America’s Dairyland is truly a special place and, we have to admit, we love showing it off. Last week, we hosted a group of editors, bloggers and cheese industry experts to spend a few days learning about Wisconsin, the dairy industry and the cheese that we are known for all over the world.
And it was delicious.
Follow along on our four-day cheese tour through that state’s countryside and learn how to recreate the Wisconsin-inspired flavors we tasted along the way.
First stop? Madison’s resident cheese shop on the square, Fromagination. Here, visitors met owner Ken Monteleone and heard about his vision for bringing local, Wisconsin-made artisan cheese and other goods to downtown Madison. Next up, the iconic Babcock Dairy Plant on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, the home of the Center for Dairy Research. Visitors were able to learn about new products and advancements being made right in the heart of dairy country. And day one wouldn’t be complete without a stellar dinner in one of Madison’s award-winning restaurants: Heritage Tavern. Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker Sid Cook of Carr Valley Cheese joined the group, and Chef Dan Fox put together a menu including sun choke soup with Canaria cheese and smoked fontina with suckling pork, porchetta and fried head cheese.
Next Stop? There’s no better destination for learning Wisconsin’s cheese heritage than Monroe, Wisconsin. Located in the southwestern part of the state, Green County is home to highest concentration of cheesemakers in the country – it’s 585 square miles of dairy-goodness. And it includes the only place in the country that still produces limburger cheese: Chalet Cheese Co-op. Master Cheesemaker Myron Olson gave our crew a tour of the historic plant, where he and his team make several cheese varieties in addition to limburger, like whole-milk baby Swiss and smoked brick.
Our second destination in Monroe was Emmi Roth USA, the makers of this year’s World Championship Cheese: Grand Cru Surchoix. This Wisconsin Original smear-ripened cheese is everything an alpine-style cheese could hope to be, and it was delicious served in Chef Claire Menck’s Million Dollar Salad (see recipe below). The salad kicked off a lunch highlighting Emmi Roth’s cheeses, including their new Natural Melt fontina and Prairie Sunset.
The drive to our next stop, Uplands Cheese in Dodgeville, was a mini-tour of Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, characterized by rolling hills and deep river valleys. Here, cheesemaker Andy Hatch and his team carefully craft Upland’s signature cheese Pleasant Ridge Reserve. A true farmstead cheese operation, Uplands only uses milk from their own herd of cows while they are grazing on pasture. Pleasant Ridge Reserve has won the American Cheese Society’s Best of Show three times, the only cheese to claim that honor.
Capping off a great day was dinner at Chef Tory Miller’s newest restaurant, Estrellon, where a series of small plates paid homage to fresh, local ingredients. The evening included a cheese-tasting with Chris Roelli, a fourth-generation Master Cheesemaker and creator of the famed Dunbarton Blue cheese.
Taste it at home: Give your cheese board and sweet and savory twist with Chef Tory Miller’s recipe for Rhubarb, Bacon and Onion Compote.
Day three included a trip to Crave Brothers Farmstead Classics, where visitors got to taste fresh Wisconsin mascarpone and mozzarella in a unique lunch menu, including sweet pizza with candied bacon, caramelized onion and mascarpone. With its state-of-the-art methane digester, the dairy runs on 100 percent green power, and produces enough electricity to power itself, the cheese plant and nearly 300 nearby homes.
Taste it at home: Chocolate Cream Cheese & Mascarpone Pie.
Master Cheesemaker Joe Widmer met the group at Widmer’s Cheese in northeastern Wisconsin. A third-generation cheese maker and owner, Widmer has been immersed in the cheese business since age 6 – that’s amounted to a lot of cheesemaking experience. Widmer’s Cheese specializes in a Wisconsin Original: Brick cheese. If you’ve never had brick cheese spread, you are missing out on a quintessential Wisconsin favorite.
Taste it at home: Watermelon Radish with Cheese Spreads.
A night at The American Club in Kohler, Wisconsin – complete with a dinner featuring menu items from all five American Club restaurants – left our group well-rested and ready to tackle their next stop: BelGioioso Cheese in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Known for their award-winning asiagos, mozzarellas, fresh burrata cheeses and more, BelGioioso has been making Italian-style cheese in the United States since 1979. It was the perfect end to a jaunt across the Wisconsin countryside, and a lovely sampling of America’s Dairyland.
Taste it at home: Savor the creamy flavors of fresh burrata in these easy Rustic Basil and Burrata Bites.
To plan out your own tour of America’s Dairyland, visit eatwisconsincheese.com.
By Chef Claire Menck, Emmi Roth USA
For the Salad:
1/4 cup (1 ounce) Grand Cru Surchoix cheese, shaved
2 fennel bulbs
2 blood oranges, skinned and separated into segments
1/4 cup pistachio nuts, shelled
For the Dressing:
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste
Place dressing ingredients into Mason jar. Cover and shake vigorously.
Remove stems from fennel bulbs. Using mandolin or very sharp knife, shave fennel and shallots. Mound
fennel in center of large serving platter. Top with shallots.
Place blood orange segments around top and outside of salad. Garnish with pistachios and cheese. Just
before serving, drizzle dressing over top.