Thursday, December 25, 2008

Top 10 Cheese Moments of 2008

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyful Kwanza, insert holiday greeting here, to all of the readers of Cheese Underground! This being near the end of the year, it seems to be 'tis the season to start making Top 10 lists. So here you go, faithful readers -- I'm going back through my list of 69 blog postings of the past year and picking out my favorites, mostly based on the clever comments left by all of you. Enjoy!

Top 10 Moments of Cheese Underground in 2008

10. Running for President: Turns out that responding to a request from the Cheese Underground Lady on your favorite type of cheese does not bode well in your run for the presidency. After being the only candidate to reply to my "Wisconsin Primary - It's About Cheese" questionnaire, Mike Huckabee goes down in flames in the Feb. 19 vote. Alert Cheese Underground reader Rena contributes this news: "It's not Wisconsin, but there is a "Barick Obama" cheese made by Lady Lazy Farm in Vermont. Never tried it, but I think this makes Barack the only presidential candidate with a namesake cheese." Outstanding.

9. Sheepish Grin: In my post on the new Ocooch Mountain cheese crafted by Brenda Jensen of Hidden Springs Creamery, alert Cheese Underground reader WineBibber picks up on my line of: "The Jensens milk 140 ewes and 'have lost count' of how many other sheep they raise, Brenda says with a grin." WineBibber asks: "Did she say this with a sheepish grin?" Excellent. I've never met a pun I didn't like. Keep em' coming.

8. Best Cheese Shop in the UK: It's always good to know that often times, readers don't even need to actually read my posts to start their own conversations and arguments. My favorite case of this was my Sassy Cow Creamery post, in which I delightfully describe a new milk bottling operation, only to have the comments descend into an argument of what cheese shop the readers like best in England. What???? Something got lost in the translation on this one.

7. Cheese People: You have to give persistent people credit where credit is due, and my 2008 "Your persistence just paid off" award goes to the dude who created the "Cheese People" website, where every cheese is made into a personality. This fellow has been emailing me all year, with updates on his "cheese people," and was very dutiful in randomly posting poems on my posts, such as his ode to "Spring by Charlie Cheshire," which I guess somehow corresponds with my post on Red Barn Family Farms. Big sigh.

6. Better Butter: Turns out several of you share my fetish with butter, which is always a good thing. It's never fun to be a freak by yourself. So a big thank you to alert Cheese Underground readers Cristie and Resident Cheesemonger, who rallied to my call for Better Butter. In good news, my new fridge has a secret drawer, all the better to hide the $8.75 pound/butter from my husband. :)

5. Swiss Mafia: I unwittingly unleashed a wave of fear amongst the cheese-eating world with my off-the-cuff reference to the Swiss Mafia of Green County in my English Hollow post. This one generated lots of emails asking if such an organization really exists (it does not - at least, I don't think so), but my favorite comment was again by Resident Cheesemonger, who noted: "I'm a sucker for a good quality cheddar, so I'll have to keep my eyes open for that one (assuming it ever makes it to my neck of the woods- Boston). Of course, if I'm buying this English Hollow cheese, should I be worried about the Swiss cheese mafia coming after me? ;-)" Be afraid, be very afraid.

4. Everyone Wants My Job: It's good to be reminded every now and then that my job is awesome. Especially on those days when my non-cheese friends openly mock me for writing about cheese for a living. Many thanks to all alert Cheese Underground readers who shared their love on my Big Ed's post. Feel free to mail any monetary donations my way. Just kidding. Not really.

3. Incubator Cheesemaker Bob Wills: Many thanks to all the cheesemakers who make my job really fun, especially my post on Bob Wills, which led to my first story assignment in the new Culture Magazine. Check out page 24 of the premier issue of Culture - now on newsstands - for a feature story on Mr. Bob. Better yet, if you're still looking for last minute Christmas gifts, I'd highly recommend giving a subscription. The only thing better than eating cheese is reading about it, right? Wink, wink.

