leave your inhibitions at the door
Although we live in Michigan, Boom Boom and I recently were able to sneak away for a brief night in Wisconsin. And we did it without having to leave exotic Ann Arbor. Zingerman’s Roadhouse was hosting a Wisconsin Cheese Dinner that was a collaboration with the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and Cornman Farms. Plus some Death’s Door Spirit’s thrown in for good measure.
Wisconsin is known as “America’s Dairyland” and is the largest cheese producing state in the country. But as I found out at this dinner, it’s also producing the best quality cheeses. There are a lot of small, artisanal cheesemakers sprouting up creating unique cheeses with traditional methods and I had the good fortune of sitting next to one of them – Greg Hedrich of LaClare farms. They’ve been producers of goat’s milk for years, but only started making their own cheeses about five years ago. Their Evalon is a gouda style cheese that in 2011 was the Overall Champion at the US Championship Cheese Contest. I had more than a few pieces of it and it was terrific – nutty, sweet, mostly like a gouda but in some ways like a parmesan. Even better was the Ziege Zacke, a collaboration with Roelli Cheese, makers of cheddar blue cheese. It’s a mixture of their goats milk with Roelli’s cow’s milk that was creamy, earthy, with only a hint of blue cheese. There were quite a few other cheeses available from other makers, too. They were all very good and are worth mentioning here, but I liked Greg. He’s a Packers fan, we but we were able to bond over how much we thought the Lions sucked. Ok, maybe I just said that he and he was just agreeing. Whatevs.
What else did we eat?
I’m glad you asked…
I’ve never heard of Juustoleipa before. Apparently it originates from Sweden and is known as bread cheese here. The cheese itself doesn’t melt, so the chunks added texture in addition to extra richness to the the celery soup. Someone mentioned making an inside-out grilled cheese sandwich with the stuff. I’ve GOT TO get my hands on some.
Cornman Farms is a couple miles away from the restaurant I guess you can’t get any more local than that. Every time I hear Limburger, I think about how it would be used in The Three Stooges as a gag because of its intense odor. It really does stink, but if you can get past the odor it’s pretty mild tasting. I didn’t write down who produced it, but I guess they’re the only ones in the US who make it. Both had roasted potatoes with Rush Creek Reserve cheese and scalloped rutabaga, carrots, and celeriac with Casa Bolo Mellage.
For dessert, they paired cheeses with Zingerman’s own candy.
– Zzang! Candy Bar with Pleasant Ridge Reserve
– Wowza Candy Bar and Dunbarton Blue
– Peanut Brittle and SarVecchio Parmesan
What Did We Drink?
I had a couple pints of Greenbush Brewing’s Red Bud Ale. It’s a copper wheat ale from Sawyer, MI. I know it’s not from Wisconsin, but it was damn good. Boom Boom made up for it by having The Blue Ribbon Passage – a special combo that features two Wisconsin drinks – Death’s Door Vodka, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Crème de Cassis, and lemon.
And speaking of, I also got to meet John Kinder from Death’s Door Spirits. They’re from Middleton, WI and produce three different spirits from local organic grains. I started off with their White Whisky, which is stored in uncharred oak barrels so that the focus can be on the grains. I could understand what they were going for, but I wasn’t a big fan of it. But then, I’ve recently been on a Bourbon kick, so I maybe I wasn’t used to the flavors here. Their vodka was fantastic, though – creamy, smooth, but not flabby. I also really liked their gin. I typically don’t drink gin, especially straight up, but I couldn’t turn down a sample. Gin gets its flavor mostly from juniper berries, and is often made with a wide variety of roots, berries, spices, etc. Death’s Door only uses three botanicals – juniper, coriander, and fennel. Not having it overloaded really allows you to appreciate each of these. Good stuff.
Overall it was a great dinner. Not only were the cheeses, entrees, and drinks fantastic, but it was cool learning about the history and business side of the industry. What I found particularly interesting is the spirit of collaboration going on with these artisan cheese makers. It’d be easy for them to be very competitive and make it hard for up-and-comers. But they found that, by working together and supporting each other, everyone wins. They know that one’s success brings more attention to everyone.
The only downside to the whole evening – I, like most Filipinos, am horribly lactose intolerant. Let’s just say I’m glad we caught all the lights going home.