With over 1,200 different cheesemakers within its borders, all of them contributing hundreds, if not thousands, of years of combined experience and heaps of major awards, Wisconsin’s nickname, ‘the Dairy State,’ is well-deserved. For a taste of true Wisconsin culture, check out these 10 choice cheesemakers.
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Sartori’s SarVecchio® Parmesan | Courtesy Sartori Cheese
Sartori Cheese has been a driving force behind Wisconsin’s growing international recognition as a cheese powerhouse since it began crafting cheese in 1939. In 1970, for instance, Sartori was the first in the U.S. to export cheese to Italy and Japan, and in 2006 its SarVecchio® Parmesan was featured in Businessweek magazine as one of the ‘Products that Rival Europe’s Best.’ Sartori recently added several more international awards to its collection, including first place for ‘Best of Class’ with its extra-aged Asiago and its SarVecchio® Parmesan at the 2014 World Championship Cheese Contest, and Best USA Cheese for its family heirloom Parmesan at the 2014 International Cheese Awards.
Emmi Roth USA
When a pair of Swiss cheese makers were looking to expand their business to the United States in 1990, they were drawn to Wisconsin’s quality milk and well-established cheesemaking traditions. Based on Emmi Roth USA’s wild success in supermarkets and at awards shows ever since it officially opened in 1991, it would be reasonable to assume that the influence of Wisconsin’s cheesemaking environment exceeded its founders’ expectations. Just this year, Emmi Roth’s Grand Cru® Reserve smear-ripened Alpine-style cheese was named the Cheese & Butter Grand Champion at the 2014 World Dairy Expo; its buttermilk blue® cheese took ‘Best of Class’ at the 2014 World Championship Cheese Contest; and its washed-rind Alpine-style Grand Cru® Surchoix won a gold medal at the 2014 Global Cheese Awards.
Though his family already owned a well-established cheese-making company in Italy, Errico Auricchio was so impressed by the quality of Wisconsin’s cows’ milk that he moved from Europe to Wisconsin in 1979 and founded BelGioioso Cheese. Today, the company still gives homage to its heritage while embracing Wisconsin cheesemaking techniques; its line-up of 27 cheeses, all based on Italian recipes, has accumulated dozens of major awards over the years. Most recently, its Provolone took first place for ‘Best in Show’ at the 2014 World Championship Cheese Contest; its fresh mozzarella was awarded first place for ‘Best in Class’ at the 2014 American Cheese Society competition; and its American Grana®, a specialty Parmesan cheese aged for 18 months, was awarded first place for ‘Best of Class’ at the 2014 American Cheese Society competition and first place for ‘Best of Class’ at the 2014 World Championship Cheese Contest.
Bleu Mont Dairy
Powered by sustainable energy sources such as wind turbines and solar power, Bleu Mont Dairy is home to one of the state’s hidden culinary treasures. Burrowed into the stunning rolling hills of Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, a region untouched by glaciers when they moved through the Midwest hundreds of thousands of years ago, are caves in which Bleu Mont ages its raw-milk, bandaged Cheddar. Based on a British style of cheese making, the cheese is wrapped in cloth and matured for one to two years on spruce boards underground. The result is a Cheddar that’s sharp, smooth, nutty and caramel-like all at once. Besides the bandaged Cheddar, which won first in its class and third place overall for ‘Best in Show’ at the 2013 American Cheese Society competition, Bleu Mont’s stellar selection of cheese includes the alpine-style Alpine Renegade and Parmesan-style big sky Grana, both which are also award-winning raw-milk cheeses.
