Baumgartner's of Monroe brought cheese -- and mustard!
The sixth annual Isthmus Beer and Cheese Fest has come and gone. The beer and the brewmasters take the limelight, but the cheese is the best supporting actor. And I wasn't the only person to leave the Exhibition Hall with a backpack full of hunks of cheese. The beer stays at the Alliant Energy Center -- but most of the two dozen cheesemakers who attended in 2015 brought coolers packed with product to sell.
Some favorite Wisconsin cheesemakers were there, including Bill Anderson of Madison with his handcrafted Crème de la Coulee cheeses including the beautiful flagship St. Jenifer semi-soft washed-rind cheese. (He also brought some Bleu Mont Dairy favorites.)
Saxon Creamery of Cleveland featured its flagship cheese Greenfields, a buttery, semi-soft, washed-rind cheese, as well as an asiago with rosemary.
Another favorite, Cedar Grove Cheese of Plain, brought an outstanding milled sheep's milk cheddar. Yes, that's "milled," not "mild," having to do with the production, an older process in which the curds are milled (broken up) by hand and not stirred by machine. Cheddar made with milled curd is dense and smooth.
Koepke Family Farms brought its LaBelle hickory smoked cheese, and a game-day-ready new addition, a hickory smoked cheese with bacon. All the milk comes from the family farm; the cheese is made at Cedar Grove.
PastureLand Cooperative of Belleville brought not just cheese, but also a pasture grazed butter with sea salt that, spread on crackers, was as rich and satisfying as a mild cheese.
A new twist on cheese came from Madison-based White Jasmine, which infuses Indian flavors into Wisconsin gouda. The tandoori gouda and cumin gouda may sound odd at first but work well, especially as a snack cheese paired with an IPA. White Jasmine cheeses are currently carried by Woodman's.
Martha's Pimento Cheese of Milwaukee is bringing the southern favorite pimento cheese spread to the Dairy State with the quality that cheeseheads demand. Known as the "caviar of the South," pimento cheese is now often found as a processed cheese food, or, in the North, not available at all. When Texan-born Martha Davis Kipcak moved to Milwaukee, she wanted to make a pimento cheese with the best Wisconsin ingredients. Wisconsin cheddar from Cedar Grove goes into her three spicy varieties -- regular (it has a kick, too), jalapeño, and chile de árbol. It is available locally at Metcalfe's Market and Fromagination.
Baumgartner's Cheese Store & Tavern of Monroe brought plenty of crowd-pleasers including a horseradish, and its sister restaurant, O.S.S. of Madison brought its specialty sausages.
One of the most pleasing offerings of the day, though, came from Joe Widmer at Widmer's Cheese Cellars of Theresa. The last cheesemaker in Wisconsin that makes brick cheese the original way, Widmer's actually uses bricks used by founder John Widmer in the early 20th century to press the cheese. Brick is far from boring -- it's a classic that proves that quality ingredients and traditional processes make for great cheese.