Monday, November 8, 2010

Wisconsin Cheese Festival and a Cheese Giveaway

Raw Milk Foenegreek Gouda and Marieke's Gouda - Second Annual Wisconsin Cheese Festival

I repeat, I have not always been a cheap date and I no longer settle for lowest common denominator cheeses. (just in case you were wondering) Luckily my husband knows this. My love affair with cheese began several years ago... in a yurt, out in the beautiful rolling hills of the the un-glaciated driftless area of Wisconsin. I met my sweet husband (boyfriend at that time) when he was living in a yurt out at Bleu Mont Dairy. It was he who introduced me to what I now know as...good cheese, award winning artisan cheese.  Every visit to that yurt consisted of a trip up to the main house to greet Willi, Quitas and their  beautiful daughter Inea.... and of course the latest sampling of Willi Lehner's amazing cheese. Ahhhh angels sing..., it was quite idyllic. If my husband had such good taste in cheese... I was going to translate that to his good taste in women!

Yesterday, I spent hours with my other love, more good cheese. The Second Annual Wisconsin Cheese Festival was held November 5th-7th here in my beautiful city of Madison, Wisconsin. The lovely Frank Lloyd Wright inspired, Monona Terrace,  perched on the shores of Lake Monona, housed hundreds of us cheese lovers, aficionados and cheese newbies for this taste awakening event. Cheesemakers from around the state gathered to share their talent of cheesemaking. Where would we be with out the love of good cheese?

How many of us out there have had a date with good cheese? Have you really gone out and searched your local cheese emporium for stellar cheeses that would make you weep, cry out in ecstasy, and even occasionally replace your lover? Wisconsin makes damn good cheese. Yesterday I was fortunate enough to eat my way through the day with award winning Wisconsin cheese after award winning cheese.
Preparing for a day of cheese love! Miss Megan on left... and Maggie (cheese hostess) on right.
My afternoon was split into four separate cheese classes. The first of which was The Art of Grass Based Cheeses. Did you know that most of the cheese we eat comes from cows in confinement eating stored hay? Appetizing, right?  What happened to those picturesque scenes of hillside pastures filled with cows eating the fresh grass? Back in the 1800's this picturesque vision was something commonplace. Cows were out in the fresh air, taking in the sunshine and supplanting their farmer's field with fresh manure. Many dairy farms today consist of cows that are kept in confinement and fed fermented feed and kept from fresh grass and pasture. Luckily, here in Wisconsin, grass based milk is having it's renaissance. We are lucky enough to have Bret Paris from Edelweiss Graziers Cooperative who is working with several farmers who use rotational grazing or managed intensive grazing as their modus operandi. These farmers use this rotational grazing method which gives their cows access to the freshest grasses, fresh air, sunshine and exercise. In turn for all of the time in the great outdoors, where animals belong, these sweet cows offer up some of the finest milk around. This wonderful grass based milk is then used to make some of world's best cheeses, right here in Wisconsin.

Bruce Workman-Edelweiss Creamery, Mike Gingrich-Uplands Cheese, and Bert Paris- Edeweiss Graziers
For our first tasting, we were served three cheeses, all made from grass based milk. The yellow butter color of them all was enough to make your mouth drool. Every on of these cheese was superior in taste and texture.

Grass-Based Cheeses
We were also served a chocolate cake topped with a rosette of butter cream. One of the butter-creams was made from grass-fed milk, one was from convetional milk. Can you tell the difference?

Sake and Artisan Cheese was my second class for the day. Sake... what did you say? Sake and cheese? Who does that? I thought you were just supposed to enjoy cheese with wine or beer. Say no more and let me convert you. This class was beautifully laid out, the tables were set just so, the lighting just right, the attention to detail was enough to lure me into this not often heard of pairing. Barrie Lynn from The Cheese Impresario and Kay Inoue from Banzai Beverage Corporation were our well educated teachers for this class. Barrie did a fantastic job paring the more unusual sake with some extraordinary cheese choices.

Plum Nectar Sake - Mikio Takahashi

Cheese paring for Sake

Beautifully laid out Sake and Artisan Cheese Pairing

Sake is strong... don't let anybody tell you differently. I thought I could handle my liquor... until sake. I found that my note-taking ability was a bit impaired after just one glass of this ancient rice beverage. These delicate sakes were a sweet, full bodied mouthful, each one offering up great flavor differences. We were very lucky to have tasted Marieke Penterman's Raw Milk Feonegreek Gouda, Sid Cook's Airco, Joe Widmer's Aged Brick Spread (Cheese Sex), and Tony and Julie Hook's 10-Year Cheddar. Kudos Kay and Barrie... this lovely paring was quite educational, as my palatte was opened even more to new flavors and tastes.