Carr Valley Cheese
Carr Valley Cheese products | Courtesy Carr Valley Cheese
Every bite of a Carr Valley Cheese product is a taste of some of the most refined cheesemaking available today: Sid Cook, the certified master cheesemaker at this 100-year-old company, has won more national and international awards than any other cheesemaker in North America. With his help, Carr Valley currently crafts over 50 varieties of cheese, among them Cook’s original Snow White goat Cheddar, which won first place for ‘Best in Show’ at the 2008 American Cheese Society competition; and black sheep truffle, a sheep-milk cheese washed in truffle oil and filled with black truffle pieces that won first place at both the 2011 United States Championship Cheese Contest and the 2011 World Championship Cheese Contest.
Cesar’s Cheese is a newcomer to the Wisconsin cheesemaking industry, but don’t assume the company’s novice status is a sign of inexperience. Cheesemaker Cesar Luis grew up in the poverty-stricken town of Oaxaca, Mexico, crafting and selling his family’s homemade cheese to survive. When he moved to Wisconsin in search of employment as a teen, he eventually found work at a dairy farm. Noticing that all the leftover milk was thrown out at the end of each shift, Luis asked the owner if he could use it to make his own cheese. After she approved, he obtained his cheesemaking license and established Cesar’s Cheese within the nearby Sassy Cow Creamery in 2008. Since then, Cesar’s Cheese’s products have amassed major awards, especially its flagship, queso Oaxaca. The hand-stretched string cheese won first place for ‘Best of Class’ at the 2010 American Cheese Society competition and Best of Class at the 2014 World Cheese Championship.
Chalet Cheese Co-op
For anyone seeking a bite of stinky, creamy, Limburger cheese in the United States, there’s only one place to go: the 129-year-old Chalet Cheese Co-op. As the general manager of the sole American producer of Limburger, certified Master Cheesemaker Myron Olson not only handcrafts the surface-ripened cheese but also has the task of ensuring the traditional, complicated process of making preserved Limburger. But if the cheese’s odour is too off-putting for your nostrils, other varieties in Chalet Cheese’s lineup, like the German-style brick cheese, which won Best of Class at the 2011 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest, should suit both your taste buds and your nose.
Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery
One particular dairy product has made the village of Ellsworth, Wisconsin a name for itself; cheese curds. Thanks to Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, the city was officially christened the Cheese Curd Capital of Wisconsin in 1984 and hosts the Cheese Curd Festival every year. The 104-year-old creamery currently produces about 160,000 pounds of cheese curds per day, each batch so fresh that the warm curds squeak between your teeth with every bite. Besides its cheddar curds, the creamery also crafts dozens of other cheeses, including the Abergele infused with apricots and ginger, and the award-winning Blaser’s natural Muenster.
Hidden Springs Creamery
Cows may be the poster children for Wisconsin dairy, but dairy sheep farms are also a major component of the state’s cheese industry. Among them is Hidden Springs Creamery, a farm run by a husband-and-wife team located in the heart of Wisconsin Amish country, whose herd of sheep has earned major national and international awards. In 2007, Hidden Springs’ first year of businesses, it earned first place for ‘Best of Class’ at the American Cheese Society competition for its Driftless Cheese, a fresh sheep’s milk variety. At this year’s American Cheese Society competition, it earned a record nine awards, the most of any farmstead dairy operation in the US, for its Meadow Melody mixed-milk cheese and Timer Coulee Reserve, among others.
Hook’s Cheese Company, Inc.
College sweethearts Tony and Julie Hook began producing cheese together in 1976, but it wasn’t until 1982 when Julie’s Colby was named Finest Cheese in the World at the World Cheese Championshio (making her the first woman to ever receive the coveted award) that they officially established Hook’s Cheese Company, Inc. Since then, the awards for their cheeses have consistently rolled in, especially for their Cheddars and blues; in 2006 their ten-year sharp Cheddar won first place at the American Cheese Society competition, making it the only ten-year Cheddar to place first in any cheese contest in history, and its Little Blue Boy sheep’s milk blue cheese won first place at the 2014 American Cheese Society competition. Stop by Hook’s Cheese to try their 15- and 20-year aged Cheddars, which are matured in specially built caves beneath the Hooks’ facility.
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