Colleen’s recent jaunt to New England for the inaugural Vermont Cheesemakers Festival made me very jealous, of course, but as the stars would have it, I was about to embark on a cheesy road trip myself later that same week. Well, really I was going to Madison, Wis., for a friend’s wedding, but I managed to put cheese-shopping on the agenda, and my home state did not disappoint me. I was able to find some cheese that have eluded me here in Minnesota and find some fabulous new cheese shops in the process.
A cranky toddler made a stop in Osseo necessary, and my lovely husband managed to find a cheese shop right off the highway where we could disembark for a short break. (How lucky am I!) I was pleasantly surprised to find that Foster Cheese Haus wasn’t your typical Wisconsin side-of-the-road shop aimed at tourists (not that I don’t love those shops, too), but it had a wide selection of artisanal Wisconsin cheeses from well-known cheesemakers like Carr Valley, Crave Brothers and Roth Kase. I was thrilled to see a wheel of Bleu Mont Dairy Bandaged Cheddar, a cheese that had recently come to the Twin Cities but had sold out before I could get my hands on a piece. No fear – Dean at Foster Cheese Haus was happy to share samples and wrap up a wedge for me.
Located near Blue Mounds, Wis., Bleu Mont Dairy produces excellent cheeses from the organic milk of pasture-grazed cows. Cheesemaker Willi Lehner learned to make cheese from his father, who learned to craft cheese in Switzerland. Lehner’s dad certainly taught him well – the raw-milk bandaged cheddar (left) is a delight. Almost candy-like in sweetness, this cheese has a smooth texture (no crystals, like you’ll often find in aged cheeses) and a nuttiness that comes off very cleanly. Paired with a lager or off-dry riesling (as per Wine Spectator’s recommendation), the cheese makes a wonderful addition to a salad course or even dessert.
After tasting the cheddar, Dean also introduced me to a new addition to his cheese case – an aged gouda (right) also from Bleu Mont Dairy. Since I never refuse a sample, I eagerly snacked on this 10-month gouda and liked it so much I brought home a piece, too. Fans of Prima Donna Gouda will definitely enjoy this cheese, though the flavor isn’t exactly the same. The creamy paste is both sweet and nutty, and the flavor would hold up well in fondue.
Lehner regularly sells his cheeses at Madison’s Dane County Farmers’ Market, and you can also find them at cheese shops throughout Wisconsin, such as Foster Cheese Haus and Fromagination in Madison. If you don’t make it to Wisconsin, though, don’t fret. An e-mail to Lehner can go a long way to getting these delicious cheeses into your refrigerator.