Sunday, May 22, 2011

Clock Shadow Creamery

Somebody needs to make Wisconsin Cheesemaker Bob Wills a spandex superhero suit. Because, despite what you see in the movies, modern superheroes don’t wear tights and a cape. Nowadays, they wear hairnets.

On Thursday, one hairnet-wearing Superhero Master Cheesemaker (well, technically, he wasn't actually wearing a hairnet at the time) helped launched Wisconsin's first inner-city cheese factory. Yes, that's right. Clock Shadow Creamery - named for the nearby Allen-Bradley Clock Tower - is scheduled to be up and running in the historic Walker's Point area of Milwaukee next March.

Cheesemaker Bob Wills, who in his spare time, serves on the American Cheese Society Board of Directors, works on the USDA's Dairy Industry Advisory Committee, and oh, by the way, produces award-winning cheese at a little factory called Cedar Grove Cheese that he owns in Plain, Wis., spoke to a cheering crowd of 200 people on Thursday, along with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and a host of local leaders. All were there to celebrate the groundbreaking of a new, $7 million, four-story new development led by local do-good legend Juli Kaufmann.

Wills plans to lease the first floor of Kaufmann's new development (the top three floors will host medical clinics and community organizations) and build a working cheese factory that will feature public viewing areas and produce primarily fresh cheeses, including fresh mozzarella, quark and cheese curds – the types of cheeses not readily available to urban dwellers.

More importantly, the creamery will serve as an incubator for future cheesemakers. Wills plans to offer a cheesemaking apprenticeship program, where ideally, the next generation of cheesemakers will be launched, perhaps many from the inner city.

Incubators and apprenticeship is a little something Wills know a lot about. Ten years ago, he took a risk and opened his cheese plant in Plain, Wis., to up-and-coming cheesemakers looking to rent a cheese vat to launch new cheeses. Because of stiff competition, strict environmental standards and confidentially issues, very few cheese plants across the nation open their facilities to other cheesemakers. In fact, Wills is still one of only a handful of cheese plant owners who rents out space to other cheesemakers.

And now, he's taking that mentality to the big city.

“The goal is help set up future cheesemakers for their own careers,” Wills says. “Ideally, I’ll find a young cheesemaker to run the Clock Shadow Creamery and it will be his or her factory in five years.” 

If the Clock Shadow Creamery model is successful, he says he may replicate it in other places. 

“It seems like a good way to help young people interesting in building a career in the dairy industry that don’t come from a third or fourth generation cheesemaking family. We’ve got to find a way to connect those kids to cheesemaking,” he says.

Based on the response from Thursday's jubilant crowd, which later retired to a rockin' party at the Milwaukee Brewing Company across the street, Wills' inner city cheesemaking venture will be successful. Kinds of makes one wonder if  perhaps he doesn't have a pair of tights and superhero cape in his closet after all. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Unglaciated Cheese

Farmstead. Artisan. Specialty. Organic. Grass-fed. These are all labels we've become accustomed to seeing on cheese labels. But could the next big thing be Unglaciated Cheese?

A new report published recently by the Dairy Business Innovation Center in Wisconsin thinks so. It says raw milk cheesemakers could carve out a marketing niche by identifying a new designation for cheeses made in the unglaciated, rolling hills of Wisconsin's Driftless region.

A 135-page report titled: "Application of the Concept of Terroir in the American Context: Taste of Place and Wisconsin Unpasteurized Milk Cheeses," by Gersende Cazaux, explores the possibility of adapting the French concept of "terroir" to raw milk cheeses made in the Driftless region of western Wisconsin. The full report is available here on the DBIC website.

Terroir has traditionally been used to explain a product`s specificity as a result of where and how it is made - think French wines and cheeses - but Cazaux believes the concept of "terroir" or what she refers to as "taste of place" could be a marketing tool for raw milk cheesemakers in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin. As part of her research, Cazaux surveyed all Wisconsin raw milk cheesemakers in July, 2010. Cheesemakers were asked to provide specific information about cheese production, dairy farming systems and cheesemaking practices.

Cazaux found that Wisconsin is home to 22 raw milk cheesemaking operations: 10 farmsteads, nine creameries, two dairy farms and one cheese-aging operation. Of these 22 raw milk cheesemaking operations, 16 are located in the Driftless Region, and 15 of those 16 cheesemakers use grass-based, rBGH-free milk.

To characterize a cheese production using a specific terroir or taste of place label, Cazaux says the major influencing factor is how producers approach their raw material: the milk. Her analysis shows that 14 of the cheesemakers use milk with a high aromatic potential to express the taste of place in their cheese, either by operating as a farmstead operation, using a limited number of dairy farm suppliers, not heat-treating the milk, and/or by transforming it into cheese within 48 hours after milking.

The DBIC report concludes that raw milk cheeses using the concept of terroir or taste of place in the geographical Driftless region would be possible, as the cheesemakers share the same specific natural characteristics and common practices.

The DBIC now plans to work with the existing Driftless Region Food and Farm Project and explore creating a taste of place designation for Wisconsin unpasteurized cheeses crafted in the Driftless Region. Perhaps Unglaciated Cheese could soon be coming to store near you.

Monday, May 09, 2011

25 Best Cheeses of Wisconsin

A couple of months ago, I reported on the photo shoot and the process that led up to an art print and event celebrating what I think are the 25 Best Cheeses of Wisconsin. Since then, about 200 of you helped me taste those cheeses at an April 16 Gala in Madison, and 455 of you have requested your own copy of the limited edition art print (only 500 were printed). So if there's anyone out there who'd like their very own copy of the above poster (measures 2 feet x 3 feet and is printed on heavy poster paper with gold ink insets), let me know - you can order a copy here. Only 45 left, so let me know soon if you want one!

As a recap, here are the Top 25 Cheeses of Wisconsin (well, there's actually 26 - I lost count during the photo shoot. These things tend to happen with my projects - I just get way too excited about cheese):

  • BelGioioso Cheese: Aged Provolone
  • Bleu Mont DairyL Bandaged Cheddar
  • Capri Cheesery : St. Pauline
  • Carr Valley: Cocoa Cardona
  • Cesar's Cheese: Queso Oaxaca
  • Cedar Grove: Butterkase
  • Chalet Cheese Cooperative: Baby Swiss
  • Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese: Petit Frere
  • Edelweiss Creamery: Grass Based Emmentaler
  • Emmi Roth USA: Grand Cru Gruyere Surchoix
  • Fantome Farm: Fleuri Noir
  • Hennings Cheese: Peppercorn Cheddar
  • Hidden Springs Creamery: Driftless
  • Hollands Family Cheese: Foenegreek Gouda
  • Hook's Cheese: 10-Year Cheddar
  • Klondike Cheese: Feta
  • LaClare Farm: Evalon
  • Maple Leaf Cheese Cooperative: English Hollow
  • Meister Cheese : Eagle Cave Reserve 
  • Nordic Creamery: Capriko
  • Roelli Cheese: Dunbarton  Blue
  • Sartori: SarVecchio
  • Saxon Homestead Creamery: Big Ed's
  • Seymour Dairy: Ader Kase Reserve
  • Uplands Cheese: Pleasant Ridge Reserve
  • Widmer's Cheese Cellars: Brick

Look for each of these cheeses at your favorite cheese shop, and if your favorite cheese doesn't carry it, ask them to! Happy Wisconsin cheese eating!