Cheese Roundup: The Wisconsin Blues

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The Upper Midwest has a respectably long if not terribly extensive history of making good blue cheese — Minnesotans, for example, have long enjoyed the award-winning blues rolling forth from the subterranean expanse of the Faribault Dairy’s caves.

The recent boom in artisan and / or original cheese varieties has spilled over into the world of blue cheeses, often written off by the general public after one too many run-ins with unpleasantly aggressive Stilton or Roquefort varieties. The new face of blue is softer, kinder, creamier, and less aggressive — less inclined to be a prima donna, the new Wisconsin blue is more typically a team player, harassing a duo or trio of flavors in tandem to produce something more balanced and less extreme.

The following sampling of Wisconsin blues isn’t meant to be comprehensive; among others, Hook’s, Roth Käse, and BelGioioso also make blues worth sampling.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Blue Marble Jack | Nasonville Dairy | $4.95 / lb.

Master cheesemakers Tom Torkelson (below) and Ken Heiman worked together to forge this new Wisconsin original. Blue Marble Jack is a semi-soft cheese with the moist, pliable texture of a Monterey Jack and blue cheese veins woven tightly throughout the curd, incorporating an extremely mild but pleasant blue cheese flavor.

Becca Dilley / The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin

Blue Marble Jack melts easily and evenly, making it an easy cheese to match with burgers and grilled sandwiches — its mellow flavor profile will likely underwhelm blue cheese extremists while winning over blue cheese skeptics.

The stuff is also absolutely gorgeous to look at, vividly recalling the marble of its name — if you’re looking for visual variety on a cheese plate, it’s a natural choice.

Ba Ba Blue | Carr Valley Cheese | $17.40 / lb.

A sheep’s milk blue made by one of the state’s most award-winning dairy artisans, Ba Ba Blue (top photo, center) is semi-soft, strongly “blue” flavored without any ammonia notes, delightfully creamy, and offers a pleasantly salty aftertaste. This is cheese a blue lover can cherish, but it’s mellow and creamy enough to be shared with more cautious palates as well.

Courtesy of Becca Dilley

Ader Käse Reserve | Seymour Dairy Products | $11 / lb.

Made with cow’s milk, the German-style, six-to-nine month aged Ader Käse (“veined cheese”) Reserve plays up the salty, creamy aspects of blue cheese and tempers the cheese’s stronger flavor. Ideal for salads, the mild, earthy flavor of Ader Käse also makes it suitable to serving on a cheese plate with a touch of honey and / or with a charcuterie plate of preserved meats.

Dunbarton Blue | Roelli Cheese Haus | $15.99 / lb.

This hard cheese combines the nutty, earthy taste and crystal-studded texture of a youngish cave-aged English cheddar with veins of blue flavor that offer a bit of a jolt followed by a mellow, even-keeled aftertaste. Created a couple of years ago by using both cheddaring and piercing techniques (typical for making artisan cheddar and most blue cheeses, respectively), Dunbarton Blue (top photo, right) is both respectful of tradition — well, traditions, plural — and a startlingly original Wisconsin cheese.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of a book about Minnesota sandwiches and the people who eat them, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a daily video blogger for CHOW. His latest book is a guide to the food and restaurants of Minneapolis and St. Paul called the Food Lovers’ Guide to the Twin Cities. Norton has written about food for Culture: The Word on Cheese, Salon, Gastronomica, Popular Science, Saveur.com, Minnesota Monthly, and City Pages (as a weekly restaurant reviewer).

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5 Comments

  1. lectric lady07/18/2010Reply

    Try Hooks Blue Paradise; a double cream blue. It is To Die For!

  2. Author

    There’s not much (if any) cheese by Hooks that my wife and I don’t totally enjoy. Good tip!

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