Roelli Cheese Wins 2016 ACS Best in Show with Little Mountain

Photo by Uriah Carpenter

Every once in a great while, good things happen to good people. Such was the case tonight at the 2016 American Cheese Society awards ceremony, as Master Cheesemaker Chris Roelli, one of the country’s most humble, hardworking and beloved cheesemakers, took home Best in Show for the very first time. Ever. And he did it with a cheese he created to honor his family.

With tears in his eyes and emotion flowing through his voice, the first call after the pomp and circumstance ended onstage was to his father, Cheesemaker Dave Roelli, who first taught Chris how to make cheese as a young boy. Chris is the fourth generation in his family to make cheese at the family plant near Shullsburg, Wisconsin, and just two years ago, he and his cousin purchased the business from their fathers.

“Sit down,” he told his dad over the phone. “I just won the whole ACS show. Yes. Best of Show with Little Mountain. It’s everything we’ve ever worked for.”

Everything he’s ever worked for: indeed, Chris Roelli and his wife, Kristine, have worked long days and nights establishing and rebranding Roelli Cheese after they reopened the once-closed cheese plant ten years ago. Chris found early fame with his American Original, Dunbarton Blue, a natural rinded cheddar streaked with blue veins, and also with Red Rock, another cheddar blue made in blocks with a white mold rind and creamy texture.

Little Mountain is Chris’ newest cheese. It pays homage to his family cheesemaking heritage in Switzerland. Created with the help of John Jaeggi at the Center for Dairy Research in Madison, Little Mountain is an Appenzeller style made in 15-pound wheels and washed with a proprietary blend of bacteria and brine. It’s aged between 8 and 14 months. The winning wheel was aged nine months.

Photo by Uriah Carpenter

“This cheese is more special because it takes me back to my family’s roots,” Chris said. “It’s also the cheese I make the least of.” Only 1,200 pounds of Little Mountain currently exist, and Chris now faces the monumental task of trying to fill orders from hundreds of stores around the country, all of which will be clamoring for the Best in Show cheese.

In addition to winning Best in Show, Wisconsin also had a hand in the Third Place Best in Show winner, Jeffs’ Select. The aged gouda is crafted by Jeff Wideman at Maple Leaf Cheese in Monroe, and then aged at the Caves of Faribault by Jeff Jirik in Minnesota. The two men shared the prize.

Rounding out the Best in Show honors was Buff Blue from Bleating Heart Cheese in California, and St. Malachi Reserve from The Farm at Doe Run in Pennsylvania. Both cheeses tied for second place. Tying for third place was Greensward, made by Jasper Hill in Vermont and aged by Murray’s Cheese in New York.

Overall, Wisconsin dominated the competition, held this year in Des Moines, Iowa, winning 104 awards, more than any other state in the nation. Of those awards, 28 were first place ribbons, 32 were second places and 44 were thirds. Overall, California came in second with 55 awards, and Vermont third, with 36 awards.

All Wisconsin companies earning awards at tonight’s competition for their cheeses were:

  • Arena Cheese, Arena: Colby, Smoked Gouda
  • Arthur Schuman Inc: Cello Thick and Smooth Mascarpone, Yellow Door Creamery Harissa Rubbed Fontal 
  • BelGioioso Cheese, Green Bay: BelGioioso Fresh Mozzarella 16 oz. Log, BelGioioso Mascarpone, BelGioioso Burrata, BelGioioso Fontina
  • Cedar Grove Cheese, Plain: Sheep Milk Feta, Donatello
  • Cesar’s Cheese, Random Lake: Cheddar Cheese Curds, Hand Stretched String Cheese, Cesar’s String Cheese, Oaxaca String Cheese
  • Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Waterloo: Yellow Cheddar Cheese Curds, White Cheddar Cheese Curds, Fresh Mozzarella, Fresh Mozzarella-under 8oz, Jalapeno Cheddar Cheese Curds, Marinated Fresh Mozzarella
  • Edelweiss Creamery, Monticello: Emmental, Brick
  • Emmi Roth USA, Monroe: Pavino, GranQueso Reserve, GranQueso, Roasted Garlic Raclette, Smoked Fontina, Grand Cru Surchoix
  • Hidden Springs Creamery, Westby: Driftless-cranberry cinnamon, Driftless- Maple, Meadow Melody Grande Reserve, Meadow Melody Reserve
  • Hook’s Cheese Company, Mineral Point: Little Boy Blue, Barneveld Blue, Pepper Jack
  • Klondike Cheese, Monroe: Brick, Muenster, Odyssey Feta, Odyssey Reduced Fat Feta, Odyssey Tomato & Basil Feta, Odyssey Peppercorn Feta, Odyssey Mediterranean Feta, Odyssey Greek Yogurt French Onion Dip, Odyssey Blueberry Greek Yogurt, Odyssey Greek Yogurt
  • Kraft Heinz: Cracker Barrel – Sharp Cheddar, Cracker Barrel – Extra Sharp Cheddar
  • Lactalis American Group, Belmont: 33 Kg. Triple Cream Brie, 1 Kg. Triple Cream Brie, Feta Crumbles, Reduced Fat Feta, Brie – Herbs, Rondelé Garlic & Herbs Gourmet Spreadable Cheese
  • Landmark Creamery, Albany: Pecora Nocciola, Petit Nuage – Summer Babe, Petit Nuage
  • Maple Leaf Cheesemakers, Monroe: Mild Gouda, Aged Gouda, Aged English Hollow, Jack the Reaper, Pepper Jack, Twin Grove Gouda, Smoked Gouda 
  • Marieke Gouda, Thorp: Marieke Gouda Honey Clover, Marieke Gouda Jalapeno, Marieke Gouda Truffle
  • Montchevre-Betin, Inc., Belmont: Fromage Blanc, La Chevriotte, Trivium, Mini Bucheron, Oh-La-La! Fresh Spreadable Goat Cheese, Bandaged Goat aged by Crown Finish Caves
  • Mt. Sterling Cheese Co-op: Smoked Jalapeno Jack, Sterling Reserve
  • Organic Valley, LaFarge: Organic Pasteurized Colby, Organic Salted Butter 
  • Pine River Pre-Pack, Newton: Horseradish Flavor Cold Pack Cheese Food, Hot Habanero Cold Pack Cheese Food
  • Roelli Cheese Company, Shullsburg: Little Mountain 
  • Saputo Specialty Cheese: Black Creek Colby, Stella Aged Asiago, Great Midwest Hatch Pepper Cheddar, Black Creek Pepper Jack, Black Creek Double Smoked Cheddar
  • Sartori Company, Plymouth: Sartori Classic MontAmoré, Sartori Limited Edition Pastorale Blend, Sartori Classic Asiago, Sartori Reserve Chipotle BellaVitano
  • Saxon Cheese, Cleveland: Saxony Alpine Style – 30 Month, Snowfields Butterkase Style – 12 Month, Saxony Alpine Style, Asiago Fresca, Snowfields w/red chillies and mushrooms
  • The Artisan Cheese Exchange, Sheyboygan: Deer Creek The Stag, Deer Creek The Imperial Buck, Deer Creek The Moon Rabbit
  • V&V Supremo Foods: Queso Oaxaca, Queso Chihuahua with Jalapeno Peppers
  • Widmer’s Cheese Cellars, Theresa: Traditional Washed Rind Brick Cold Pack, Washed Rind Brick Cheese, Traditional Colby
  • Zimmerman Cheese, South Wayne: Traditional Smoked Brick, Muenster Cheese

