Our Cheeselog

Cheesetique on Fox News!

As part of a morning-long promotion of Del Ray’s “First Thursday” street festival, Cheesetique did a little segment on dining in Del Ray. What a great time – and what great exposure for our sleepy little neighborhood. Come by tonight from 6-9 to see what the buzz is about!

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Cheesetique has Cheap Eats!

I’m excited to report that Cheesetique is (yet again) listed in Washingtonian Magazine’s Cheap Eats issue. Come in anytime to enjoy our delicious and wallet-friendly goodies!

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New Menu at Cheesetique!

Our new seasonal menu is now in full swing. There are many new stars and some tried-and-true classics. Even our wine list has been updated. Check out the details here. Better yet, come on in for a taste!

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Fromage-a-thon 2010: Cheese Unleashed!

We’re back from a glorious stint in Wisconsin tasting cheeses and meeting some amazing cheese makers. Want a taste? Then start reading about… FROMAGE-A-THON 2010!

** Fromage-a-thon: Day 1 **

I’m on my way to Wisconsin. Madison, Wisconsin, to be exact. Next to me is my partner in crime, Sarah Mason, our intrepid retail manager at Cheesetique. Little does Sarah know that she is the luckiest person on Earth. Why? Because she gets to spend the next three days with moi. Duh.

I can tell I’m in Wisconsin. Not because the terrain is verdant and expansive, but because the people are too nice to be believed. True story: our driver from the airport was a 19 year old college student. He was very chatty, as are all of the wonderful people of Wisconsin. At one point, he was telling us how he interned at Disney World (I can’t make this stuff up!) and he thought their holiday show was – and I quote – “the bee’s knees”. The best part about that whole segment was that he started by apologizing for what was about to come out of his mouth. I was expecting some profanity-laden statement about the darker side of Disney World. But no. “The bee’s knees”. That is Wisconsin in a nutshell. Oh – and there are cows everywhere.

Upon arriving, Sarah and I strolled around the college town of Madison where I hassled Sarah mercilessly about pretty much every aspect of her personal taste. I couldn’t help myself. No one takes a joke like Sarah. Plus, she gives as good as she gets. Anyway, we ate Afghani food (honestly not as “wow” as I was hoping for – I’ll have to contact Mr. Karzai). Then we got ready for our first cheese-infused event of the trip, the opening reception. There was cheese. Then, we left for dinner at a local pub.

There was cheese. Deep fried cheese curds (think fried mozzarella but more nugget-like and gooier). There was cheddar mac.

Overall, a lactose-intensive evening. Since we had to be up at the crack of dawn (darn those early-rising cheese makers), but really because I am a big fat loser, I made it an early evening.

** Fromage-a-thon: Day 2 **

Breakfast. Eat as much roughage as possible. On the bus by 7 am.

First Stop: Klondike Cheese
Klondike is a huge operation, specializing in Feta, Munster (the American style), Brick (a Wisconsin creation), and Havarti. This is one high-tech operation, replete with named robots, mechanical belts, and many men in hair nets. Speaking of hair net technology, the first thing I loved about our visit was the fact that ours were hot pink. Since I was wearing a similarly colored shirt, I considered this a message from the fashion gods (see photo).

Now, on to the robots: the first was Lorena, the one responsible for cutting the Feta into small pieces. No, her name was not an accident. I will let you figure that one out for yourselves (those cheese makers are naughty). Next, we met Simmons, Wally, and Grif in the packaging room. Simmons’ job is to assemble the cardboard boxes. Wally lowers the assembled boxes to the packing robot, Grif. It is a dance of mechanical wonder and is hypnotic to say the least.

Lesson learned at Klondike: No matter how fancy your equipment, how automated your processes, or how adorably named your robots, making cheese is still an age-old process involving milk, culture, rennet, and time.

Next stop: Roth Kase
Two notes to self: 1) when a cheese maker tells you to “stick your nose in this room and breathe deeply”, be cautious; 2) when a Swiss person offers you bootleg kirsch, say, “no, thank you”.

Roth Kase, complete with its own cheese-flipping robots (Sam and Heidi) is the only Gruyere producer in the United States. They claim this is because Gruyere is one of the hardest cheeses to produce. I argue that it is because Gruyere is in fact the smelliest cheese to produce. For those of you who are unaware, Gruyere is a washed rind cheese just like Epoisses or Limburger. However, because it is aged for a long period, not only do you get the sharp, tangy stinkiness of the b. Linens bacteria but you get the deep, painful oomphiness of OLD b. Linens bacteria, a totally different beast. At top is a picture of cheese makers filling “hoops” with curd in order to form the wheels. At bottom is one of the aging rooms for Gruyere. It looks like something out of Indiana Jones.

This was a great tour, not just because our tour guide was exceptional (and totally handsome a la Tom Selleck), but because they served us a Fondue lunch immediately afterward. We first enjoyed a cheese plate featuring six Roth Kase cheeses, including their not-yet-released blue cheese, Gorgonzilla. Super-creamy and super-smooth (and not at all reptilian). Then there was the kirsch. Pow!