2. Cheese Wars: Only in Wisconsin, would a pound of artisan cheese be bet on a basketball game. Larry's Market co-owner Steve Ehlers, got the last laugh, however, when Marquette beat UW-Madison, and Ken Monteleone of Fromagination shipped him a pound of Dunbarton Blue. Larry even sent me a photo of his sister, their friend Sara Hill, and the big man himself enjoying the new American Original crafted by Chris Roelli of Shullsburg. Watch this cheese, boys and girls ... it's going to be big. 

Insert virtual drum roll ... and my favorite moment of 2008 was:

1. Hearing From Alert Readers Everywhere: During the past 12 months, I've gotten emails from everywhere between Dubai and the UK, giving me advice on cheese and asking for advice on where to get cheese. I dutifully try and respond to all requests for information and am continually flattered that you all think I may actually know what I'm talking about. Keep up the comments and I'll keep up the writing. 

See you all in 2009!! Happy New Year!!!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dunbarton Blue

It's embarrassing to say, but about three weeks ago, I was getting cheesed out. Too many tastings and too many mediocre cheeses had crossed my path and I was just about to think maybe I should go on a cheese hiatus until the new year to cleanse out my taste buds.

And then Chris Roelli gave me a call.

Thank god for Wisconsin cheesemakers. Leave it to an up-and-comer to bring me out of my December cheese doldrums (it doesn't help that as I write this it is six degrees BELOW freaking zero, 25 mph winds and three feet of snow outside -- the wind is actually driving snow through my window cracks, but alas, I digress ...).

So last week I headed to southwest Wisconsin to see Chris and find out what was so important that I must visit him in person. Turns out he is unveiling his new Dunbarton Blue -- the cheese wagered by Ken Montelone of Fromagination earlier this month -- and Chris wanted my advice on how to describe it to buyers.

Here's one word for ya: yummy.

But if you'd like a technical review, here you go: Dunbarton Blue is an earthy cheddared-blue, open air cured, giving it the feel of an English cheddar, but spiked with the delicate, subtle flavor of a fine blue. 

Plus, it's really pretty.

Currently available only at Fromagination in Madison at upwards of $20/pound, I predict once buyers from around the country start tasting this cheese, it will be in high demand. Chris only has eight 7-pound wheels ready right now, but in about four weeks, he'll have another 30 wheels ready for sale. 

Chris named the Dunbarton Blue after a neighboring township and has been tinkering with the recipe for more than a year. He makes the cheese by hand in a small, 300-gallon artisan cheese vat in his small creamery between Shullsburg and Darlington. He aged the first few wheels at Willi Lehner's cave in Blue Mounds, but is almost done with building his own affinage facility. Chris is renovating the original cave used by the cheese plant - surrounded by earthen walls on three sides with a rock wall foundation -- and plans to age the next batch on his own turf.

Chris is also redesigning his website so that anyone and everyone can buy his cheeses directly. It's not quite finished, but once it's live (around February) you should be able to go here and order Dunbarton Blue online. Whoo-hoo!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Brie in a Log

President Brie - made in my hometown of Belmont, Wis. -- seems to get a bad rap. Just last week, Murray's Cheese's weekly newsletter promoted its "Recession Diet" class by proclaiming that it is still possible to "stick to a budget without resorting to box wine and Presidenté brie."


I have to admit that I haven't had President Brie since I was a teenager. My dad and I used to eat it with crackers at the local club in the winter before playing our weekly tournament game of Smear (it's a card game) on Wednesday nights. It was a big treat. As a household that usually had nothing but Velveeta in its fridge, eating local brie was a big deal.

So it was with fond memories of my childhood that I picked up the new President Brie Log currently being touted in supermarkets everywhere. It's a new shape "perfect for crackers" and comes ready to slice with a "thin edible rind."

I took the Brie log, along with a box of Carr's Crackers and a jar of local Black Cherry jam to -- guess what -- my monthly outing with girlfriends where we play dice in a tournament (it doesn't seem like anyone plays cards anymore, much less the old standby game of Smear). 

I sliced the brie onto the crackers, dropped a small dollop of jam on top and voila - instant appetizer that looked classy and actually tasted really good. So, if you're looking for an easy hors d'œuvre that takes about three minutes to prepare, the new Sliceable Log of President Brie is your cheese. 

