Saturday, January 14, 2017

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

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Mike Brennenstuhl Launches Door Artisan Cheese Company

Master Cheesemaker Mike Brennenstuhl
A master cheesemaker who 11 years ago raised the bar for Wisconsin artisan blue cheese is about to do the same with a line of Brennenstuhl original cheeses that will incorporate the heritage of the communities in Door County.

Mike Brennenstuhl is slated to start making cheese in March at Door Artisan Cheese Company, a brand-new 18,000-foot facility in Egg Harbor. The facility includes a cheesemaking plant, specialty food retail shop called Cave Market and a casual fine-dining restaurant called Glacier Ledge that will open to the public in the spring.

Under Mike's leadership, the facility will produce both traditional Wisconsin cheeses and original-recipe creations. Three man-made cellars on the property’s lower level will be utilized for aging cheeses. The aging "caves" will be the first of their kind in Door County.

“It’s been my dream for years to open up my own facility in Door County,” says Mike, whose title includes both CEO and president. “My career has deep roots in Wisconsin cheesemaking, and it’s an honor to bring such a versatile facility and cheesemaking excellence to Northeastern Wisconsin.”

Most of Door Artisan Cheese Company’s cheeses will be made with cow’s milk, and the company has partnered with Red Barn Family Farms in Appleton to source milk from its group of small family dairy farms annually certified by the American Humane Association.

Cheeses made on site as well as other American cheeses and imports will be available for tasting and purchase in its Cave Market. The specialty retail space will also stock local and specialty ingredients and feature a wine, craft beer and charcuterie bar for tasting. Adjacent to the cheesemaking plant, guests can observe cheesemakers through a large viewing window in the market. At Glacier Ledge, guests can expect a casual fine dining experience with a seasonal menu packed with local ingredients and expert culinary preparation.

“Ultimately, we want Door Artisan Cheese to provide a three-fold culinary experience that educates, engages and excites our guests,” says Mary Beth Hill, general manager for the project, and a long-time friend of Wisconsin artisan cheese. “Wisconsin cheese has such a rich history, and we want to celebrate that in the products we sell and menus we write.”


Monday, January 02, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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




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

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Rush Creek Reserve: It's What's for Dinner

Ahh, Christmas. That magical time of the year when I drown out the sound of my neighbor's holiday yard light show by cranking Weird Al on the wireless speakers and eating Rush Creek Reserve for dinner. I'm sure I'm not alone - with either Weird Al or Rush Creek -  as cheese lovers everywhere are currently eating the results of a long season of hard work for one Wisconsin company.

That's because between September and November, the cows in the dairy barn at Uplands Cheese near Dodgeville got more sleep than their owner, Andy Hatch, maker of two of the most famous cheeses in America: Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Rush Creek Reserve. In the morning, Andy and company made Pleasant Ridge Reserve, the farmstead cheese that put Wisconsin on the map, and then from late afternoon until long past sunset, they crafted my favorite soft, bark-wrapped cheese: Rush Creek Reserve. I heartily thank Andy and his crew for making cheese 17 hours a day this fall - I am truly consuming the love of their labor.



In case you don't know the backstory of Uplands Cheese, as co-owner and lead cheesemaker, Andy is the dutiful caretaker of the company, founded in 1994 by Mike and Carol Gingrich and Dan and Jeanne Patenaude. More than 20 years ago, the farming couples joined their herds and transitioned to a seasonal, pasture-based system. Three years ago, Andy and business partner Scott Mericka purchased the operation. Scott oversees 244 acres of grass and is the herdsman for 150 milking cows. Cows eat the farm’s grasses and produce milk that Andy makes into seasonal cheeses.

For a city boy who grew up in the suburbs of Milwaukee, Andy is a born farmer who didn’t realize it until arriving at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. While studying anthropology and environmental science, he became engrossed with the science of agriculture, working on area vegetable farms, starting a community garden, and writing a thesis on urban agriculture.

“I found I really liked working on farms,” Andy says. “If I could have figured out a way to start a farm, that’s what I would have done. But unless you grow up on or inherit a farm, it’s virtually impossible to hurdle the capital investment that starting a farm takes.”