The 2016 ACS Judging & Competition saw 1,843 entries of cheeses and cultured dairy products from 260 companies from 37 U.S. states, three Canadian provinces and Colombia. A total of 374 ribbons were awarded: 104 first place ribbons, 127 second place ribbons, and 143 third place ribbons.

Photo by Uriah Carpenter

Dandelion Addiction & Fini Sur La Paille Debut in Madison

There are distinct advantages to living in a state with a high percentage of third- and fourth-generation cheesemakers boasting Swiss and German descent who make some of the best Cheddar, Swiss, Brick, Colby, Havarti, Muenster (and of course, Limburger) in the nation.

There are also distinct disadvantages, however, including the fact that Wisconsin makes very, very few French style cheeses – including bloomy rinds like Brie and Camembert, or small, soft and delicate cheeses with sticky, stinky rinds. Apparently the French liked Quebec and Nova Scotia so much, they never ventured west to America’s Dairyland. Dammit.

But a pair of cheesemakers in northern Wisconsin are on a mission to change Wisconsin’s dearth in soft and stinky cheese. Michael Stanitis, owner of Sassy Nanny Farmstead Cheese, and Fred and Kelly Faye, owners of Happy Hollow Creamery, each make a variety of artisan sheep and goat milk cheeses at Fred’s farmstead cheese plant near Bayfield, Wisconsin. Each has their own farm and their own animals, but share creamery space to make their cheeses.

Happy Hollow Creamery is located about as far north in Wisconsin as possible – just a few miles from the shores of Lake Superior. Fred hand crafts artisan sheep cheeses from the milk of his 70 ewes in extremely small batches, and until last week, his products were only available at at local farmers markets and co-ops in Bayfield, Ashland and Duluth. I say until last week, because that’s when a box of Dandelion Addiction arrived at Metcalfe’s Markets in Madison. Whoo-hoo!

Dandelion Addiction (I love this name) is a sheep’s milk camembert-style cheese made in small rounds and hand-packaged in white breathable paper. If you stop by Metcalfe’s to pick one up, don’t expect a perfectly round, machine-made, hockey puck, stabilized brie in a wooden box. Instead, each round is a slightly different shape, of varying widths, and each carries a lovely and dreamy, French-style bloomy-rind flavor and aroma. This cheese is about as close to a French camembert that you’re going to get while living in Wisconsin.

I first tasted this cheese at the Dairy Sheep Association of North America’s annual conference last year, when I volunteered to coordinate tours for 100 people to Wisconsin artisan and farmstead creameries. Dandelion Addiction was featured at the event’s evening of cheese, which included about 50 different sheep milk cheeses from across the continent. I had no idea it even existed until Sid Cook, master cheesemaker and owner of Carr Valley Cheese, walked a piece over to me and said: “You’ve got to try this.” Let’s just say that when Sid Cook tells you to try a cheese, you shut up and eat it.

