Tuesday, December 11, 2012

On Wisconsin: a cheese lover's paradise, part 1 - Chalet Cheese Co-op

Thanks to the good folks at the Milk Marketing Board of Wisconsin and TheDailyMeal.com I recently had the pleasure of spending a few days in Wisconsin touring the state and meeting some of its top cheese makers. When the trip was first proposed to me I was intrigued but did not have particularly high expectations. I figured there was no way a trip that involved eating and writing about cheese in Wisconsin could be bad. I just didn't realize how good a trip that involved eating and writing about cheese in Wisconsin could be.

I knew Wisconsin was the dairy capitol of America. I had been to the Mars Cheese Castle. To be honest, I was expecting some nice cheddar in the shape of a football or Wisconsin. I was not expecting the diversity of cheese Wisconsin's cheesemakers have to offer. I was not expecting the care and quality the cheesemakers bring to their products. And I was not expecting to have one of the best cheeses I have ever eaten in my life there (more on that one later).

In addition to the cheese makers I met, I also met two distillers and a brewer. They are all making top notch products with great care and pride. There is a lot happening in the Badger State for food and drinks fans. Let's start with a classic.

Myron Olsen, Master Cheesemaker, Chalet Cheese Co-op

This is Myron Olsen. He is the Master Cheesemaker at Chalet Cheese Cooperative. If you pictured in your head a Wisconsin cheesemaker, Myron is what you would come up with. He is a big bear of a man with a tremendous mustache, a classic Wisconsin accent and is one of the loveliest guys you could ever meet.

Chalet Cheese Cooperative

Chalet Cheese has been in business since 1885. It started as a co-op of family farms and remains one today. There are 21 family farms in the co-op and they are all with 20 miles of Chalet Cheese in Green County Wisconsin. They deliver fresh whole milk to Chalet Cheese daily.

Prices at Chalet Cheese

Chalet Cheese makes a number of award winning cheeses like Baby Swiss and German Brick, but their big claim to fame is Limburger. Chalet Cheese is the only maker of Limburger in the United States and Myron Olsen is the only Master Cheesemaker in Wisconsin certified in Limburger. Chalet Cheese has been propagating their strain of bacteria used in their Limburger for 100 years. You want an example of a national treasure, Chalet Cheese's Limburger is it.

Hand stamp for the Limburger

Myron and the folks at chalet cheese make cheese seven days a week. The following is a quick photo tour of Chalet Cheese Cooperative. I hope it gives you a feel for the place:

The vats for stirring the milk, bacteria and rennet.

"Knives" used for cutting the curds.

Myron checking the curds

Forming the curds

Weights for pressing the curds

Curing the Limburger by washing it with bacteria

Ripening the Limburger

Marching orders from Myron

In case you are making the Swiss cheese.

Myron checking the Swiss.

Taking a core sample of Swiss cheese.

Sampling Chalet Cheese Cooperative's wares.

Touring Chalet Cheese Cooperative helps you understand why the people of Wisconsin take so much pride in being the nation's cheese capitol. Generations of families have been been raising dairy cows and making cheese. It is a way of life and they take great care and great pride in what they do. Chalet Cheese Co-op is not new. It is not "sexy." It is not on the radar of the "foodie movement." What it is is a classic Wisconsin cheesemaker that has been making really good cheese for over 100 years. This is what they do in Wisconsin. I consider myself lucky that I got to see it, and taste it, first hand.

Chalet Cheese Cooperative, Monroe, WI  (608) 325-4343

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