This year, the American Cheese Society (ACS) Conference and Competition and the Festival of Cheese are taking place in Seattle, Washington, August 25–28. Master Cheesemaker Sid Cook, of Wisconsin’s Carr Valley Cheese, in La Valle, will be attending the event and submitting several of his prized artisan cheeses. Wide awake and as cheery as always, Cook, the most awarded cheesemaker in the country, took a morning out of his summer vacation to chat with us about his experiences with cheese and the ACS competition.
On the American Cheese Society Conference and Competition: Attending the cheese competition is an amazing experience. We’ve been there for several years. This year, it is in Seattle, so to do something different, we plan on catching the train in Wisconsin Dells. It should be a fun trip. It’s beautiful to go across the country and see everything on the way. Rail is an interesting way to do it. You get to go through everyone’s backyard and see the countryside and so many farms.
We’ve submitted a cow’s milk cheese and mixed-milk cheeses.
It’s always a little nerve-racking, because we’ve done extremely well for 10 years. Sooner or later, you’ve got to think … *Laughs*
How he got into cheese: I was just a little kid. When you grow up in a cheese factory, you really don’t know any better. It’s just the way it is. I guess that’s the best way to say it—you just don’t know any better.
I’m a fourth-generation cheesemaker. When you opened our kitchen door, the cheese factory was right there. That’s how it was. I was out there, standing on a 5-gallon pail. You just did anything you could to help out. It’s like kids growing up on farms. They had chores to do and helped around the house.
Of course, since it was a generational thing, all of my aunts, uncles, and great aunts and uncles, were cheesemakers, too. Anytime the family got together, you know what they talked about? Cheese. That’s what I experienced growing up, and that’s the way I’ve known it all my life.
The milk: The cow’s milk comes from local farms around the cheese factories—about 30 to 35 farms. We have our own trucks that go out and pick up the milk. When we need extra milk, we buy it from the local co-ops. It’s all local milk.
On Carr Valley’s unique cheese blends: While I was growing up at my dad’s plants, we made about five to six different cheeses. After I bought the Carr Valley plant and we started making cheeses over there, we had a cheese store at our fingertips. So we had the opportunity to make more cheese and different types of cheeses because we could sell them right in the store.
Favorite thing about cheese? That’s a hard question. I really see what we’re doing now as an adventure. We make Cheddar every day, and it’s our lifeblood. Yet it’s great to throw other things into it. It becomes an art—to get different flavor profiles with the same ingredients. Like when you’re making spaghetti sauce.
The aging of the cheese, adding different cultures, and mixing different milks—it adds a whole new dimension.
I like to tell people that in my “first lifetime,” I made commodity cheeses—bulk cheeses, big bricks for mass purchase. In my “second lifetime,” I made specialty cheeses—Fontina cheese, creamy cheeses. Now I’m in my “third lifetime,” and it’s artisan cheeses—really playing with flavors and mixing different types of milk.
Any new and interesting cheeses? New things are in the pipeline of course, but we like to keep those things to ourselves. *Laughs*
What’s next: I recently celebrated another birthday. Which is scary. It’s really interesting to look back. I remember when I was a new guy on the block. I was 22, 23. I had bought my dad’s plant, and you had all these old guys around, looking at this new kid. Now most of them are gone, and I’m the “old guy.” *Laughs*
Life’s always been a ride. I just let it take me where it goes. Just take the ride.
Update: Results from the 2010 American Cheese Society competition are in. Cook came home with 18 ribbons. For a complete list of winners download the American Cheese Society results brochure.