The cheese was velvety, creamy and rich, just like I would have expected a sheep’s milk camembert (sheep milk is much higher in butterfat than cow’s milk). I guessed it was from Canada, or perhaps one of Veronica Pedraza’s fabulous creations at Meadowood Farms (more about her cheeses in an upcoming post). But no, it was an honest-to-God Wisconsin sheep milk Camembert and the cheesemaker was standing across the room. I high-tailed to meet Fred Faye, and found out he was making the cheese in extremely small batches, and it was only available at farmer’s markets and a couple retail co-ops in northern Wisconsin. I let him know if he ever had an extra batch or two, to give me a call.

That call came two weeks ago from Michael Stanitis, who it turns out, is ramping up his production of soft and gooey and oh-so-stinky goat’s milk cheeses, and wondered if he could send me a sample of his Fini Sur La Paille cheeses along with a round of Dandelion Addiction. I nearly choked in happiness. The cheeses arrived, we scheduled a Saturday tasting with all the Metcalfe’s cheesemongers, and then we promptly ate all of each of the rounds of cheese, completely ignoring customers in our five-minute state of satiated happiness. Needless to say, I placed an order the same day.

While Happy Hollow Creamery specializes in sheep milk cheeses, Michael Stanitis at Sassy Nanny makes small-batch artisan goat milk cheeses. Until last year, he raised and milked the goats himself, made all the cheese, marketed all the cheese and basically nearly died in exhaustion. In 2015, he wisely decided to let a nearby family take over the care and milking of his 25 does, so he now gets to actually sleep and have a life. As a consequence, he also has time to make more cheese, and that’s why Metcalfe’s also now has his Fini Sur La Paille, which translates to “finish on the straw.”

If this cheese were made in France – and I’m telling you it tastes like it does — it would be aged and “finished” on straw mats on wooden shelves in an underground cave with cobwebs. But this being America, it’s aged in a you-can-eat-off-the-floor-it’s-so-clean sanitary room with washable walls and stainless steel equipment. Because that’s how America makes cheese. But Michael has done the near impossible and made a soft, squishy, French-style stinky cheese with just-right goat citrusy tang that’s begging to be spread on a baguette and eaten for breakfast.

Similar to Dandelion Addiction, do not expect these wheels to be perfectly round and consistent. Each round was made by hand and is wrapped in white breathable paper, which allows the pungency of the cheese to eek through in all of its gloriousness.

Priced at $27.99 per pound, neither of theses cheeses are cheap, but they shouldn’t be. When a cheesemaker has control of a product from start to finish – knows the names of each sheep and goat, what they’ve eaten that day, felt their milk in the palm of their hand, and then spent six weeks making the best cheese that represents that precious milk, the end result is going to cost a little more. I’d encourage folks to give these cheeses a try while they last – and they won’t last long. Production is seasonal, farmer’s markets are ramping up, and who knows how many more boxes I’m going to be able to convince Fred and Michael to send my way at Metcalfe’s. Life is short. Spend it eating good cheese.

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.

For the Love of Grilled Cheese

Brooklyn Dairy Queen Kajal Russell, one of 13 Green
County Dairy Queens, is one of the most awesome
young women you’ll ever meet. Plus, she likes cheese.
You go, girl!

What makes thousands of people gather in a park pavilion on a chilly April day in Wisconsin? Cheese, of course. And in this case, hot cheese. Grilled cheese, to be exact. Every year, the Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship comes to Dodgeville with the noble mission of determining who makes the best grilled cheese in America.

Contestants this year came from all over the country, including one guy from California who wore a Wisconsin flag as a superhero cape and brought a van of groupies and a bin of trophies from previous grilled cheese contest wins. He lined up his hardware in front of his frying pan to intimidate the competition, and indeed did win over more groupies amid cheers of “rattlesnake sausage” (yeah, I don’t know what that means, either), but it was one of our own who took Best in Show for the second year in row. So, suck it, Mr. California (and I mean that in the nicest Midwestern way possible).

Best in Show went to Beth Crave, representing Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese in Waterloo, Wisconsin. Beth used a variety of cheeses from different Wisconsin companies in her innovative and tasty grilled cheeses. She entered all four different categories: classic, classic plus one, classic plus extras and dessert. I was lucky enough to be one of the judges for the professional competition this year, and I can tell you her sandwiches were the only ones that routinely earned perfect or near-perfect scores. They were also the only sandwiches that I wrapped up in a napkin to eat the rest later. It’s official: this gal knows her grilled cheese.

In fact, my favorite grilled cheese of the whole day (and it was a six-hour day of judging) was Beth’s “Sunrise Surprise,” featuring Madison Sourdough bread layered with a blend of Saxon Creamery Snowfields and Emmi Roth Butterkase, piled high with smoked turkey, candied bacon, silvered avocado and farm fresh hard boiled eggs. It was grilled to perfection using Nordic Creamery Cultured Butter with Sea Salt. Oh yeah, baby.

Here’s a picture of the sandwich (my apologies for the bite out of it – this is what judging looks like):

And here’s a picture of the whole sandwich. Each sandwich was judged on presentation, taste and style, with a perfect score = 40. Guess how many points I gave this sandwich? You guessed it: 40.

Every year, event coordinator Matt Staver and his amazing team of volunteers improve the event to draw a bigger crowd of both contestants and attendees. This year, there had to be at least 1,000 people in the crowd, and every heat for the amateur categories was close to full. The event was founded five years ago by the late Lorin Toepper, a culinary instructor at Madison College and president of the Iowa County Area Economic Development Corp. Today, many of the volunteer judges for the professional division come from Madison College’s culinary arts program.

