Saturday, September 26, 2009

Let the Great American Cheese Tour begin!

Curds-a-blazin' I have officially set out on what I am calling, The Great American Cheese Tour (GACT). Over the next 6 weeks I will be cruising the states in search of the finest artisan cheese, heaps of knowledge, & buena vistas. I begin this journey in the only suitable place to start a cheese adventure, Wisconsin...which also happens to be where I grew up, where my family lives, & where I will pick up the car that my parents so graciously offered up for the journey (thanks Mum & are the absolute best).

The sequence of this tour goes a little something like this...Wisconsin (pit-stop in Minneapolis), Michigan, New York, Maine, Vermont, maybe a little more New York, Pennsylvania, south down the east coast, back to the bay area through Colorado, Utah, & Nevada, and finally north through California to Oregon & Washington. Just me, the Mazda, the open road, & some very special tour guests (actually, I may be their guest in many instances...couch surfing will definitely be part of this experience). Obviously subject to change, this journey will include a lot of driving, which as we all know requires heaps of energy & produces pollutants (no bueno). Thanks to my wonderful boyfriend, Oliver, carbon offsets have been purchased to cover 5000 miles of car travel (woo hoo), which will go directly to help fund the Greensburg Wind Farm. Greensburg was leveled in a 2007 tornado & committed to rebuild as the greenest town in America. To learn more visit the native energy. Amazing!

The land of cheese, beer, & brats has already provided delightful cheese-ness as well as quality time with my family. We found this delightful establishment (right) downtown Milwaukee, which is pretty much Wisconsin wrapped up in a nice little corner-space package...cheese, beer, & cheeseheads galore. After trying on all of the new fangled cheesehead shapes & sizes, I enjoyed a delicious Lafefront Brewery Eastside Dark & shared a Wisconsin cheese flight with Mum & Dad. The plate was a delicious plate including Pleasant Ridge Reserve (Uplands Dairy), Bellavitano Merlot (Sartori), & Mobay (Carr Valley), a sheep & goat milk cheese with a layer of grape ash separating the different milk styles. Of the cheese I have tasted from the large Carr Valley assortment, this would be perhaps my favorite.

The next day we took to the country roads southwest of Milwaukee to the Green County, home to the largest concentration of cheesemakers in the nation. There we paid a visit to Roth Kase in Monroe, one of the larger artisan producers in the state employing over 140 people & producing dozens of different's a serious cheese operation. Founded by Swiss immigrants recognizing the opportunity for hand crafted specialty cheese in the states, as the business has thrived over the years, I think it's safe to say they were right. Their Grand Cru Gruyere is their most popular product, but the GranQueso (odd for a Swiss company, si?), a Roth Kase original, is my personal favorite. Similar to a Spanish Manchago style cheese, using cow's milk instead of sheep, aged at least 9 months for a rich nutty flavor. Muy bueno!

In between creameries we stop at a classic Monroe haunt, Baumgartner, for a Limburger sandwich (notice the accompanying Andes mint), homemade chili, & a New Glarus Spotted Cow (tasty brews only sold in WI...bummer for those of us that live elsewhere). Limburger, a notorious stanky cheese, originated in the Duchy of Limburg, an area currently split between the Netherlands, Germany, & Belgium. The only producer of this pungent washed rind cheese is right here in Monroe, WI...the Chalet Cheese Co-op. It was an aggressive order that I am not sure I would repeat, but the chili & brew were absolutely delicious.

The last successful stop of the day was amongst the beautiful rolling hills of Darlington at Brunkow Cheese. Known for block cheddar & a baked cheese they call Brun-uusto, they are also dabbling in some beautiful small batch artisan delights. Their Avondale Truckle is 18 lbs. of clothbound cheddar, aged at least three months & the Little Darling is a semi-firm cow's milk cheese in the most adorable mini 1.25 lb wheel. It is as tasty as it is darling .

Today I head northwest to explore a bit more of the Sconi country-side. If I have enjoyed some fresh squeaky cheese curds by the end of the day...I will consider it a success!

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