The state of Wisconsin cheese is strong. That’s the only logical conclusion to be drawn from attending this month’s Wisconsin Cheese Originals event at the Monona Terrace in Madison, WI. The event is part conference, part expo, and — thanks to its “Meet the Cheesemaker” receptions — part symphony of lactic flavor. The event brought together dozens of cheesemakers (overwhelmingly from Wisconsin, although Minnesota dairy stars Jeff Jirik and Keith Adams were in the house) and innumerable samples of cheeses ranging in teture from the young and creamy to the aged and firm.
Here are three cheeses that caught our eyes (and noses, and tastebuds… )
Ziege Zacke Blue by LaClare Farms and Roelli Cheese
The distinctively named Ziege Zacke (German for, roughly speaking, “goat wave”) is a cave-aged beauty made from a blend of cow and goat milk. It represents a collaboration between Katie Hedrich of LaClare and the team at Roelli Cheese — LaClare’s goat milk is transported to the Roelli plant, where it is made and cave aged into a firm, yellow, speckled charmer of a cheese.
The cheese’s flavor is as complex as its origin story: Each creamy taste evokes a retiring blue cheese with a sweet, Parmesan-evocative nutty flavor and bite of goaty complexity to complete the taste.
Edun New Zealand Style Raw Milk Cheddar from Red Barn Family Farms
The clean taste of milk is the leading characteristic of many New Zealand cheeses — its fresh simplicity makes for a snackable, delicate product, worlds apart from the lacerating edge of a Shropshire Blue or the odoriferous pungency of a washed rind cheese such as Limburger.
Thus “Edun,” a New Zealand-style raw milk cheese by the eight-farm Wisconsin cheese co-op called Red Barn Family Farms. Edun boasts a rich, clean buttery taste, firm texture, and clean white color. It would pair nicely with soft-spoken, light fruit such as pears or grapes and add creamy gravity to dishes such as quesadillas or tortas.
Tilston Point Blue by Hook’s Cheese Company
While the cheese novice tends to think of blue cheese as a challenging or even dangerous cheese with a biting ammonia sharpness or a funky, in-your-face pungency, the spectrum of blues is broad indeed. The trend in Wisconsin blue cheeses these days is to present a mellow, creamy profile like that of Mindoro Blue or the excellent Ader Käse Reserve of Seymour Dairy Crest.
And as agreeable as the soft-spoken blue trend may be, it’s also fun to get a blue that isn’t afraid to throw down and offer a bit of fight. The washed rind Tilston Point Blue retains some of the challenging qualities that passionate lovers of blue cheeses cherish. It has an earthy saltiness, a grainy texture, and a pronounced but balanced sharpness that rides like a rail throughout the flavor of the cheese. Hook’s Cheese Company may be best known for its super-aged cheddars, but this blue is something else entirely — something worth tasting.