One of the best moments of the day was when a sweet lady named Shirley Ritter won the amateur Classic Plus Extras category. Emcee extraordinaire Kyle Cherek (of Wisconsin Foodie fame) had been paging Shirley to no avail. Suddenly, Shirley appeared from the crowd, and when Kyle handed her the first place trophy, she nearly had a stroke and burst into tears. Because that’s what winning a grilled cheese contest can do, folks: move you to tears.

Shirley Ritter accepts the first place trophy from Emcee Kyle Cherek and Molly
Hendrickson, Iowa County Fairest of the Fair.

Keeping the event on a steady beat were the fabulous musicians from Point Five, a Mineral Point band featuring Cheesemaker Andy Hatch on mandolin. Their Americana music was a perfect fit for an event celebrating an iconic American food.

Point Five band from Mineral Point. And yes, that’s Cheesemaker Andy Hatch
from Uplands Cheese smiling at me while playing the mandolin.

For all of her efforts on Saturday, Best in Show winner Beth Crave won a super cool hand-made wooden chest that was actually a beer cooler with built in speakers. Fellow judge and Master Cheesemaker Chris Roelli told me he thought it would look great in his garage, but I have a feeling Beth is keeping it.

Here’s a full list of winners from the 2016 Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship. Congratulations to all!

Amateur Classic (any type of bread,  real Wisconsin butter, and only one kind of real Wisconsin cheese. No additional ingredients)

First Place: Ann Thompson, Dodgeville, WI
Second Place: William Koepcke, Verona, WI
Third Place: Matthew LaForest, Los Angeles, CA

Amateur Classic Plus One (a savory – as opposed to sweet – sandwich with any type of bread, a grilling aid that includes butter, margarine, or plain or flavored oils, only one kind of real Wisconsin cheese, plus one additional ingredient. The interior ingredients must be at least 60% cheese)

First Place: Brenda Plantino, Delavan, WI
Second Place: Roberta Jake, Elgin, IL
Third Place: Robert Pappas, WI

Amateur Classic Plus Extras (a savory – as opposed to sweet – sandwich with any type of bread, a grilling aid that includes butter, margarine, or plain or flavored oils, real Wisconsin cheese – multiple cheeses accepted – plus unlimited additional ingredients.  However, the interior ingredients must still be at least 60% cheese)

First Place: Shirley Ritter, Highland, WI
Second Place: Matthew LaForest, Los Angeles, CA
Third Place: Ann Thompson, Dodgeville, WI

Amateur Dessert (any kind of bread, a grilling aid that includes butter, margarine, or plain or flavored oils, real Wisconsin cheese – multiple cheeses accepted – plus additional ingredients to create an overall sweet – as opposed to savory – flavor that would be best served as a “dessert” grilled cheese sandwich. However, the interior ingredients must still be at least 60% cheese)

First Place: Cara Wallner, Menomonee Falls, WI
Second Place: Kimmy Cleary & Morgan Weirich, Fennimore, WI
Third Place: Brenda Plantino, Delavan, WI

Youth Chefs (A special heat for competitors aged 12-17, all prepared a sandwich in the category of their choosing and were accompanied by an adult during the competition)

First Place: Olvera Rocio
Second Place: Joey Curtis
Third Place: Jalene Pierick

Professional Classic (any type of bread, real Wisconsin butter, and only one kind of real Wisconsin cheese. No additional ingredients)

First Place: Zach Washa, Carr Valley Cheese, Highland, WI
Second Place: Beth Crave, Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Waterloo, WI
Third Place: Anna Thomas Bates, Landmark, Creamery, Albany WI

Professional Classic Plus One (a savory – as opposed to sweet – sandwich with any type of bread, a grilling aid that includes butter, margarine, or plain or flavored oils, only one kind of real Wisconsin cheese, plus one additional ingredient. The interior ingredients must be at least 60% cheese)

First Place: Beth Crave, Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Waterloo, WI
Second Place: Thomas Heller, Monks Bar and Grill, Wisconsin Dells, WI
Third Place: Amy Pohle, The Lunch Bus, Platteville, WI

Professional Classic Plus Extras (a savory – as opposed to sweet – sandwich with any type of bread, a grilling aid that includes butter, margarine, or plain or flavored oils, real Wisconsin cheese – multiple cheeses accepted – plus unlimited additional ingredients. However, the interior ingredients must still be at least 60% cheese)

First Place: Beth Crave, Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Waterloo, WI
Second Place: Alyssa Marie, Dodgeville, WI
Third Place: Joseph Gustafson, Cuba City, WI

Professional Dessert (any kind of bread, a grilling aid that includes butter, margarine, or plain or flavored oils, real Wisconsin cheese – multiple cheeses accepted – plus additional ingredients to create an overall sweet – as opposed to savory – flavor that would be best served as a “dessert” grilled cheese sandwich. However, the interior ingredients must still be at least 60% cheese)

First Place: Alyssa Marie, Dodgeville, WI
Second Place: Joseph Gustafson, Cuba City, WI
Third Place: Zach Washa, Carr Valley Cheese, Highland, WI

Congratulations to all!!

Healthy Cheese, Healthy People: Omega Valley Farmers Launches New Cheese High in Omega 3’s

A small group of Wisconsin dairy farmers is seeking to change the way Americans get more nutritious fatty acids in their diets – a change that could potentially lead to less arthritis for older folks, less depression in children, and improved memory for the rest of us. And they’re doing so by feeding their cows a patented diet that results in special milk made into pretty darned good cheese.

