Before you make your predictions for the upcoming 2013 American Cheese Society’s Competition, get to know Wisconsin cheesemakers Sid Cook, Andy Hatch and Marieke Penterman, who are all top-award contenders. Currently decorated with many nationally recognized achievements, these cheesemakers are true to the Wisconsin Cheese motto “Outdo Ordinary.” Andy Hatch and Uplands Cheese’s Pleasant Ridge Reserve won the American Cheese Society’s 2010 Best in Show; Sid Cook and Carr Valley’s Caved Aged Marisa won Best in Class in 2013; and, most recently, Marieke Penterman and Holland’s Family Cheese’s Marieke Foenegreek Gouda won the 2013 U.S. Cheese Championship Contest this past March.
Cheesemaker at Uplands Cheese in Dodgeville, WI
Since the American Cheese Society Conference is an international event, we are especially looking forward to sharing our Wisconsin Cheese culture with attendees who have never before visited the Midwest. Since you have been an expert in the industry for some time now, as well as having spent years outside of Wisconsin participating in cheesemaking abroad, what in your opinion makes Wisconsin truly America’s Dairyland?
There’s a density of dairy farms and cheesemakers here that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the country, and in addition to all of the cows and knowledge and equipment that come with that, there’s a history and a culture. We’re proud of that, but fortunately we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and we can have a laugh about it.
This year will be the first year that Cheese Curds are a judging category at the competition. How monumental is this to you and the Wisconsin Cheese industry? And do you prefer your Wisconsin Cheese Curds fried or fresh?
I think it’s a great nod to the conference locale, and hopefully it’ll give some people their first chance to try our native snack. Ask anybody in the state and they’ll have their favorite curd maker, so there will be strong opinions after the judges weigh in. I eat curd fresh in the morning, with coffee, and fried at night, with beer.
What are you most looking forward to about the American Cheese Society Conference and Competition?
I always look forward to catching up with people that I see only once or twice a year, even though we might talk on the phone every week. I enjoy a lot of the people we work with, and it’s fun to spend time together talking about things other than cheese.
Cheesemaker and Owner of Holland’s Family Cheese in Thorp, WI
As a cheesemaker who hails from Holland originally, are you looking forward to the American Cheese Society event due to its international nature?
Oh yes! American Cheese Society in general has always been wonderful, due to its great networking opportunities and the educational and moral support. We do notice that we are getting more and more interest from international cheese lovers, and events/conferences like this help to support that.
Which of your Gouda flavors, year round or seasonal, do you favor? Are there any new seasonal flavors on the horizon?
The Plain, Foenegreek, Burning Mélange and Smoked Gouda are very popular cheeses all year round. We also have a clove variety that is more popular during the wintertime. We always keep our eyes, ears and palates open for any other flavors that might work well. I’m still perfecting a good flavor combination with chocolate, because it requires not only coming up with a good flavor of cheese, but also the ingredient has to be very specific. Such as with cranberries—do you take sweetened, unsweetened, dried or fresh ones and how much? There is quite a bit of experimenting going on before we’re truly happy and want to introduce the cheese to customers.
Are there any aspects you miss about having a smaller operation, as you did before expanding in Thorp, WI?
I feel as though we are still very small; we are moving to a different location that will give us more opportunities to make diverse products, but because we are a handcrafted farmstead creamery, we will never be a huge producer. We love to spend time to produce a healthy, unique and very flavorful product, and that is where our focus and interest will remain.
Where do you see you and the Wisconsin Cheese industry in 10 years?
It has been so motivating to see how consumers are enjoying their local products and the interest they express in where their food is coming from. I believe this is a trend that will only continue to grow.
Master Cheesemaker at Carr Valley Cheese in LaValle, WI
As a fourth-generation cheesemaker, would you say that cheesemaking was more of an instinct for you than a learned trade?
Let’s just say I was immersed in it my whole life. I literally grew up in the factory, as the house was next door. Most of my uncles and aunts were cheesemakers and, believe me, I have heard lots about cheese. Also, having had the opportunity to experience cheesemaking classes from more than 15 countries and work with cheesemakers from around the world—all of these things add up to a very unusual and different life experience. Yes, I have the natural instinct. But I acquired the knowledge of the science, the art and the innovation.
The perfect summer three-cheese cheeseboard—what does yours include at present?
I would have to have a 10-year Wisconsin Cheddar, Cocoa Cardona, Cave Aged Marisa, Glacier Pentacreme Blue, Black Sheep Truffle, Menage, Caso Bolo Mellage and Billy Blue. When you make 80 cheeses, three doesn’t cut it!