This past weekend I had an unbelievably amazing opportunity to attend Fifth Annual Wisconsin Cheese Originals Festival courtesy of Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. Not only was I super excited to come back to Madison, which I visited and loved last October, but I was PSYCHED to learn about Wisconsin cheese and eat a ton of it....seriously, I probably ate a ton of cheese.
The festival included a Cheesemaker Tour, an opening gala where dozens of cheese makers introduced visitors to their creations, several seminars and tastings, and a good bye dinner at your choice of one of the Madison restaurants hosted by one of the cheese makers.
My favorite part of the weekend, by far, was the Cheesemaker Tour. I chose a Classic Wisconsin Cheesemaker Tour that included three stops: Roelli Cheese in Shullsburg, Hook's Cheese in Mineral Point, and Bleu Mont Dairy.
In Roelli Cheese, we were greeting by Chris, a fourth generation cheesemaker, who was beyond passionate about his craft. Actually, all the people I met during the weekend ooozed love and enthusiasm for cheese.
We checked out the special rooms where the cheese gets aged and of course tried some of Chris's most popular cheeses.
"Roelli crafts award winning original cheeses such as Red Rock and Little Mountain. Roelli is also known for their original recipe favorite Dunbarton Blue as well as fresh cheddar curds, cellar aged cheddars, Cheshire inspired and Alpine style cheeses."
The Dunbarton Blue was my favorite, but I ended up buying some of the cheddar curds and a beautiful hand made cutting board before leaving for the next stop of the tour.
At Hook's Cheese, Tony Hook walked us through the process of making cheese. Because he starts his days way before our wake up time, we didn't actually get to see the process, but still I was impressed by the complexity of making cheese: Tony makes 30 varieties, mainly specializing in super-aged cheddars and original blues! I also was impressed by the pristine cleanliness of the machines!
Below is a machine that pierces the blue cheese, allowing for the veins to form and the cheese press.
After Hook's Cheese we stopped for a quick lunch at Dog Deli. Of course it involved a grilled cheese sandwich with bacon and guacamole. Sorry, no photo of the actual sandwich.
The last, but not least stop, was at the Bleu Mont Dairy. By the time we got to Bleu Mont Dairy, the sun came out and I had to take a few (ok, more like 15) photos of the gorgeous fall day.
Have you ever been inside a cheese cave!? Well, I have! And it was AMAZING. This is the entry to the cave:
Once inside, we saw rows and rows of cheese wheels being aged on wood planks. It was kind of a surreal experience. The aroma of cheese was almost unbearable, in the best way possible.
"Made in small batches, these complex, full-bodied cheeses reflect the mountain tradition of using raw, organic milk from pastured cows. They are aged in a special cave, built into the landscape. Varieties include Bandaged Cheddar (English-style), Gouda, Farmstead Käse, Driftless Select "Earth Schmier," Irish Gems, and Lil' Will's Big Cheese."
My second favorite part of the festival was the European Traditional Cheese vs. Wisconsin Original Cheeses panel. The panel was led by Jonathan Richardson who works with Columbia Cheese, a New York based improter of "single-dairy cheeses from Switzerland, Bavaria, Denmark and Italy" and Jeanne Carpenter, the incredible founder of the Wisconsin Cheese Originals Festival.
There were no losers in my mind: good cheese is good cheese regardless where it's made. If you follow me on instagram, you have seen some of the cheeses we've tasted and probably drooled on your phone screens.
My favorites were these:
Gruyere 1655 by Jean-Marie Dunnand at Fromagerie Le Cret
Pastorale made by Sartori in Plymouth, WI
Ewe Calf to be Kidding by Tony Hook of Hook's Cheese in Mineral Point, WI
If you get a chance to buy these at your stores, do it!
I leave you with a few photos I took last Sunday in Madison while I hung out with my friend Emily. It was a lovely end to an amazing weekend.
BIG THANK YOU to Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board for this unforgettable trip.