Omega Valley Farmers, headquartered in the thriving central-Wisconsin metropolis of Dorchester (population 872), quietly launched its line of Omega 3 Cheeses three years ago in several Heartland Cooperative convenience stores. Now the group is building momentum and branching out to larger retailers, meaning the cheese is now available near me in Metcalfe’s Markets in Madison and Milwaukee. Whoo-hoo!

Crafted by Master Cheesemaker Ken Heiman at Nasonville Dairy in Marshfield, the Omega 3 Cheeses come in a line of Cheddar and flavored Monterey Jacks, but gouda, muenster, and provolone will be soon be available. The cheese is made from the milk of five family-owned dairy farms in central Wisconsin, four of which milk between 50 and 70 cows, with the fifth milking 500 cows. All are committed to producing rBST-free milk, meaning they do not inject their cows with artificial hormones to increase milk production.

All farms are are audited by a third party annually for humane animal treatment, and each feeds their cows a diet patented by Jerome Donohoe, who retired after spending 32 years with the Medical College of Wisconsin to start his own company conducting research on animal feeding systems. Donohoe’s now-famous feed ration naturally increases the amount of natural Omega 3 fatty acids in cows’ milk through a strategic balance of Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids, using only agricultural plant products and no fish meal or animal byproducts.

The result from the patented diet is a cheese that transcends the good-for-you labels of organic, grass-fed and GMO-free and actually delivers more Omega 3’s per ounce than any other cheese on the market. An adequate intake of Omega 3 for an adult is about 1,600 mg per day. One ounce of Omega Valley Cheddar contains 390 mg and an ounce of Omega Valley Jack has 415 mg. Add a few crackers, and all of us could get all the Omega 3s we need every day just by eating 4 oz of Omega Valley cheese.

And, interestingly enough, not only is the milk produced by these special cows turned into cheese that is super healthy, the cows themselves are healthier, too. After just 100 days on a diet with balanced Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids, cows’ hearts and livers measured higher in nutritious fatty acids, translating to longer, healthier lives. One farmer I talked to said his veterinarian bills were half of what they were before he started the feeding program.

Healthy cows, healthy milk and healthy cheese are all great, but as a cheesemonger, what matters most to me is flavor. Does the cheese taste good? The short answer is yes. The longer answer is Omega 3 Cheeses are made at a nationally-recognized factory supervised by one of only 50 Master Cheesemakers in Wisconsin, so of course they are going to be high quality. The cheeses are also less expensive than similar cheeses with trendier labels. For example, a 7-oz square of Horseradish & Chive Jack is $5.99 – not a bad price for a health-filled food.

So the next time you’re watching for what’s new in the cheese department, look for Omega 3 Cheeses. You’ll be supporting a great group of Wisconsin dairy farm families, nutritionists and cheesemakers, as well as five herds of exceptionally happy cows. Win-win-win.

Why Cheddar Here Tastes Different

In his book, Cheddar: A Journey to the Heart of America’s Most Iconic Cheese, California author Gordon Edgar argues Wisconsinites take cheese for granted. With hundreds of cheese factories, thousands of dairy farms, and daily proximity to fresh cheese curds, we are spoiled with an abundance of good cheese.

There’s no doubt he’s right. All one needs to do is listen to someone from Arizona complain about living in a “cheese desert” to make us natives better appreciate living in America’s Dairyland. Of Wisconsin’s 600 types, styles and varieties, no cheese better defines Wisconsin better than Cheddar. After all, of the 129 cheese factories in the state, almost half make Cheddar. That’s 561 million pounds of just one type of cheese every single year.

Not only do Wisconsin cheesemakers produce a boatload of cheddar, they make it in a variety of ways. Some mass-produce florescent orange 640-pound blocks and sell it to storage houses, where it is cured in mammoth wooden boxes from floor to ceiling, and then cut and shrink-wrapped into 8-oz bars and labeled for grocery store shelves as mild and medium Cheddar.

Others, such as Land O’ Lakes in Kiel, Wis., make award-winning Cheddar in 40-pound blocks, sell it to brokers and distributors, who contract the aging of the cheese, and at the right time, sell it to grocery stores under a variety of private companies as sharp cheddar.

And yet others, such as the folks at Hook’s Cheese in Mineral Point, Wis., craft 40-pound blocks of both orange and white Cheddar, age it in below-ground cold rooms for up to 20 years, and proudly sell it under their own name. Other artisans, like Willi Lehner, at Bleu Mont Dairy in Blue Mounds, Wis., craft Cheddar in 12-pound wheels, and then bandage and lard each wheel before aging it a year in an underground cave.

Wisconsin cheesemaker Willi Lehner. Photo by Becca Dilley.

In short, Cheddar in Wisconsin comes in every size, shape and age imaginable. But the difference in the taste of that Cheddar 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 how Cheddar used to taste different from one factory to the next, in just a 10-mile radius. Today, thanks to modern science and curious minds, distinct flavor differences are being recorded between Cheddar made in western Wisconsin’s Driftless Region and in eastern Wisconsin’s glaciated region.

