In the first week of November, I traveled to Madison, Wisconsin for the Second Annual Wisconsin Cheese Festival. Retailers and cheesemakers from across the state massed at Monona Terrace, a convention center designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, perched on the edge of Lake Monona.
There were all sorts of tours, tastings and seminars on offer and it was hard to choose between them all but, in the end, I chose three. The first was a panel discussion entitled “The Art of Grass-based Cheeses.” Panelists included: Mike Gingrich from Uplands Cheese, Bert Paris of Edelweiss Graziers Co-Op and Bruce Workman of Edelweiss Creamery. We tasted through several cheese flights, including, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Edelweiss Gouda and Emmentaler. We also tried two wonderful buttercream frostings (made with butter from grass-fed cows) and learned about rotational grazing methods.
The next session I attended was “Rise of the Woman Farmstead Cheesemaker.” Here, I heard from Marieke Penterman of Holland Family Farms, Brenda Jensen of Hidden Springs Creamery and Diana Murphy of Dreamfarm. We tasted wonderfully fresh goat and sheep-milk cheeses, as well as two Goudas from Holland Family Farms. The panelists discussed their path to cheese-making and the camaraderie amongst women cheesemakers. One thing evident in this session – we are in the midst of a revival of female cheesemakers!
The last session was “Next Generation Wisconsin Cheesemakers.” We heard from three young cheesemakers: Andy Hatch of Uplands Cheese, Kate Hedrichs of LaClare Farm, and Jon Metzig of Union Star Cheese. It was wonderful to hear how they got started in cheese-making – from their initial inspiration, to training, to licensure, to full-scale production. It was particularly exciting to hear about the new cheeses they have in development!
The highlight of my trip was tasting the newest cheese to come out of Wisconsin. For the past 10 years, Uplands Cheese has only made Pleasant Ridge and Pleasant Ridge Reserve, cheeses in the style of the classic French, Alpine cheese, Beaufort d’Alpage. Their new cheese, Rush Creek Reserve, is made in the style of Vacherin Mont d’Or. It is a fantastic washed-rind cheese that is salty, cashew-y and a bit meaty in the finish.
We just got in our first batch of Rush Creek and I am thrilled to have a piece of the Midwest here in Boston!
Sarah Spira is the domestic cheese buyer and a cheesemonger at Formaggio Kitchen South End.