With farming still in the back of his mind, Andy returned to Wisconsin to work at the Michael Fields Institute in East Troy. For one year, he assisted famed Dr. Walter Goldstein on a ground-breaking corn breeding program. While the work satisfied Andy’s scientific side, it didn’t get his hands outside and in the soil. He regretfully gave his notice. Instead of accepting his resignation, Dr. Goldstein sent him to live with his mother-in-law in Norway.

“Working with Dr. Goldstein was an incredible experience, but I what I really wanted to do was farm. He knew that. So he sent me to Norway to stay with his recently widowed mother-in-law and help her get the family farm in shape to sell. I really had no idea what was in store for me,” Andy says.

He had traveled to Europe twice before with his parents, both wine enthusiasts, but he had never been to Norway. Immediately, the remoteness of staying with a 70-year-old woman named Unni on a fifth-generation goat dairy with no car, no computer, and no phone in the fjords of west Norway cleared his mind. He spent mornings hand milking 14 goats, never having milked an animal before. “For the first week, the muscles in my forearms were so sore I couldn’t grip a fork at supper,” Andy says.

After morning milking, Andy helped make cheese in a tiny, but surprisingly modern stainless steel vat in a small building 300 yards from the ocean. The routine of milking and making cheese suited him. Andy learned how to make cheese via sight, smell, and touch. He made hard, aged goat’s milk cheeses, which Unni sold to tourists at the ferry landing. After the daily dose of cheesemaking, Andy spent the afternoon in a hut stirring the day’s whey in a pot over a fire to make geitost. By evening, it was time to milk the goats again, eat a simple supper, and collapse into bed on a mattress stuffed with straw.

He stayed three months, long enough to help Unni settle affairs to sell the farm and make him a pair of socks from the hair of the farm dog, a Norwegian reindeer-herding pup named Knatchean. “It took me a month to learn how to say the dog’s name,” Andy says. He still has the socks.

From Norway, instead of going home, Andy headed to southern Europe. He had caught the cheesemaking bug. He roamed two years, making mountain cheeses in Austria, sheep cheeses in Tuscany, and goat cheeses in Ireland. He stayed a season or two in each location, earning his keep during the day with his cheesemaking labor, and earning a few coins at night by playing mandolin and fiddle in local taverns. For two years, he couldn’t decide which path to take: musician or cheesemaker. And then came a call from home.

“My mother called with the news that my dad was very ill, so I got on the first plane home and spent the summer with him in the hospital,” Andy says. That fall, his parents spent time recuperating at the family cottage in Door County. Andy followed and met Caitlin, an artist who became his wife. He took an agricultural short course at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, milked cows on area dairies, and apprenticed with cheesemakers to earn his Wisconsin cheesemakers license. He accepted a cheesemaking job at Uplands in 2007, married Caitlin in 2009, and, with her, copurchased Uplands Cheese three years ago, moving into a house on the Uplands farm. It’s where they are now raising their two children.

“Cheesemaking is the vehicle that allows me to stay on the farm,” Andy says. “It also satisfies my creative impulses, which is one of the reasons I spend so much time working on Rush Creek Reserve.”

Inspired by his experience of making Mont d’Or in the Jura region of France, Rush Creek Reserve is a serious, all-consuming labor of love. Andy cuts and stirs large curd by hand to protect its soft and delicate nature, and hand ladles curd into forms. It is then flipped, and drains overnight. The next morning, wheels are brined and handwrapped by spruce bark that’s been boiled and soaked in yeast and molds. As a raw milk cheese, Rush Creek is aged 60 days and then immediately shipped to retailers. It’s the type of cheese that, when eaten, is designed to be warmed with the top removed, and enjoyed with a spoon or bit of bread.

In Madison, Rush Creek Reserve is available right now at several outlets, although obviously I'm a bit partial to Metcalfe's Markets. I even put bows on every wheel we sell at our Hilldale store.

As Andy and Caitlin look to the future, I'm sure they wonder if either of their children will want to be cheesemakers. In any case, Andy is planning on teaching them to play the violin and mandolin, his second great love to cheesemaking. His band, Point Five—a local group of musicians playing traditional, acoustic Americana music—plays numerous gigs in the region. “We’ve got enough instruments in this house that the kids will be able to play whatever they want to,” Caitlin says. “And if they’re lucky,” Andy adds, “I’ll even sing along.”