Women do it better... right? My third and favorite session was The Rise of the Woman Farmstead Cheesemaker. Wow does it feel good to be surrounded by women who do what they love and with a passion. I can identify with the passion of a woman..... it races, flows, breathes, rises and falls. Passionate women doing what they love... watch out!  Listening to these three amazing women share their personal stories was quite inspiring and enlightening. Brenda Jensen from Hidden Springs Creamery, Diana Murphy from Dreamfarm and Marieke Penterman (shh...i think i have a girl crush) from Holland's Family Cheese gave us an intimate look at their life and how they came into cheese-making.

I was lucky enough to be familiar with Diana's and Brenda's cheeses. However, somehow... the universe had been keeping me from Marieke's cheeses until yesterday. Please don't let it keep you. Marieke Penterman is an amazing cheese maker and her Gouda was sensational to say the least. Diana's goat milk cheese and Brenda's sheep milk cheese were just as mouthwatering and creamy.  These women love what they do. It is evident in the way they love their animals and their animals love them back by producing some of the world's  best award winning cheeses. Ladies.... thank you for doing something so worthwhile. It is beautiful!

Hidden Springs Creamery - Driftless

My fourth and last class for the day was Wisconsin Cheese & Wine Pairings. After the intake of cheeks were already flushing. I don't believe I lifted my pen once for this class. (maybe it was better that way). In fact, I am ashamed to admit it... I didn't even take photos. (note to self... when drinking sake, do not expect to get much done besides giggling). I am thankful I am not getting graded on this one.....

The bright side of this tasting was that I was lucky enough to sit at an overly-fun table. I was sandwiched between Jim and Tim from South Chicago, Barry Elkins from World Import Distributors, his daughter Sara  also from World Import Distributors and her NYC Firefighter fiance Stephen (I hope my memory is serving me correctly as the wine was really flowing at this point).  I am thankful for the good company (cheese included) as the laughs made up for the lack of good wine. It only started to taste good after I finished a glass....(then you know you have trouble). Forgive me... I am not French and rarely drink French wines, maybe a good Cotes du Rhone. However, I fancy myself a lover of Malbecs or a Montepulciano. (these obviously weren't offered) The cheeses were fantastic, however the wines did not impress like they could have. 

Never fear... if there is a lack of good wine at your party, invite Jim and Tim. Thanks for keeping me laughing!

I had eaten my own weight in cheese, my pants were getting tighter by the minute and there was still more amazing cheese to eat. From 6-9 that evening, there was the Cheesemakers Gala Event. Thirty plus Artisan  Wisconsin Cheesemakers were showcasing their award winning cheeses. It was Disney Land for cheese lovers. It was like having an affair... the entire day. Mountains of cheese surrounded you. Beautiful displays of blue cheeses, goudas, chevre, all ready to be tasted. 

Mountains of Cheese
Fruit Rimmed Chevre
Pastureland Organic 100% Grass Fed Butter

Cheesemaker Willi Lehner from Bleu Mont Dairy with Barrie Lynn and Kay Inoue
I was stuffed.... I could not eat another bite of cheese. Jeanne Carpenter, executive director of Wisconsin Cheese Originals Festival,dreamy cheese enthusiast, and cheese geek, (as she dubs herself) needed to gather the attention of those attending for a quick thank you.... so she asked Willi Lehner to yodel. And yodel he did. While Willi yodeled... I wo-maned his cheese stand for about 5 minutes. It is always so much fun working for Willi as his customers just beam and rave about his cheeses. Sometimes I wonder it they love Willi more than the cheese itself! It was fun to stand with him for a short while and share the spirit of the evening. Bleu Mont Dairy's Bandaged Cheddar is one of the finest cheeses in the world and his new Alpine Style cheese was a perfect match to the mouth watering Cheddar.

Only a Cheesemaker would wear cows on his belt!

The pièce de résistance of the evening was Uplands Cheese newest addition, Rush Creek Reserve. This cheese was like nothing else I have ever tasted. It was orgasmic as many of the foodies were calling it last night. It carries flavors of fine mustard and jamon serrano. Rush Creek Reserve is a creamy, velvety, young, soft cheese.  Watch out cheese world as this gorgeous cheese guarantees to take several awards this year. Rush Creek Reserve delivers a taste you will not forget. Beautifully bound in spruce bark, this cheese caught the attention of many last night. Congratulations Mike and Andy for creating a cheese with so many wonderful characteristics.

Rush Creek Reserve.... Uplands Cheese Newest Addition
Thank you to FoodBuzz for sending me. I only wish I could repay you in cheese!  Thank you CheeseUnderground for putting together such a fantastic event. The highlight of my Autumn was this festival.

