Jeanne Carpenter, cheese geek and American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional, travels America's Dairyland in a quest to: Have Fun. Do Good. Eat Cheese.
Episode 14: Cheese Caves in Sotres de Cabrales, Spain
High up in the Picos de Europa mountains in the autonomous community of Asturias, lies the tiny parish of Sotres de Cabrales, Spain. The nearest school or grocery store is 45 minutes away, and the number of sheep and cows grazing on alpine pastures vastly exceeds the hamlet’s human population.
There is a saying in the municipality of Cabrales that the higher the village, the better the cheese. And in Sotres de Cabrales, elevation 3,368 feet, there is a feeling that indeed, some of the best blue cheese in the world is made here. That’s because every two days for 10 months of the year, the husband and wife team of Jessica Lopez and Javier Diaz craft Cabrales, a blue cheese made that must be made from unpasteurized cow’s milk or blended in the traditional manner with goat and/or sheep milk.
Episode 13: Starting from Scratch: Door Artisan Cheese Company
Imagine building a brand new artisan cheese factory. You’ve made your very first batch of cheese, and just days later, opened a shiny new retail store. It’s the beginning of a busy tourist season in Door County, Wisconsin. Customers are flowing in, eager to see a state-of-the art factory, cheese market, restaurant and wine counter. You’ve got cases filled with nearly a hundred different cheeses, charcuterie from around the world, and specialty food items for sale. But everyone wants one thing: to taste and buy your cheese. The problem? None of it will be ready for months.
That's the situation Master Cheesemaker Mike Brennenstuhl, owner of Door Artisan Cheese Company, found himself in this spring. After building a brand new, 18,000 square-foot facility in Egg Harbor, Wisconsin, that includes a retail market selling more than 100 different varieties of cheese, a wine counter with 150 different wines from around the world, and a fine-dining restaurant serving small plates and full entrees, the one thing Mike Brennenstuhl could not offer was his own cheese. It just wasn't ready yet.
"It was brutal in the beginning," Mike says. "We did good sales from day one, but how do you explain to people who come in that you don't have any of your own cheese ready yet? We were making fresh cheeses, like Colby, but even that takes a month to age out. We're finally in a place now where we have some cheeses for sale that we're making, and it's been a lot more fun."
Episode 12 - 50 Years Over the Vat: Master Cheesemaker Sid Cook
n just a couple of months, Sid Cook, owner of Carr Valley Cheese in Wisconsin, will celebrate the 50th anniversary of earning his Wisconsin cheesemaker’s license. You might think that because he’s spent a lifetime over a cheese vat, he might be ready to retire. But you’d be wrong.
When I sat down with Sid last week to talk cheese and mentioned that he was coming up on a half century of cheesemaking, at first he didn’t believe me. He took a second to do the math. And before he concluded that I was right, he revealed he’d actually been making cheese for several years with his dad before he ever got his license. “I was making my own vats when I was 12 years old,” Sid says. “I always really enjoyed being in the factory, and back then, you opened the kitchen door, and the vats were there.”
Here’s the thing about Sid Cook: he never stops working long enough to thing about how long he’s been working. He may get a little good-natured teasing from his peers for no longer being in the cheese room every day, but that’s because his time is now more valuable thinking about what new cheeses to make. And just to be clear, he’s already made enough cheese in his lifetime for two or three people.
Episode 11 - Setting Up Cheese in the Dark: Hook's Cheese
A few weeks ago, I called cheesemaker Tony Hook in Mineral Point with the idea of doing a story on what it was like to sell cheese at the largest producer-only farmer’s market in the nation. Every Saturday morning from April to November, about 170 stands pop up on the capital square in Madison, Wisconsin. All of the items for sale are grown, raised, and produced by the person behind each table.
Tony told me he usually arrives by 4:45 a.m., so I told him I’d see him there. I’m not entirely sure he believed me, so as he navigated the orange construction barrels on Pinckney Street in his Chevy Tahoe and trailer at 4:40 am, he shook his head in disbelief as I greeted him at the curb.
“Well, you told me you’d be here early, but I didn’t think you meant this early,” he said. As I helped him unload the trailer in the pitch dark under the light of a street lamp, it occurred to me how very quiet a city can be before dawn. Hell, even the swarms of squirrels that usually dot the capital grounds looking for leftovers weren’t even up yet. And to think, in just a couple of hours, the market would be so crowded that customers three-deep would be vying to buy cheddar, blue and American original cheeses from the Hook’s Cheese team.
Episode 10 - Seasonal Milk, Seasonal Cheese at Uplands
Located on scenic Highway 23 between Dodgeville and Spring Green, Wisconsin, Uplands Cheese is one of the best known farmstead cheese plants in the nation. Its flagship cheese, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, is the only cheese in America to ever win both the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest and take Best in Show – three different years – at the American Cheese Society Judging Competition. Uplands is run by business partners Scott Mericka and Andy Hatch. Scott is the herdsman and Andy is the cheesemaker. Together, they and their families produce seasonal milk and seasonal cheese, two incredibly uncommon commodities in the United States, a country where everyone, it seems, wants their favorite food year-round.
Last week, we caught up with the pair just in time for evening milking and helped Scott bring in the cows from pasture. Then, we sat down with Andy in the cheese plant and talked about the difference seasonal milk makes in Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Rush Creek Reserve, and a new cheese he’s working on.
Episode 9 - Wisconsin Women Cheesemakers
Of 1,200 licensed cheesemakers in Wisconsin, less than 60 are women. Three of them: Katie Fuhrmann at LaClare Farms, Anna Landmark of Landmark Creamery and Diana Murphy at Dreamfarm (pictured above from left to right), shared their stories with me and dozens of others at an event I hosted at the Wisconsin Historical Museum last week. Each of these three ladies came to cheese making from a different path with different goals, but they all share one opinion: cheddar is heavy.
So fun and informative!
Really enjoy listening! Just learned about this podcast and so glad I did!
Jeanne is educational Ann entertaining
I have read Jeanne's blog for years. Maybe back to when she started it. I have found so much information about cheese and the cheese industry. She has talked about the various types of cheeses produced in Wisconsin, how they are manufactured, talked about the various master cheese makers and is very good at describing how the cheese tastes. From the information we have learned we have sought out cheeses from various producers and have a greater enjoyment of eating Wisconsin cheese. If you want have a greater understanding of what is out in the cheese market this podcast will help you gain a greater appreciation.
Listeners with a little or great cheese knowledge should benefit from these programs. Excellent information. Thanks to Jeanne and all who participate.