What does the country’s best cheese taste like? According to the judges at this month’s United States Championship Cheese Contest, it tastes like Evalon, a farmstead hard goat’s milk cheese made by Katie Hedrich (above) of LaClare Farms in Chilton, WI.
It’s not surprising that the winner of the Contest was a Wisconsinite — Wisconsin captured 42 of the total 76 categories judged (California came in as a distant second, with nine golds).
It is, however, surprising that the contest’s winner is a 25-year-old cheesemaker making small batches of goat’s milk cheese with milk from her family’s farm. Evalon (currently produced in 500-pound batches on a biweekly basis) scored 99.06 out of 100 possible points in the contest’s final round of judging.
Hedrich teamed up with an expat Kiwi dairy consultant named Neville McNaughton to craft the cheese, which she says was created to be “a unique goat milk cheese that nobody else was creating — and we wanted to limit the goatiness in the cheese.”
“[Neville] helped us create a recipe, and throughout the last few years, from demoing and talking to people, we’ve tweaked the recipe to create flavor earlier in the cheese,” says Hedrich.
The cheese reaches a good level of flavor after about 4.5 to 5 months of aging and ages gracefully beyond that. When we tasted Evalon we were impressed with its gentle, creamy, essentially “goatless” flavor — it recalled a good parmesan in its nutty sweetness, although it had more moisture content.
“I often describe it as a smooth, mild flavor,” says Hedrich. “It has a very similar body to a Gouda, but it has the texture and a hint of the flavor of an Asiago. I will use it any place that parmesan is used — it gives such an outstanding flavor baked inside of the dish.”
At the moment, LaClare cheese is produced at Saxon Homestead Creamery in Cleveland, WI, but Hedrich says that will change soon.
“We want to build our own creamery on the farm,” she says. “We’ve been planning this for a few years — one of the phases is to increase the herd so we have more milk to supply the creamery.”
Her sister and brother-in-law bought just under 200 goats in late December 2010, which should add some much-needed volume to this in-demand Wisconsin cheese.
“Katie may be young, but she’s gone above and beyond the steps needed to learn how to expertly craft goat’s milk cheeses,” says Wisconsin cheese writer Jeanne Carpenter. “She has the passion to perfect any type of cheese she makes. She also has the backing of her family, and a strong foundation at the Saxon Homestead Creamery, where the cheese was created and perfected. I expect to see big things from Katie in the future.”
LaClare cheeses are distributed through Classic Provisions and, among other places, turn up at Linden Hills Co-op, Lakewinds Natural Foods in Minnetonka, Valley Natural Foods, Eastside Food Coop, the Golden Fig, and Lake Wine and Spirits.