For those of you who are interested in sampling some of Wisconsin's finest cheeses and would like to be entered in my Wisconsin Cheese Giveaway for a piece of Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Best in Show 2010 and Bleu Mont Dairy Bandaged Cheddar Reserve, please leave a comment below sharing your best "cheese love" moment. I will draw a name on Sunday, November 21st. Winner must be within continental United States.

I went home last night and dreamt about cheese... truly I did. Foodies mark your calendars, next years cheese festival will be held at the Monona Terrace in Madison, Nov. 4th-6th.  I will be there!  Foodie love from Wisconsin! xoxoxo Megs ♥♥♥


  1. Gosh, so many types of cheese!!! I'm such a noob with such things and the variety available here is so so limited, and they are so so so expensive.

  2. Wow what an exciting cheese post! I once got to got to a cheese factory in Wisconsin--that was a good day!

    My most memorable cheese moment was discovering local goat cheeses made only minutes from where I live--I will never be the same! ;)

  3. I'll add a "here! here!" to WI cheeses. the breadth and deliciousness of WI artisan cheesemakers knows no bounds. My husband and I toured cheese "farms" this autumn and ate the fruits of our touring for two months. Most gratifying.

  4. Wow, what an event! I adore good cheese, I could make a whole meal out of it. Or, as you did, make a whole day's worth of meals out of it!
    My best cheese moment? Moments, perhaps, as in college I lived with a girl whose family was Dutch and ran a dairy that made Gouda. The BEST gouda! My favourite was the garlic and herb variety, and her parents would bring us whole wheels of cheese when they came to visit. Wonderful for poor starving students ;)
    And tell me, was the second cake, the one with the more yellow buttercream, the grass fed one?

  5. Megan, What a great blog! Lovely pics too.

    Tell me, what is the plural for cheese? Is it cheese or cheeses, I opt for cheese as in sheep or fish.

    What cheese is made backwards? Answer = Edam (madE)

    How do you eat cheese in Wales? Answer = Caerphilly (carefully) of coarse.

    What cheese can you hide a horse behind? Answer = Mascapone

    What cheese can you use to tease a grizzly bear from the woods? Answer = Camembert (come on bear)

  6. I think it's really cool when somebody is able to pass on you a passion like your husband did with you! I have a similar cheese moment in my life. I always loved good cheese (well I'm Italian, maybe it's in my genes :) ) but my brother started to make homemade cheese at a certain point of his life. I truly loved when the first time he tried he did not really succeed and he came to me very disappointed....I was instead very happy to tell him that even if he did not get a great hard cheese, he had just made the best ricotta I have ever had in my life! That's how he learnt how to make ricotta instead haha

  7. My favorite cheese moment has got to the the first time I had brie and figs together.

  8. A cheese festival?! That is heaven! Wisconsin knows their cheese for sure, I'd love to go to a festival like this. Sounds amazing.

  9. Nothing beats good cheese! I loved picking up local varieties at the market all summer. Thanks for sharing this info!

  10. One of my best cheese moments was when I moved from California to New England. I missed going wine tasting so my husband cheered me up by taking me cheese tasting in Vermont. We visited little farms and met wonderful people. Not to mention the getting to taste all those artisanal cheeses. It was better than wine tasting.

  11. There is a "cheese factory" just 15 minutes from my parents house, and growing up we would go there for picnics that always included some stinky cheese! I fell in love with Camenbert early on...

  12. That's some serious cheese love going on there! :) I'm a cheese lover- hard to choose a favorite. A good brie can make me swoon, though. :)

  13. I will say my best cheese moment was realizing I could make cheese myself at home. Indian cheese called paneer!

  14. Great pictures, i love the Fruit Rimmed Chevre !! It looks amazing :))

  15. i love cheese, parmesan is my favourite also turkish cheeses.. although they r not well known in the world, Turkey has very wide cheese options.. it s pity nobody knows exept us..

  16. All right, the Caraway Cheddar looks tasty! I love the fact my parent's trailer is just a few blocks from a cheese factory and we can get fresh curds & string cheese there on Saturdays!

  17. Another incredible reason to love Wisconsin!

  18. My cheese love moment was meeting you while I was living on Willi's ridgetop in that yurt.

  19. Wow! That's a lot of cheese! I should have been there!

  20. The best type of post Megan - entertaining and educational!

    We are lucky here in Ireland as all our milk and beef is grass fed, so we have some great cheese makers. I'm off open a packet of crackers!!!

  21. P.S. Just saw Hooper's comment, awwwwwww :-}}

  22. Absolutely beautiful pix and story. Love that you have Bruce Workman in your story. L.O.V.E cheese!

  23. This is an event made for me! I don't like anywhere close but I might just have to visit just for this. I love any kind of cheese and pairing it with new beverages is the best idea of fun I know.

    Great photos and detail. Thank you



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