combined with original ingredients. We’ll learn how to make and taste four unique one-bite appetizers using artisan cheese.

November 13: Cheesecake and Dessert Cheeses
Start the evening with cheesecakes made locally. Then continue with tasting and learning about cheeses perfect for dessert. Learn how to make a cheese board for the end of your favorite meal.

December 9: Ultimate Wisconsin Cheddar Throwdown
A new era of Wisconsin Cheddar has emerged in the past decade, with more cheesemakers moving to artisan aged and bandaged Cheddars. We’ll taste three aged Cheddars from one to 15 years, as well as a reserve Bandaged Cheddar.

All classes are for sale individually, as well as in a season package at: I look forward to seeing you there!

On Location: Caseificio San Paolo Parmigiano-Reggiano

A visit to northern Italy wouldn’t be complete without seeing the production of Parmigiano Reggiano, the king of Italian cheeses. This week, we visited Caseificio San Paolo, a cooperative made up of 13 dairy farmers in the province of Modena. Twelve of the farmers milk about 70 cows, while one milks about 1,000 cows. All house their animals in freestall barns and feed them hay and grains.

Two men: lead Cheesemaker Gimmi Ambrogi, who continually had an unlit cigarette perched perilously on his lips, and dairy farmer Fabrizio Consoli, who milks 70 Friesians, gave us a tour of their cheese plant, where 18 small copper vats are each used to produce two wheels of raw milk, 83-pound wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano starting each week day at 6:30 a.m.

Whole milk from the delivery of morning milk is added to part-skim milk from the previous evening, made by holding the delivery of evening milk in large shallow stainless steel tables to allow the cream to separate. Natural whey culture is added, and the milk is heated. Calf rennet is then added, and the mixture is left to curdle for 10 to 12 minutes. Cheesemakers then use a special circular cheese knife to cut the curd into small pieces, and heat the mass again.

After being left to settle for about 45 minutes, the curd is scooped up in a piece of cloth and divided in two. Because we arrived a little late, Ambrogi demonstrated the technique for us. The curd is then placed in plastic molds and flipped every two hours.

The next day, the cheese is put into a stainless steel forms that are tightened with a spring-powered latch. After two days, the latch is released and a long plastic belt imprinted with the Parmigiano-Reggiano name, the plant number, and month and year of production is put around the cheese and the metal form is latched tight again.

After three days, each wheel is put into brine to absorb salt for 20 days. The brine is changed every 3-4 months by draining half the liquid from each tub and adding new saltwater. Wheels are rotated about 1/8 turn each day so that all part of the wheel gets soaked. On the day we visited, about 1,200 wheels were soaking in brine.

After brining, the wheels are moved to aging rooms in the plant for 12 months, where each is placed on wooden shelves. Each cheese and shelf is cleaned robotically every seven days, and the cheese is also flipped at that time.

At one year of age, a master grader from the Consorzio Parmigiano-Reggiano inspects each and every wheel of cheese, using a hammer to tap the wheel at various locations, listening for any defect cracks in the wheel. The cheeses that pass are then heat branded on the rind with the Consorzio’s logo. Failed wheels are marked with lines or crosses and are generally sold for grating.

Caseificio San Paolo is currently aging 40,000 wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano. The cooperative owns several aging warehouses in the Emilia-Romagna region.

After the tour, we were lucky enough to enjoy a tasting right of wheels that were 18-, 24- and 36-months of age. Ambrogi even sprinkled the 36-month with balsamic vinegar for us, which was amazing.

Many thanks to all the folks at Caseificio San Paolo for your hospitality and cheese tasting!

All photos by Uriah Carpenter.

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.