And if anybody out there still plays Smear, let me know. I'm always looking for a card game.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


A new line of cheeses created by the master cheese makers at Sartori Foods in Plymouth, Wis., are capturing some serious attention these days by cheese buyers, judges and people like us who just like cheese. 

The now award-winning line of Sartori Reserve BellaVitano artisan cheeses (a bunch of them won medals at the World Cheese Awards in Ireland this past October) combine the rich and fruity creaminess of young cheese with the appealing crunch that only comes with premium aging. 

Think of the rich, craveable taste of an aged, premium Cheddar, balanced by a full-flavored Parmesan, and you have this uniquely delicious artisan cheese.  I picked up a a half a pound for a friend who was having a dinner party and she called me the next day, practically so happy she was crying. See what I mean? This cheese moves people.

And, the news just keeps getting better – four new distinctive BellaVitano varieties are now available in both wedges and wheels.

  • Raspberry BellaVitano.  This premium cheese won Best New Cheese and Best American Cheese at the 2008 World Cheese Awards in Ireland. It is soaked in New Glarus Raspberry Tart Ale to bring out fruity notes. This is my new favorite cheese. I could literally sit and eat this cheese until I get sick. It's that good.

  • Black Pepper BellaVitano.  Created for the most discerning cheese enthusiast, this variety is coated in cracked black peppercorns. It won a Silver Medal at the 2008 World Cheese Awards.

  • Merlot BellaVitano.  Soaked in fine Merlot for hints of berry and plum, this extraordinary cheese carries a pleasing flavor and texture.

  • BellaVitano Gold.  Inspired by a traditional Italian farmstead cheese, Bella Vitano Gold combines the fruity flavor of a premium Parmesan with the creamy smoothness of fine Cheddar. It won a Gold Medal at the 2008 World Cheese Awards.
These cheeses are becoming available at more and more stores across the country, so I would really encourage you to ask for them. The raspberry and merlot - especially for their color and table presentation - will make really excellent holiday cheeses.

Happy eating!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Breaking News: Cheese Wars

Updated update: Steve Ehlers, Sara Hill from the WMMB, and Patty Ehlers, pictured right, enjoy the spoils of victory!!

Update: the UW Badgers lost to the Marquette Golden Eagles, 61-58. Good news, Milwaukeeites -- go to Larry's Market this week to sample a brand new Wisconsin cheese -- Roelli's Dunbarton Blue. I'm sure Steve Ehlers will cherish the congratulatory note from Ken. :)

Despite being the non-sporting fan that I am, even I know that sports fans across Wisconsin are all a twitter about THE rival men's basketball game of the year going down this Saturday night at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. The No. 25 ranked Marquette University Golden Eagles are set to face the No. 22 ranked UW Madison Badgers. The match-up is the 115th time the two have met in a non-conference setting, but no matter, each year, this game is a big deal in Wisconsin. Tip-off is 8:30 p.m. and tickets are going upwards of $200 apiece on Craig's List.

So, you can imagine my delight when I opened my inbox this morning to discover that in a rival match-up worthy of Marquette vs. UW Madison, two of the state's finest cheese shops have decided to bet 1 pound of their favorite Wisconsin artisan cheese on the game.

In corner number one we have Steve Ehlers of Larry's Market in Brown Deer, representing the Marquette Golden Eagles. He's put 1 pound of Joe Widmer's award-winning, to-die-for, 8-year aged cheddar on the line, along with one dozen of Larry's Famous Killer Brownies (made with AA Wisconsin butter). 

In corner number two, we have Ken Monteleone of Fromagination in Madison, representing the UW Badgers. In a classic case of a friendly rival one-up-manship, he's put 1 pound of the brand new Dunbarton Blue from Roelli Cheese in Shullsburg. This cheese isn't even being marketed yet -- I first tasted it the weekend I left before vacation and nearly fell over. It's a cheddar blue style that I predict will be the next big Wisconsin award-winner. Ken's also throwing in a premium bag of crazy good Tootski's Toffee, made in Madison.

The rules put forth state the losing team's hometown cheese shop must ship his favorite cheese to the winning team's hometown cheese shop, along with a congratulatory note that will be prominently displayed next to the cheese for all customers to see.

Sounds like a classic match-up and I look forward the results. Let the best man, er cheese, win!!