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Wisconsin Cheese-a-thon: Day One

Udderfingers

As many of my twitter followers may know, I just came back from a cheese curd-filled, sweet milk blessed and L’Etoile-studded Wisconsin adventure. The Wisconsin Milk Marketing board contacted some of us cheesy media folks to see if they could take us to their land of milk and corn, wine and dine us, and take us to some of the best creameries around the state. I said hell yes.

I had never been to Wisconsin. Like many good Scandinavian-Americans, I have relatives in Minnesota, and although I did manage to eat eat lefsa and hit up the tallest Paul Bunyan statue in the nation while in the land of a 10,000 lakes, the visit didn't quite satisfy my dairy urges.

Wisconsin in fall, Carr Valley

But you can imagine how excited I was to see our agenda.

1. Crave Brothers

2. Bleu Mont

3. Uplands Reserve

4. Emmi-Roth Kase

5. Carr Valley

6. Cedar Grove

7. Otter Creek

Not bad.

If you’re on your cheese toes and very familiar with Wisconsin creameries, you may have noticed that the aforementioned companies focus almost entirely on cow’s milk. You're very keen.

This is because the Wisconsin Milk Marketing board is funded by cow’s milk. A while ago, cow dairy farmers in the state got together and decided that in order to properly promote their product, they were going to fund a marketing company. To fund them, dairy farmers give the marketing board around ten cents of they make from every 100 pounds of milk they sell. Goat and sheep’s milk dairy farmers opted out. Because the marketing board serves the people whose money funds them, the trip focused on cow’s milk. Since Wisconsin has excellent goat’s milk cheese and more sheep’s milk dairies than any other dairy state around, I was a little sad to hear this, but I'm sure that I will make it back one day to visit the smaller animals.

The first night we visited the Crave Brothers, a larger dairy and creamery run by four brothers. We learned about their Poo Power practices where they convert all their cow’s waste to renewable energy and fertilizer (more to come on this topic). We also toured their farm, drove the bus through the barn in twilight, and snuck a peek at their cheesemaking facilities.

Then, we feasted. The Crave Brothers make fresh milk cheeses- everything from ricotta to mozzarella and Oaxacan-style string. Under their factory they have a visitors center where local chefs can test recipes for their products and prepare dishes for visitors.

CraveBrothersCaprese

First, we sampled the Crave’s Petite Frere cheese. It’s a soft, semi-aged, mild washed-rind packaged like a brie. According to George Crave, they experimented a lot with this cheese. Their first batch was super funky. Too funky, many suggested. People not accustomed to the strong flavors wafting from the cheese wanted it to tone down. I’m betting that I would have preferred it stronger- it’s a nice cheese, but more of a breakfast, mild style rather than the focus on a cheese plate.

The chef baked Petite Frere with local, wild mushrooms. It was delicious and heavy, and fit for a Wisconsin winter. Next we had wild mushroom and mascarpone soup with local foraged fungus. Then, caprese salad with three different shapes of Crave mozzarella. The entre was duck focused and, thankfully, cheese free. The break was terrific. For dessert we had mascarpone chocolate cake and truffles, and lemon chevre custard.

It was a good dinner, great night and an excellent start to the trip.

Keep posted for more write-ups on Wisconsin.  Next post: Bleu Mont, Uplands and Roth-Kase.

Have you visited Wisconsin creameries? Which ones were your favorites?