Thursday, December 21, 2006

Holiday Cheese Greetings

If you're still thinking about overnighting that holiday box of Wisconsin cheese to the relatives in Florida, good news. A new 2007 Wisconsin Artisan and Farmstead Directory now gives you all the information you need to source artisan dairy products from America's Dairyland.

The publication lists 60 of the state's artisan, farmstead and specialty cheesemakers from all types of farms - cow, goat & sheep - and all sorts of dairy products - cheese, bottled milk, yogurt, ice cream and butter.

I think it's amazing that Wisconsin is now up to 60 farmstead and artisan producers -10 years ago, I think you'd have been hard-pressed to find a dozen. The forward to the directory says "there's a revolution going on in America's Dairyland" and they're right. Wisconsin cheesemakers, dairy farmers and processors of all sizes have greatly reinvested in our state's dairy infrastructure, making us not only a powerhouse in the past but a leader for the future.

So on that note, I wish you all a wonderful holiday and a 2007 full of Wisconsin artisan cheese!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Wisconsin Cheese Still Rules

Yet another story about the phantom cheese war between Wisconsin and California was widely published by the AP this week, leading me to wonder: does anyone really care about gross cheese tonnage other than the media?

Yes, Wisconsin is the nation's leading cheese producer. Yes, within the next year or two, we will probably be passed by California's mega cheese plants spewing out millions of pounds of commodity cheeses a week.

So what? When you think of California is the first word that comes to your mind "cheese"? I'd guess not so much.

So what's the hoopla really about? Will Wisconsin remove the words "America's Dairyland" from its license plates even when we are No. 2 in cheese production? Will we really throw away the foam cheese heads we wear to keep warm at those December Green Bay Packer games? Will we give up eating cheese curds until we're so sick to our stomachs that we promise never to eat them again, only to pick up another bag the next Friday morning at 7 a.m. from the local cheese plant?

No. And here's why:

1. Dairy is part of Wisconsin's heritage. We have lived and literally breathed dairy air for more than 100 years. The black and white bovines that you see grazing in California's Happy Cow ads are probably filmed in Wisconsin. We still have green pastures, red barns and more than 14,000 family-owned dairy farms.

2. Wisconsin has 1,200 men and women who have spent at least 18 months working to get their cheesemakers licenses; 43 men and women who have worked at least 10 years to get their Master Cheesemaker's licenses and 117 cheese factories at which they work to craft a new style of artisan or specialty cheese every day. We make more than 600 types of cheese. California makes 250.

3. Wisconsin wins more awards for its cheeses than any other state or nation. We continually sweep every major national and international dairy competition. We have more cheese factories with walls covered in blue ribbons than anywhere on earth.

So what say we end this make-believe arms, er I mean cheese race, and start talking about the real story: where else can you find a world-class dairy infrastructure committed to supporting thousands of farm families and hundreds of cheesemakers who spend their lives perfecting that chunk of cheese you seek out for that special dinner party, holiday gift or to share with a group of friends?

Only in Wisconsin.

And oh yeah, it's almost Friday - time to buy the cheese curds. Pass the Lactaid.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Living on the Wedge in Chicago

Good news for those of you living in Chicago: Wisconsin artisan cheesemakers will soon take the spotlight on Chicago Public Television, as WTTW Channel 11 debuts “Living on the Wedge: Wisconsin’s Artisan Cheesemakers" at 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 17.

For those of you who haven't seen it, the 30-minute documentary showcases the rich diversity of Wisconsin artisan cheesemaking. You'll meet passionate cheesemakers like Sid Cook, Willi Lehner, Tony & Julie Hook, Mike Gingrich, and Anne Topham. The film uses intimate storytelling to show you their farmsteads and aging cellars - it's almost as good as being there in person.

The film was produced by an independent film maker and financed through two Wisconsin dairy organizations: the Dairy Business Innovation Center and the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. Repeat airings on WTTW Channel 11 are scheduled for Dec 19 at 4 a.m., Jan. 3 at 10:30 p.m. and Jan. 5 at 4 a.m.

The Chicago film debut coincides with a splash of national and local media interest during the past year for Wisconsin artisan cheeses. Master Cheesemaker Sid Cook of Carr Valley Cheese in LaValle, Wis., is featured prominently in the current December issue of Saveur Magazine, while chefs and cheese shops around Chicago are continually increasing their offerings of Wisconsin artisan cheeses.

Wisconsin artisan cheeses featured in the film can be found in several retail areas in and around Chicago, including Fox & Obel at 401 Illinois St.; Pastoral, 2945 N. Broadway; Marion Street Cheese Market in Oak Park; and Whole Foods.

By the time you finish watching the film, believe me, you'll be making a cheese run.