The soils in the Driftless region are ancient – dominated by red clays and thousands of years of prairie grass roots that have decomposed into a thick rich mass, with soil type names such as Fayette and Dubuque. Dr. Jerry Tyler, Emeritus Professor of Soil Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says that in the 1800s, the first European settlers likely had between 20 and 30 years of “free” nitrogen built into the soil, resulting in decades of above-average wheat farming before fertilizer was even available. “It would have taken a pretty awful farmer to fail in those days,” says Tyler.

Compare this to the glaciated, eastern part of the state, which is dominated by flat plains, rolling hills, and a nearly 1,000-mile-long cliff that begins in east-central Wisconsin and ends at Niagara Falls. While the soils in the Driftless Region are millions of years old, the state’s eastern soils are only 12,000 years old and filled with till, left behind by debris-rich glacier ice. These soils carry names such as Miami, Dodge and Casco, and the soil’s chemistry is vastly different from the red clays to the west. Different soil chemistry results in different grasses grown in each region. And different grass produces different milk. Because, after all, in time, grass becomes milk. The only thing standing in between is the cow.

Photo courtesy of Bert Paris, PastueLand Cooperative

Bert Paris is a dairy farmer near Belleville, Wis., in the Driftless Region of the state. His cows are pasture grazed, and he spends much time cultivating his pastures so cows have the best grasses to eat, as his milk is made into yogurt, cheese and butter for PastureLand. He is convinced that the quality of grass is directly tied to the quality of milk, and that the quality of grass comes from the quality of the soil, groundwater and climate.

“I plant primarily orchard and brome grass with some red and white clover,” Paris says. “We plant these because they are persistent and manageable in our area. My pastures are old enough that we have native forages and grasses mixed in to create a salad bar of sorts. Cows enjoy this mixture more so than a monoculture of one or two grasses.”

Compare Paris’ pasture to the pastures at Saxon Homestead Farm, on the eastern part of the state near Cleveland, Wis. Brothers Robert and Karl Klessig pasture their herd, and their milk is made into cheese for Saxon Creamery. Like Paris, they plant orchard and brome grass, but also mix in perennial rye grass, timothy, reed canary, meadow fescue, and others.

Cows on pasture at Saxon Homestead Farm. Photo by Becca Dilley.

“Our pastures consist of a very diverse mix of both cool season grasses – both wild and improved, as well as legumes,” Robert says. “Lake Michigan plays a role in our environment. The summertime cool, east winds and morning dew have an impact on the vegetation and cattle.”

The different climates, soils and grasses from each region produce slightly different milk, farmers say, which in turn, cheesemakers argue, creates slightly different cheese. For example, Cheesemaker Tony Hook, who has made cheese in western Wisconsin since 1970, has had the same farmer patrons for 40 years. That means the same farmers – all of whom pasture their cows — have sent him milk for four decades. Grass-fed milk is literally all Tony has ever known.

“I’m a big believer that our sweet soils and limestone water make a difference in the pastures and the quality of the milk we get,” Hook says. In fact, Hook says his favorite months of the year to make cheese are in May and June, when cows are put on fresh grass for the first time, and then again in November, when cows are in the barn, but eating the best hay made from dried grass and legumes of the season.

Compare Hook’s experiences with Chris Gentine, owner of The Artisan Cheese Exchange in Sheboygan, Wis., who hand selects 40-pound blocks made at Land O’ Lakes in Kiel for his Double AA Grade Cheddar program sold under his Deer Creek label.

“I’ve always liked cheddars made in the Kiel region,” Gentine says. “The micro climate of Lake Michigan, combined with the pastures between Port Washington and Kewaunee are something special. The soil is more rocky versus the black earth of southwest Wisconsin. I’m convinced that if you made Deer Creek Cheddar in Green County, it would be a different piece of cheese.”

More science is needed to identify specific flavor components of Cheddar made in eastern and western Wisconsin. For now, consumers have the distinct pleasure of trying to discern that difference for themselves.

If you’re interested in tasting the difference between a variety of cheddars made in Wisconsin, please join me for the first class in a new Spring series I’ll be teaching at Metcalfe’s West Café in Madison. My special guest will be Master Cheesemaker Bob Wills, owner of Clock Shadow Creamery in Milwaukee, and Cedar Grove Cheese in Plain. Bob’s been telling me for years there’s a difference in cheddar across the state. Here’s the class description:

April 19: Why Cheddar Here Tastes Different
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.

We’ll meet in the cafe at Metcalfe’s West Towne at 7455 Mineral Point Road. Arrive at 6:45 pm to order your complimentary drink and get settled by 7 p.m. Class is limited to 20 attendees and costs $22. Purchase in advance at:

It’s Official: Chicago Loves Artisan Cheese

Chicago officially loves artisan cheese. With still six weeks until the second annual Cheesetopia festival, only 60 of 500 tickets remain. That means if you want to talk shop with 40 cheesemakers, sample their wares and buy their cheeses, you may want to act now, because this baby’s going to sell out soon, and no tickets will be sold at the door.

What is Cheesetopia? Well, it’s what happens when I spend a little time daydreaming and start bouncing event ideas off my husband while he’s working on his laptop on the sofa next to me. Together, we come up with a one-day event that last year sold out in Milwaukee, is this year very close to selling out in Chicago, will move to Minneapolis in 2017, and after that, to a major city either east or west. After that, who knows?

Each year, our goal is to bring the best artisan and farmstead cheeses from the surrounding region to the heart of a different American city so urban folks can meet, greet, sample and purchase cheese from small batch artisan producers they otherwise might never have the chance to meet.

