Espresso BellaVitano by Sartori Cheese

Espresso BellaVitano cheese by Sartori

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

One of the most interesting and least understood aspects of contemporary Wisconsin artisan cheesemaking is this: There are cheesemakers out there making flavored cheeses that are worth a damn. For a long time — rightfully, justifiably so — flavored cheeses were looked down upon, mocked, sneered at, kicked to the curb, and generally assigned to the category of stuff eaten by ignorant tourists.

The fact of the matter is that European cheese artisans have played with flavorings for hundreds of years, whether it’s Dutch caraway goudas, French cheeses flavored with parsley, tarragon, and pepper, or the pepato of Sicily.

In recent years, with relatively little fanfare, Wisconsin cheesemakers have begun to move away from blueberry- or cranberry-adulterated wrecks into more carefully conceived and ultimately delicious experiments — the cumin, pesto basil, or clove gouda of Marieke Penterman, for example, or the cave-aged peppercorn cheddar of Henning’s Cheese in Kiel, WI.

Sartori made a breakthrough a few years ago with its raspberry BellaVitano, a Wisconsin original cheese flavored by a good soaking in New Glarus Raspberry Tart beer (a beer that just won the gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival for best fruit-flavored beer in the country).

Now, a triumphant follow-up: Espresso BellaVitano (seen above at a Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board sample tasting). Made by rubbing roasted espresso into wheels of creamy BellaVitano cheese, it packs two distinct but complementary flavor profiles: the nutty, cheddar-meets-parmesan flavor of the cheese, and the roasty depth of the coffee. The blackened exterior of the cheese, where the coffee was applied, is particularly espresso-esque and delightful. Pairing with stout or coffee beers is a breeze, as is pairing with chocolate or coffee itself.

Sartori cheese turns up frequently in local cheese shops — I’ve seen it at the co-ops (Linden Hills and Seward come immediately to mind) and it’s likely to pop up at Kowalski’s or Lunds. And if you’re intrigued and not finding it, it can be ordered online by the 4-oz. wedge ($5.87), 5-lb. quarter wheel ($78.63), or 20-pound whole wheel ($299.50). Good as it is, it’s probably worthwhile starting with the wedge before committing to the wheel.

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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. Matt 10/26/2011

    FYI, Sartori BellaVitano can often be found at Costco for half the price of what you would find at Lunds or Kowalski. I was at the Saint Louis Park store this weekend and I think they had the Raspberry. I believe I bought the Balsamic there in the past. Best cheese value in the Twin Cities in my opinion considering the price point of what Costco sells it at!

  2. Ryan 10/26/2011

    The cheese factory that produces this wonderful parmesan is located in Antigo, WI (which happens to be my hometown). The cheese plant originally produced Kraft parmesan, the one found in the green cans. After Kraft shut the plant down, it was reopenend as the Antigo Cheese company. They went from Kraft can cheese to the best U.S. Cow Milk Cheese at the 2006 World Cheese Awards (among other numerous awards). It was subsequently bought out by Sartori. Bottom line is that today the plant makes wonderful cheeses, it is run by great people, and buying it supports a local business in a small town that appreciates the jobs.