Typically you don’t have to travel to the East Coast to find Wisconsin cheese, but to find the newest selections from Minnesota’s dairy-lovin’ neighbor, Washington, D.C., was the place to be last week. That’s where the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) held its annual Summer Fancy Food Show, and among the rows and rows of jellies, chocolates, cookies, soups, oils, crackers, yogurts, ice creams, pretzels, juices, sodas, and, of course, croutons, stood the massive Wisconsin cheese pavilion. The state’s cheesemakers and dairy industry aficionados eagerly showcased their latest creations, and you know there’s no way we’d turn down samples. Here’s a short list of new cheeses — and a bonus butter — to look for at your favorite cheese shop soon.
Peppermint BellaVitano and Cannella BellaVitano, Sartori Cheese
Since introducing its signature BellaVitano cheddar-parmesan hybrid in 1999, Sartori has expanded the cheese’s range of flavors to span espresso, balsamic vinegar, cognac, raspberry, merlot, black pepper, and a reserve “gold” edition. Now two new varieties have joined the family — peppermint and cinnamon — and if you’re like me, your stomach probably churned a little upon hearing about them. Peppermint and cheese? Yes, totally odd, but somehow it works. The pink-tinged rind is hand-rubbed with peppermint candy but doesn’t provide the same whoosh of minty freshness that you get from sucking on a peppermint pinwheel. Instead, the hint of mint lends a bit of sweetness to the cheese’s crystal-spiked crunch. Doubters may take heart in knowing that BellaVitano’s core flavors of nut and caramel still are the stars of the show here — the mint is more of a closer, just like that peppermint candy you grab as you head out the door of the Italian restaurant. Cheese and breath mint all in one! And in what may be the cheese industry’s first instance of pink-washing, Peppermint BellaVitano will be sold in October to tie into Breast Cancer Awareness Month, with $1 from every pound sold going to breast cancer research. Also available this fall will be cinnamon-tinged Cannella BellaVitano, which surprises skeptics with its gentle spice complementing the cheese’s fruity undertones.
Glacier Blue, Carr Valley
Carr Valley typically crafts its blues from goat’s or sheep’s milk, but new Glacier Blue is made from 100 percent cow’s milk, giving its paste a mildness that you rarely find with blues. It completely lacks the oiliness of a sheep’s-milk blue or the earthiness of a goat’s-milk variety, but there is no shortage of flavor thanks to the thick veins of blue running through the milky paste. Though the vintage we sampled was young — only 3 months old — we got a jolt of spicy, minerally blue with each bite, and Glacier Blue’s relative youth lent it a creaminess that is often missing from older blues.
Marieke Golden, Holland’s Family Cheese
Marieke Penterman’s prominence among Wisconsin cheesemakers is inspiring — she has created 13 varieties of goudas in the span of just five years and has won 60 awards in this short time, routinely beating out cheesemakers with generations of experience as their advantage. Granted, she does come from a country known for its goudas, but it’s doubtful that mad cheesemaking skills are handed down with every birth certificate in the Netherlands.
Fresh off a flight from Wisconsin, Penterman brought her new Marieke Golden, a semi-soft cheese that just won a best of class award at the 2012 World Cheese Championship. Made with raw, farmstead milk and vegetable rennet, Marieke Golden offers a creamy, nutty, satisfactorily soft bite. Penterman’s booth featured gouda samples aplenty, too, but I kept gravitating toward the Marieke Golden, proving that sometimes the simpler cheeses are the most addicting. If you look closely at the label, you’ll see Penterman’s five children, who are learning the family business alongside their mother on their dairy farm in Thorp.
Glacial Lakes, Saxon Homestead Creamery
Apparently, glaciers and their resulting bodies of water are big in cheese names this year, but Saxon’s Glacial Lakes is a world removed from its similarly named counterpart from Carr Valley. A raw, cow’s-milk cheese, Glacial Lakes is cellar-aged two months or more, making its grassy, buttery flavors slightly more pronounced. A few holes dot Glacial Lakes’ paste, but you won’t find any sharp crystals here — just a smooth, creamy texture that makes it easy to sample more than your fair share of cubes.
Hand-Rolled Butter, Farmhouse Kitchens Cooperative
To me, butter has been something to have around for baking or scraping on toast, but not for fetishing — until I tasted the hand-rolled butter by La Crosse’s Farmhouse Kitchens. That spoonful of light, sweet, angel-like butter was enough to make me a convert. Unfortunately, the cooperative was not handing out 1-pound rolls as giveaways, so I had to make do with my schmear of butter on bread and dream about the taste for the rest of the day. Farmhouse Kitchens butter can be purchased at Twin Cities area co-ops, but if you happen upon Larry’s Market in Milwaukee, you can find the butter mixed with either maple syrup and pecans or blue cheese and bacon.
Fun fact: Though Farmhouse Kitchens’ creamery is in La Crosse, the cooperative actually launched at the Wedge Co-op in Minneapolis and brings together dairy farmers and cheesemakers from the two states to create both the butter and Rochdale Farms cheeses.