Bass Lake Cheese Factory in Somerset, WI

Becca Dilley / The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin

Becca Dilley / The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin

It’s well known that Wisconsin is a cheesemaker’s paradise, and those who have more than a bit of gastronomic sense are aware that it has become an artisan stronghold, boasting more concentrated cheesemaking knowledge and award-winning varieties than any other plot of land on God’s green earth. Residents of Minneapolis / St. Paul might not, however, be aware that a certified Wisconsin master cheesemaker lies right over the St. Croix River, just past Hudson: Scott Erickson labors daily in Somerset, WI, turning out a beautiful local goat cheese and a number of other types, including classics such as cheddar, remarkable novelty cheeses such as truffle jack, salsa jack, habañero gouda, and several others.

Among those who care — mostly folks of Finnish extraction — Bass Lake Cheese Factory‘s juustoleipa (bread cheese — “HOO-stoh-lee-pah or “HOO-stoh” for short) is rightfully famous. A mellow cheese that won’t melt when grilled, juusto has become one of Wisconsin’s most unusual new specialty hits. The type that Erickson makes at Bass Lake is a bit sweet and wonderful in the morning when immersed in a cup of hot coffee, where it releases some of its creamy flavor. “Because of the high pH, the cheese itself won’t melt and dissipate,” says Erickson. “The butterfat will melt and dissipate, so it’s almost like adding cream. At the same time, it’ll warm the cheese up and juustoleipa is best when it’s warmed up. It’s awesome with sugar and cinnamon on it, too.”

While Erickson is a wizard with experimentation (much like his famous master cheesemaker colleague, Sid Cook of Carr Valley Cheese), his finest work may be his plain chevre, made from fresh local goat milk.

“We ripen the cheese at a lower temperature, at least 15 degrees lower than cow milk,” says Erickson of his goat curd, which sits in nylon bags suspended in mid-air in his plant. “We want the lactic acid to develop slowly so it isn’t so tart, and so the texture is smooth and silky, not grainy.”

Becca Dilley / The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin

Becca Dilley / The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin

By working with the freshest milk he can acquire and handling his curd with care, Erickson delivers a product that lacks any of the off-flavors — the “goatiness” that can make chevre unpleasant — and is instead smooth and almost sweet.

Erickson, an artist by training, likens the work he does with cheese to the instinctual process that goes into any act of creation.

“It’s all the senses that you use — you use your sense of sight, and smell, and touch, and taste,” he says. “It’s almost gotten to the point where I don’t have to run pHs, or titratable acidities — I can pretty much tell using my senses how the bacteria is doing, if it’s developing too fast or too slow. Through experience you learn how you can make adjustments in your recipe, to overcome things that may be happening.”

BEST BET: Buy as much chevre as you can imagine using, consider an aged cheddar, and roll the dice on one of the more unusual cheeses Bass Lake produces — the truffle jack, in particular, is nationally coveted.

James Norton and Becca Dilley are co-authors of The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin (University of Wisconsin Press, Nov. 2009).

Bass Lake Cheese Factory

Cheese Plant in Somerset, WI
598 Valley View Tr.
Somerset, WI 54025
715.247.5586
OWNERS: Scott and Julie Erickson
HOURS:
Mon-Fri 9am-6pm
Sat 10am-6pm
Sun CLOSED

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of Lake Superior Flavors, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a regular on-air contributor to Minnesota Public Radio.

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7 Comments

  1. Cheese + Coffee, now there’s a way for a local coffee house to differentiate. Can’t wait to get the book! Any idea of distribution yet?

  2. Author

    Distribution should be fairly decent — UW Press will be going through all the usual channels (Amazon, major bookstore chains, etc.) We’ll definitely let people know when the book’s around and available, have no fear.

  3. Bass Lake was at the Brewer’s Baazar for the last two years. I love Habanero Gouda.

  4. Mister Patrick 06/18/2009 Reply

    I always make a point to try regional cheeses and I just have not been that impressed with most of them. There are few standouts like some of the blues, but for the most part they just aren’t that impressive when compared with world-class cheeses. I think quotes like these:

    “boasting more concentrated cheesemaking knowledge and award-winning varieties than any other plot of land on God’s green earth”

    are just misleading. You can’t compare Wisconsin cheese to French, Itialian, English etc cheeses. There simply is no comparison. One stroll into almost any tiny French cheese shop will tell you all you need to know. Hell, most cheese shops in these parts sell more meat and “novelty” cheese than the real thing.

    I just had to gripe.

Trackbacks for this post

  1. […] 18, 2009 by jrnorton23 I wrote a brief story about master cheesemaker Scott Erickson and his Bass Lake Cheese Factory for the Heavy Table, the Upper Midwestern food journal that Becca and I both contribute to.  […]

  2. […] from which to choose for this all-important celebration. From Donnay Dairy in Kimball, MN, to Bass Lake Cheese Factory, to Carr Valley Cheese Company in Mauston and La Valle, WI, we can feast on creamy fresh chevres, […]

  3. […] profile of Wisconsin’s newly minted master of juustoleipa cheese (here’s our visit to Bass Lake Cheese), the schedule for 2012′s Dinner on the Farm events, Lenny Russo debunks a myth about […]

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