This year in Chicago on Sunday, April 10 from Noon to 4 p.m., attendees will ride one of the oldest, largest elevators in the city (it’s so big, it has a built-in bar & chandelier) to the top floor of the Bridgeport Art Center, home to the former Spiegel Catalog Warehouse. This historic, renovated building features a Skyline Loft with original timber construction, exposed brick, an unparalleled view of the Chicago skyline, and tables full of artisan cheeses to sample.

New this year, tickets include open bar with complimentary wine, beer and soda. Onsite parking is also included in ticket price. Tickets are $75 and are on sale by clicking here.

An absolute HUGE thanks to Roth Cheese, who stepped up this year to be Cheesetopia’s Marquee Sponsor. The event would not be possible without their support. Thank you!!

So who all will be there? Well, so far, participating cheesemakers & artisans include:

Alemar Cheese Company, Mankato, MN – Cheesemaker Craig Hageman sampling Bent River Camembert, Blue Earth Brie & Good Thunder Washed Rind

Ames Farm Honey, Delano, MN – Artisans Josh King and Brian Fredericksen sampling Single Source Raw Honey & Blooming Prairie Creamed Raw Honey

Artisan Cheese Exchange, Sheboygan, WI – Kayla Immel sampling Deer Creek 1-Year, 3-Year, 5-Year, 7-Year, Vat 17, Fawn, Stag, Rattlesnake, Robin, Doe & Blue Jay

Afro Fusion Cuisine, St. Francis, WI – Sampling African & Jamaican Chutneys, Sauces, Marinades & Gourmet Sausages

Burnett Dairy Cooperative, Grantsburg, WI – Nicki Peterson sampling Wood River Creamery Alpha’s Morning Sun in various flavors, Burnett Dairy Pepperoni String Cheese & Burnett Dairy String Whips

Caprine Supreme, Black Creek, WI – Cheesemaker Todd Jaskolski debuting a new cow’s milk cheese

Carr Valley Cheese, LaValle, WI – Beth Wyttenbach sampling Wildfire Blue, Porto Duet, Red Abbot, Billy Blue & Caso Bolo Mellage

Caves of Faribault, Faribault, MN – Cheesemaker Jacob Huffman sampling St. Pete’s Select Blue Cheese, Amagorg Gorgonzola, Fini Cave Aged Cheddar & St. Mary’s Grassfed Gouda

Cedar Grove Cheese, Plain, WI – Master Cheesemaker Bob Wills sampling 8-Year Organic Cheddar, Donatello, Quark & Double Cream Colby

Cesar’s Cheese, Random Lake, WI – Cheesemakers Cesar & Heydi Luis sampling La Pinta & Bandaged Cheddar

Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Waterloo, WI – Cheesemaker George Crave sampling Marinated Fresh Mozzarella, Better Cheddar Cheese Curds, Mascarpone & Farmers Rope

Creme de la Coulee Artisan Cheese, Madison, WI — Cheesemaker Bill Anderson sampling Saint Jenifer, Coulee Camembert, Leopold & Alpine Select

Emmi Roth USA, Monroe, WI – Cheesemaker Marc Druart sampling Roth’s Private Reserve, GranQueso, Prairie Sunset, Buttermilk Blue & Grand Cru

Fortune Fish & Gourmet, Bensenville, IL — James Croskey sampling Hook’s Little Boy Blue, Hook’s Truffle Cheddar, Hook’s Parmesan, Nordic Creamery Grumpy Goat, Nordic Creamery Cinnamon Butter & Nordic Creamery Cultured Butter

Hidden Springs Creamery, Westby, WI – Cheesemaker Brenda Jensen sampling Driftless in Honey, Basil & Natural flavors, Ocooch Mountain, Manchego, Feta, Cheddar & Bad Axe

Jacobs & Brichford Farmstead Cheese, Connersville, IN – Farmer Maize Jacobs-Brichford sampling Everton & Briana

LaClare Farms Specialties, Malone, WI – Cheesemaker Katie Fuhrmann sampling Chandoka, Evalon, Martone, Chevre, Raw Cheddar, Fondy Jack & Goat Cheddar

Landmark Creamery, Albany, WI – Cheesemakers Anna Landmark and Anna Thomas Bates sampling Anabasque, Petit Nuage & Pecora Nocciola

Lone Grazer Creamery, Minneapolis, MN – Cheesemaker Rueben Nilsson sampling Grazier’s Edge, Hansom Cab & Northeazy Tomme

Ludwig Farmstead Creamery, Fithian, IL – Cheesemaker Adrian Buff sampling Vermilion River Blue, Sangamon Double Cream, Kickapoo, Traditional Dutch Gouda, Jake’s Wheel, Jake’s Habanero, Jake’s Dutch Garden Herb, White Cheddar Cheese Curds, Herb Cheese Curds & Spicy Cheese Curds

Marieke Gouda, Thorp, WI – Cheesemaker Marieke Penterman sampling Marieke Mature Gouda, Truffle Gouda, Golden & Cumin Gouda

Martha’s Pimento Cheese, Milwaukee, WI – Cheesemaker Martha Davis Kipcak sampling Martha’s Pimento Cheese, Martha’s Pimento Cheese with Jalapeno, Martha’s Pimento Cheese with Chile de Arbol

