Lessons from Cheese Camp
Last week I thought I was embarking on a fact finding mission, a listening tour. A better-than-average business trip for sure. But afterward it felt like the best kind of summer camp. One filled with field trip after field trip (literally) and time on the bus with the most fun people. The kind of camp that leaves one with warm memories and the wish that it could go on and on.
I spent several days last week as a guest of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board learning about artisan cheese in our nation’s dairyland. My fellow campers were the vibrant faces behind Madame Fromage, It’s Not You, It’s Brie, Sippity Sup, Real Food Rehab, Driftless Appetite, Sky Full of Bacon and Cooking with Amy, plus a number of journalists and Chef Trisha, who also had the honor of cooking at L’etoile, one of our country’s best restaurants founded 40 years ago by famed chef Odessa Piper.
I came home in a blissful cheese coma wanting to invite everyone over to my place for spaghetti. And basking in the joy of meeting people who bring such passion to what they do.
In upcoming posts I’ll tell you about the folks behind Bleu Mont Dairy, Uplands Cheese Company, Otter Creek Organic Farm, Emmi-Roth Käse, Carr Valley Cheese, Cedar Grove Cheese, Hidden Springs Creamery and Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese.
The cheesemakers behind all this deliciousness are good friends and neighbors who encourage each other’s businesses. They are also one opinionated bunch, who seem to agree on very little. For instance:
- “Raw milk still comes with risks” v. “Raw milk is the way to go. Here, have a sip.”
- “We mix flavors into almost all our cheeses” v. “Nothing should interfere with the flavor of the cheese.”
- “Our cows yield more milk than the industry standard” v. “Maximizing yield is not a good idea.”
- “We make more than 70 cheeses” v. “we make one cheese.”
French president Charles DeGaulle once said ”how can anyone govern a nation that has 246 different kinds of cheese?”
I can see where DeGaulle was coming from.
Despite all the difference of opinion, there was not one cheese I didn’t like. Many were swoon worthy. Granted, this might be the most-awarded collection of cheese makers ever assembled, and thus the bar is pretty high. Sid Cook, Carr Valley’s master cheese maker, has won more awards than any cheese maker in the world (yes, the world), and Uplands Cheese Company’s Pleasant Ridge Reserve won Best of Show at the American Cheese Society three times. No other cheese has won more than once.
All in all, it’s the artisan nature that sets these cheeses apart from the slices and shreds we find in the grocery store. Regardless of differing philosophies, these cheese makers consider themselves friends and colleagues. Nice company indeed.
So stay tuned for more, including some recipes I’m cooking up using the stash I brought home.