If You’re Buying a Story, It Should be a Story You Can Taste

733f8-acs-2012-meet-the-cheesemaker-screen8of9

People who don’t work in the dairy industry are always amazed when they visit my house and come across back issues of Cheese Market News and The Cheese Reporter.

“Wait, you actually read these? How on earth can there be TWO national weekly newspapers dedicated to just cheese?” and the standard: “Wow, you’re weird.” These are the same comments I get when I take past issues into a coffee shop and dare to catch up on cheese news in public.

While I appreciate keeping up on the latest technology, industry news, commodity block prices and Class III milk futures that these publications provide, it’s always a jolt to sit down and read them after I’ve visited a small-batch, artisan cheesemaker in a far away place. I get reminded in a hurry of what’s important to Americans.

For example, here are three headlines from the current issue of Cheese Market News: “Laughing Cow Adds New Flavors to Cheese Dippers Line” and “Fairlife Introduces SuperKids Ultra-Filtered White and Chocolate Milks With Omega-3” and “Borden Cheese Unveils Snack Bars.” I’m not even cherry-picking headlines from multiple pages – all of  these stories actually exist on the centerfold pages of 8 and 9 in the October 13, 2017 issue of CMN.

When I compare these American dairy industry headlines to passages of the new book by Bronwen and Francis Percival: Reinventing the Wheel: Milk, Microbes, and the Fight for Real Cheese, I get a little depressed. In America, we are so focused on creating the next biggest, boldest flavor and punching it into the most-convenient-to-eat dairy package, that I’m not sure we still appreciate what actual milk can taste like when we turn it into cheese without adding starter culture cocktails, berries or peppers.

Creating – and appreciating – simple cheese is going out of style in America. In an instant gratification society of snap chats, instant messaging and presidential orders issued in 140 characters, more of us are demanding every bite of cheese should rocket every one of our senses. Every. Single. Time.

I compare those headlines to the half dozen sheep dairies I visited in the French and Spanish Basque region last month, and I remember tasting cheeses made from just milk, rennet and salt. No added berries. Not a pepper in sight. Most of these cheesemakers weren’t even adding starter cultures. The tools at their disposal included a recipe for “mountain cheese” that had been passed down through generations, and a reliance on raw milk that contained enough natural bacteria to acidify on its own. (If you’re not familiar with what I mean by starter cultures, here’s an excellent primer from HomeCheeseAdam).

Were these Basque sheep milk cheeses flaming rockets of flavor? Did they transform my every sense into rainbows and unicorns? They did not. But each cheese was slightly different. Each was startling in its simplicity. And each allowed me to taste and appreciate the valley, mountain top or farm on which it was made.

Cheese worth eating has a story. It doesn’t come conveniently packaged, and it doesn’t have the words super or ultra in its name. What it does have is a story you can taste. In fact, my favorite passage from the Percivals’ book, Reinventing the Wheel, comes near the end, and after reading 250 pages that reignited my passion for artisan cheese, this passage was like salve to my soul: “If it is a story that we are buying, then it should be a story that we can taste. And if we value environmental and farming decisions, these are the attributes that we need to value. This is the ‘best’ taste for now. It is the moral dimension of flavor.”

###

You can meet the Percivals and hear them speak on Sunday, November 5 at The Edgewater in Madison, Wisconsin. The pair, along with Uplands’ cheesemaker Andy Hatch, are presenting a 90-minute “Taste of Place” seminar featuring cheeses from Europe and America. Tickets available only in advance here. The seminar is part of Wisconsin Cheese Originals’ Wisconsin Cheese Camp.

Tickets to Wisconsin Cheese Camp on Sale Oct. 3

20170627-IMG_7178If you’ve ever dreamed of meeting the person who makes your favorite Wisconsin artisan cheese, then I have great news. Tickets to Wisconsin Cheese Camp, a two-day cheese festival I’m hosting in Madison next month, go on sale Tuesday, October 3 at 8 a.m. Set your alarm now.

What is Wisconsin Cheese Camp, you ask? Well, it’s a series of events over the course of two days during the weekend of November 4-5, all located at The Edgewater in Madison. Each event is designed to help you get to know your favorite artisan cheesemaker better while eating the cheeses you like best. Basically, it’s a big cheese  party, and I’d love for you to attend.

The weekend kicks off bright and early Saturday morning with two all-day bus tours, each visiting three different dairy and cheese plants, where you’ll tour the factory, talk shop with the owner, and taste their favorite cheeses. Each tour includes lunch, transportation in a big comfortable coach bus, and all tastings. With increasing food safety regulations, most cheese plants no longer offer tours, so this is your chance to see things up close and personal.

A huge thank you to Carr Valley Cheese, who stepped up to sponsor Wisconsin Cheese Camp. In fact, aged Cheddars crafted by Carr Valley’s Master Cheesemaker Sid Cook, as well as a variety of Wisconsin cheesemakers, will be featured in the Saturday night Wisconsin Cheddar Dinner at The Edgewater. Plus, author Gordon Edgar, cheese buyer for Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco, will be the dinner’s keynote speaker, and all dinner attendees will receive a complimentary copy of his book: Cheddar: A Journey to the Heart of America’s Most Iconic Cheese.

On Sunday, a 90-minute Tasting Seminar on “Taste of Place” will be presented by Uplands Cheesemaker Andy Hatch and Bronwen and Francis Percival, authors of the new book: Reinventing the Wheel: Milk, Microbes, and the Fight for Real Cheese. Bronwen is the cheese buyer for Neal’s Yard Dairy in London, and Francis is a cheese and wine writer and educator in the United Kingdom. All seminar attendees will receive a complimentary hard-cover copy of the Percivals’ new book, which is earning rave reviews, including this one in the Wall Street Journal.

Of course, no cheese camp would be complete without the chance to meet all of your favorite cheesemakers in one room, so that’s why Sunday afternoon marks a Meet the Cheesemaker Gala. You’ll get to meet 30 Wisconsin cheesemakers, taste 150 cheeses, drink free beer and wine (drinks are included in the ticket price) and nosh on yummy appetizers from The Edgewater. Check out the list of cheesemaker rock stars appearing here. 

A big thanks to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board for its support of Wisconsin Cheese Camp. Thanks to their generosity, all attendees to the Sunday Meet the Cheesemaker Gala will receive a complimentary insulated lunch bag with the Wisconsin Cheese logo. Plus, VIP attendees will even get a bag stuffed with Carr Valley cheese (VIP attendees also get in one hour early to Meet the Cheesemaker).

For ticket prices and a listing of all cheesemakers involved, please visit my website, Wisconsin Cheese Camp. I’d love to see you in Madison during the first weekend of November!