After six days of hanging out with some of my favorite cheese makers and people in the biz, dining around Madison, and eating more fermented dairy than one might have thought possible (but not me, I knew what was possible, I knew), I have one word that describes the way I am feeling after the experience. Inspired. And then a phrase. In need of vegetables.
What exactly do you do at a CheeseCon? Because it’s called CheeseCon (a title that is not yet officially endorsed by the American Cheese Society), some might think we put on capes, tights, and cheese hats. Some of us do. But we also do somewhat grown up things like attend educational sessions and shake hands in a business like fashion. Then there’s also a lot of what’s in the below photo that goes on.
I arrived a night early to attend a pig roast at Pleasant Ridge Reserve. We ate pigs fed with Pleasant Ridge Reserve whey and drank Wisconsin beer while listening to a live bluegrass band. You know- it was a little tasty and fun. I debating skipping this and coming the next day instead to get more work done back in Oakland, then figured that missing this for that reason would be as punishing as taking a child to an ice cream sundae shop and making them order sorbet. So I went and had a hell of a time.
The second day I went on a “Classics” tour of Wisconsin cheesemakers.
One of my favorites was Blue Mont. A winner of an ACS award this year, Blue Mont is run by cheesemaker and yodeler Willi Leher. He makes the cheese at Cedar Grove, then transports it to his underground cave underneath a hill outside his home. The inside of the cave looks like the photo above. Then, like any good washed-rind cave, the inside smells like ammonia (washed-rind by product) and cheese. Like any good cave built under a hill and covered with grass, it also looks like a fine hobbit home.
We also hit up Hook’s, tried their old cheddars and new blues, and were told if we didn’t behave they would head lock us in the device above. Just kidding. That’s a blue piercer. After a blue cheese’s milk is inoculated with Penicillium roqueforti and the wheels are formed, the wheels are individually pierced with tines like these to form holes, or veins. When air circulates through these holes, it interacts with Penicillium roqueforti and turns the veins blue. By the way, Hooks has a new mixed milk cheese called Ewe Have to be Kidding. Guess how many milks.
And this is Roelli’s Red Rock from our visit to Roelli. Very similar to Dunbarton Blue in theme, Red Rock is an American cheddar style cheese that’s been inoculated with Penicillium roqueforti. It’s made by fifth generation cheese maker Chris Roelli, whose skills at drinking beer until 11pm then waking up at 3:30 am to make his cheese during ACS conferences two days in a row are just as impressive at his cheesemaking. For further reading, Dunbarton Blue is in my book.
What else do you do at CheeseCon?
Well you buy treats.
Then you eat more cheese curds.
Here and there (six days, people), you take a probiotic or two to stay strong.
Then you attend classes, and the Festival of Cheese and try to pick which of the 1,600 samples you should taste. I tend to pick the blue table pretty clean.
And, always, always shoot for the Best in Show. You may or may not get to it in time.