Montchevre-Betin Inc, Belmont, WI – Cheesemaker Jean Rossard sampling Flavored Fresh Goat Cheeses, Bucheron Brie, Goat Cheddar & Boat Blue

Nduja Artisans Salumeria, Chicago, IL – Artisan Antonio Fiasche sampling Nduja, Salame di Manzo, Finocchiona, Nostrano & Cacciatorini Piccanti

Organic Valley, LaFarge, WI – Master Cheesemaker Carie Wagner sampling Kickapoo Blue & Grass Milk Sharp Cheddar

Pasture Pride Cheese, Cashton, WI – Mary Bess Michaletz sampling Juusto, Natural Valley Goat Cheeses, Farmhouse Kitchens Hand Rolled Butter & Butter Crunch

Ponderosa Farmstead Cheese
, Kewaunee, WI – Sampling a variety of classic Wisconsin cheeses

Potter’s Crackers, Madison WI – Artisan Nancy Potter sampling Cranberry Hazelnut Crisps, Caramelized Onion Crakcers, Herbes de Provence Crackers & more

Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery, Champaign, IL – Cheesemaker Leslie Cooperband sampling Chevre Frais, Moonglo, Little Bloom on the Prairie & Black Goat

Quince & Apple, Madison, WI — Artisan Matt Stoner Fehsenfeld sampling an array of small batch preserves

Red Barn Family Farms, Appleton, WI – Owners Terry & Paula Homan sampling Cupola American Original Cheese, 5-Year Heritage Weis, Heritage White Cheddar, Edun New Zealand Style Raw Milk Cheddar & Red Barn’s newest Alpine-style cheese

Redhead Creamery, Brooten, MN – Cheesemaker Alise Sjostrom sampling Lucky Linda Aged Cheddar, Little Lucy Brie & North Fork Whiskey Washed Munster

Roelli Cheese, Shullsburg, WI – Master Cheesemaker Chris Roelli sampling Dunbarton Blue & Red Rock

SA Braai, Wauwatosa, WI – Artisan Matthew Devan sampling SA Braai Mild Chutney & SA Braai Sweet Chutney

Sartori Company, Plymouth, WI – Master Cheesemaker Pam Hodgson sampling Classic Montamore, SarVecchio Parmesan, Raspberry BellaVitano, Rosemary & Olive Oil Asiago & Limited Edition Extra-Aged Goat

Saxon Creamery, Cleveland, WI – Cheesemaker Tate Struve sampling Big Eds Gouda, Asiago Fresca, Snowfields Butterkase & Saxony Alpine

Smoking Goose Meatery, Indianapolis, IN – Kate Langdon sampling Saucisson Rouge, Pancetta Tesa, & Smoked Duck, Pear and Port Sausage.

Springside Cheese, Oconto Falls, WI – Cheesemakers Wayne & Nathan Hintz sampling Bandaged Cheddar, Krakow, Pantaleo Green Jack & Cheese Curds

Standard Market, Westmont, IL – Affineur David Rogers & Alyssa Stone sampling Cave Aged Chandoka by LaClare Farms, Cave Aged Tomme de Nena by Kenny’s Farmhouse & Cave Aged Pauline by Kenny’s Farmhouse

Treat Bake Shop, Milwaukee, WI – Artisan Sarah Marx Feldner sampling Spiced & Candied nuts all made by hand in small batches

Tulip Tree Creamery, Indianapolis, IN – Cheesemaker Fons Smits sampling Trillium, Foxglove, Tigerlily, Snapdragon, Dutchman’s Breeches, Fromage Frais, Haymaids, Larkspur & Beer Cheese

Uplands Cheese
, Dodgeville, WI – Cheesemaker Andy Hatch sampling Pleasant Ridge Reserve

I’m super proud of this list of amazing artisan producers and can’t wait to see them all in one room at one time. I hope you’ll join me on April 10!

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.

3,000 Cheeses. 25 Countries. 1 Winner. Be There.

Brace yourselves. The world’s largest technical cheese competition is coming to Madison, and with it, a rare opportunity to taste 50 international cheeses, witness judges from 16 nations execute the final round of judging, and be on hand as the 2016 World Champion Cheese is crowned.

Just 500 tickets are available for Cheese Champion, an evening of world champion cheese tasting on Wednesday, March 9 at the Monona Terrace Grand Ballroom in downtown Madison, Wisconsin. All tickets are being sold in advance through Wisconsin Cheese Originals for $25 at Get yours now to avoid being on the outside looking in at hundreds of people noshing on fabulous cheese.

In fact, with samples of at least 50 different cheeses from every corner of the globe, attendees are encouraged to pace themselves to avoid entering a cheese coma. Complimentary celebrity chef appetizers will also be served. And this being Wisconsin, you can count on at least two cash bars serving up craft beers and wines.

Cheese Champion is the signature event of the 2016 World Championship Cheese Contest, held every two years in Madison. Ticket proceeds benefit the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research graduate student program, ensuring another generation of dairy scientists in America’s Dairyland. So basically, you get to eat your weight in rare cheese, watch a world class cheese competition, and contribute to the future success of cheesemakers everywhere. Win. Win. Win.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m., with the Championship Round of Judging to start at 7 p.m. Come join me and a host of volunteers as we spend all day preparing tables and tables of fabulous cheese for you! Get your tickets early, because this event WILL sell out.

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.