Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sneak Peak: Summer Cheese Events

One of the perks of helping organize cheese events is learning about them before anyone else. And that means I get to share that information with my friends! Here's a look at three stellar cheese-themed events being planned for this summer - each is open to only a limited number of attendees, so if tickets are on sale, act now.

June 25: Wisconsin Blue Ribbon Cheesemakers' Train, Mukwonago, Wis

Wisconsin Blue Ribbon Cheesemakers' Train June 25, 2011
The Elegant Farmer is combining cheese, trains and apple pie in a brand new event on Saturday, June 25 from 1 to 3 p.m. You're invited to ride along with three 2011 U.S. Champion Cheesemakers on the beautifully restored, vintage East Troy Electric Railroad's Dinner Car. The two-hour round trip departs and returns to The Elegant Farmer Depot in Mukwonago, traveling through the woods and charming town settings of Mukwonago and East Troy, Wis. On board sharing their stories and cheeses will be: Katie Hedrich, LaClare Farms, showcasing her U.S. Champion goat's milk Evalon; Paula Homan, Red Barn Family Farms, sampling Heritage Weis Cheddar; and Brenda Jensen, Hidden Springs Creamery, sampling her soft and hard sheep's milk cheeses. Tickets are $35 and include on-board samplings of cheeses, cheesemakers' talk, accompanying beverages, a dessert tasting featuring Red Barn's signature milk paired with a slice of The Elegant Farmer's famed Apple Pie Baked in a Paper Bag, and a take home goody bag including cheeses and an individual apple pie. Learn more and buy tickets here.

June 24-25: Audacious Beer and Cheese Celebration, Delafield & Hartland, Wis.
Organizer Mike Brown is taking one of the Midwest’s most renowned artisan beer and cheese festivals to a whole new level by introducing a new event called Friday Flights, an exclusive meet-the-maker beer and cheese pairing. Each Friday Flight event will feature an award winning artisan cheesemaker and world class brewery expert who will present beer and cheese pairings. Cheesemakers include Bob Koenig, Carr Valley Cheese; Jerry Heimerl, Saxon Homestead Creamery; Chris Roelli, Roelli Cheese; Bruce Workman, Edelweiss Creamery; and Ron Roethlisberger, Seymour Cheese. Tickets are $25 a person, and with limited attendance of only 20 attendees at each Flight, these are sure to sell out. If you can't make it on Friday night, the festival continues with the Premier Tasting on Saturday with nearly 100 world class beers and more than 30 different artisan cheeses. Hundreds of attendees discover their next favorite beer and cheese at this annual charitable event, and you could be one of them. Purchase tickets here.

July 16: All Star Blue Ribbon Tasting, State Fair Park Expo Center, West Allis, Wis.

The Wisconsin State Fair Park Foundation is hosting its first-ever All Star Blue Ribbon Tasting, celebrating dozens of Wisconsin specialty meats, artisan cheeses and award-winning spirits from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Expo Center at State Fair Park. Only 400 tickets will be sold. Attendees will taste more than 30 Wisconsin State Fair blue-ribbon specialty meats and cheeses, paired with complimentary award-winning Wisconsin beers and wines, plus a special State Fair dessert table featuring the fair's world-famous Cream Puffs. The All Star Blue Ribbon Tasting is a fundraiser for the Wisconsin State Fair Park Foundation. Proceeds help support youth programming and scholarships. Tickets are $35 in advance, $40 at the door. Purchase tickets here.

All three of these events will be sure to sell out, so if you want to attend, make sure to purchase tickets early. See you all there!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Better Butter

If you've purchased and enjoyed a package of hand-rolled butter lately, there's a very good chance - as in 100 percent - that it was a) actually rolled and packaged in paper by hand, and b) those hands belong to a butter-rolling woman named Nina.

Nina is just one of 35 employees who works at Alcam Creamery in Richland Center, Wis., a family owned and managed butter plant that dates back to 1946. It's the kind of place where the original owner, Cam, age 88, comes into work most mornings at 4:30 a.m. and types up the bank deposits on a typewriter, and where the vice president didn't have a desk for the first three years he worked there.

"Not having a desk makes you keep moving - wandering around, talking with employees, staying on the move and trying to keep up," says Alcam Creamery VP Lenny Schaub, a good-natured and well-respected veteran of the dairy industry who spent 35 years in the cheese business before coming to a tiny butter plant in southwest Wisconsin that most people (well at least people like me) didn't know existed until last week.

Lenny, along with General Manager Jason Schultz, the son-in-law of current owner Gary Peckham (interesting tidbit: before he married into the butter family, Jason owned and operated a chain of Panchero's Mexican Grills) together keep things rolling along at Alcam Creamery. The pair oversee a butter plant that makes 200,000 pounds of butter a day and picks up cream from 85 cheese plants around the country.

When it started in 1946, the plant served local cheese plants and dairies, providing an outlet for their whey cream. Once just a local buttermaker, today it produces butter for a growing national market under more than 30 different private label names. Today, it serves plants throughout the nation and provides butter for domestic and international consumption.

General Manager Jason Schultz says the company's continuous growth is a testament to the quality of the company's butter and the loyalty of its customers. "Over the years, our mix of products has grown from bulk boxes of salted  butter to a wide assortment of sizes and shapes for retail, food service and ingredient customers.  Butter is what we do and we do it well," Jason says. "We like to say, it's the butter with taste."

The richer, fuller taste of the whey cream butter made by Alcam is a direct result of the cheesemaking process. Some say the flavor of Alcam Butter reminds them of what hand churned butter used to taste like, vs. the blander, finer taste of a sweet cream, USDA Grade AA butter. Alcam Creamery's whey cream butter is a Wisconsin Grade A butter, meaning instead of a "fine and highly pleasing taste," it has a "pleasing and desirable butter flavor." (Here's a link to the fascinating Wisconsin butter grading statutes, if you're interested).

Whey cream is more salty, tangy, and “cheesy” than "sweet" cream skimmed from milk. Whey cream is made from the fat that remains in liquid whey after the cheesemaking process is completed. The butterfat is separated from the whey, pasteurized, then churned. Salt is added to enhance flavor and preserve quality. The result is a butter that I can only describe as pretty freakin' awesome.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Future Cheesemaker

A woman developing a farmstead goat cheese plant who plans to nurture the next generation of future cheesemakers is the recipient of the 2011 Wisconsin Licensed Cheesemaker Scholarship.

Rose Boero, a nurse and dairy goat breeder in Custer, Wis., was selected from a field of applicants for the $2,500 annual award from Wisconsin Cheese Originals. In pursuing her cheesemaker's license, Boero has already purchased a small pasteurizer and cheese vat and is apprenticing at Willow Creek Cheese, owned by Union Star Cheese in Fremont. She is developing plans to build her own cheese plant at her dairy goat farm, where she and her husband have raised Toggenburg dairy goats for 23 years.

"When I turned 56, I thought it was time to make a 'bucket' list," Boero said. "I've been making and giving away cheese to family and friends for years, and thought I can either turn 60 with a cheesemaker's license, or without a cheesemaker's license. I decided to make it with a cheesemaker's license."

After using the scholarship money to earn her cheesemaker license, Boero is especially interested in nurturing the upcoming generation of cheese enthusiasts. She plans to invite youth to visit her farm and learn cheesemaking. "I already know some of these young people who are just waiting for an opportunity. If I can teach enough youth how it is done, then I will actually be much larger than my own venture," Boero said.

Boero is a native of Kimberly, Wis., and received a bachelor's degree in Education from UW-Stevens Point. Soon after, she earned her Licensed Practical Nurse degree and has worked in the health field for years, while maintaining the family dairy goat farm. She plans to craft aged goat's milk cheeses to sell in Wisconsin and will offer custom cheese production for local dairy farmers looking to add value to their milk.

A five-person scholarship committee made up of industry leaders and cheesemakers selected  Boero out of a field of eight highly-qualified applicants for the Wisconsin Cheese Originals scholarship.

The $2,500 award is funded through membership fees and Wisconsin Cheese Originals event proceeds. Last year's cheesemaker scholarship winner, Katie Hedrich, was named the 2011 U.S. Champion Cheesemaker in March for her farm-based cheese, Evalon. Thanks to all Wisconsin Cheese Originals members for helping these cheesemakers launch their businesses!