The fondue was sublime and I learned a thing or two about really good fondue technique. We shopped a bit in the store. Sarah, in all her sarcasm, feigned interest in Wisconsin Butter Cheese Pumpkin Balls. As a result, the kind Wisconsiner (Wisconsinite?) gave her a box for free. So, I’m now watching Sarah about to indulge in said Wisconsin Butter Cheese Pumpkin balls. To quote Sarah post-taste, “it’s not that bad.” I think she just needs more kirsch to top it off.

 

Lesson learned from Roth Kase: The Swiss are brilliant.

Next stop: Crave Brothers in Waterloo. Presumably, Napoleon will not be there. Neither will Abba.

There are four Crave Brothers and each is responsible for an aspect of operations: Crops; Cows; Milking; Cheese Making. It’s not only fully family – the facility is also fully vertical in that they grow the food for the animals, milk the cows, make the cheese, and convert the waste (a.k.a. manure a.k.a. cow poopie) into electricity, high potency fertilizer, and animal bedding.

After a tour of the facility (including baby cows), we were served more cheese. There was a mushroom cheese melt, a chocolate cheese cake, a lemon cheese tart, and a few other cheese-centric dishes. At this point, I’m starting to feel a little cheese drunk.

 

Lesson learned from Crave Brothers: Waste not, want not.

We had dinner that night at Sprechers, which is a pub-ish place, but also makes their own beers. We started off with a beer and cheese tasting which was super cool. Six beers. 12 cheeses. And that was BEFORE dinner. *Gurgle*

** Fromage-a-thon: Day 3 **

First stop: Carr Valley Cheese.

We’re on our way to Carr Valley Cheese, home of Sid Cook, considered to be the ultimate “rock star” of cheese. We’ve carried a number of Sid’s cheeses at Cheesetique – his mixed-milk selections are some of the finest in the world. You may recognize Mobay, Menage, and Cocoa Cardona as just a few of them.

I have to admit I’m a little groggy today, floating in a cheese-induced haze. I think that I have consumed more cheese in the past 48 hours than any human should. Not that that’s a bad thing. Ok – it might be a little bad. If I look at one more bowl of steaming fondue, I might just end it all.

We just left Carr Valley cheese after touring the plant and tasting many of their delicious cheeses. A couple I hadn’t tried before: Vanilla Cardona, Black Goat Truffle, Crema Kasa. All very different and all delicious.

Speaking of different, Carr Valley makes 80 cheeses ranging from Gouda to Cheddars of all ages to Sid’s own mixed-milk creations. He was asked how he got started making mixed milk cheeses and his answer was fascinating so I thought I’d pass it along.

When Sid worked in his father’s cheese plant (his family has been making cheese for four generations), they made commodity block cheddar. According to Sid, it was a living, but the cut-throat nature of the business left no extra revenues to put toward new equipment or facility improvements. So, Sid and his dad went from commodity to specialty by mimicking some European recipes, particularly aged Gouda. Their cheeses were excellent, but they couldn’t compete on the open market because the Dutch cheese producers were able to undercut their prices by over 70 cents per pound. How, you ask? Because the Dutch government subsidized its cheese makers to make up for the difference. Frustrated by the endless government interference (both from the Netherlands and Washington), Sid realized the only solution was to make cheeses that were totally unique, totally American, and totally his. Thus were born his one-of-a-kind mixed milk cheeses. Instead of trying to replicate recipes from overseas, Sid theorized (and bet his livelihood on the fact) that Americans would love to have American original cheeses they could be proud of. Sid was right and now he makes nearly a million pounds of cheese per year to fill the very need that he almost single-handedly created.

At top is a picture of cheese wheels floating in a salty brine bath. At bottom is a Gouda getting dipped in red wax. Honestly looked a little gruesome in that room.

Lesson learned from Carr Valley: It’s a tie between “Don’t tread on me” and “Necessity is the mother of invention”.

Next Stop: Widmer Cheese Cellars

I visited Widmer several years ago on my last Wisconsin cheese tour. Joe Widmer looks exactly the same – perhaps making cheese keeps you perpetually young as well as perpetually stinky (not that you were stinky, Joe). Joe still uses the same bricks his grandfather did when making his signature Brick cheese (the bricks are used to press the cheeses as they are resting). His cheeses are all made by hand in his small plant just as they have been – in the very same facility – for nearly 100 years.

To be honest, I’m starting to look at cheese a little bit like a hung over person might view a stiff cocktail. You know you feel like dookie but if you just have that one bite, maybe it will take the edge off. So I enjoy a pumpernickel, Brick cheese, mustard and onion open-face sandwich. Now I have bad breath and a cheese hangover.

 

Lesson learned from Widmer Cheese Cellars: Keep it simple; keep it traditional.

Next stop: Saxon Homestead Creamery

I love this story. Saxon Homestead Creamery was founded three years ago by a family which took tremendous pride in the quality of their grass-fed cows’ milk. According to cheese maker Jerry (a.k.a. “Cheese Santa”), they didn’t like the idea that once their milk was taken away in a tanker, it was only as good as everyone else’s milk in the mix. They wanted to find a way to show off what a great job they did on the farm, so Saxon Homestead Creamery was born.

 

Saxon took over an old beer warehouse and built a relatively small but state of the art facility for making their collection of five cheeses. Saxon wins the award for the most beautifully rinded cheeses because they do a secondary press where a wreath of leaves and the Saxon logo are embossed on the rind.

Upon heading out, we passed by the table of old photos of the family making cheese, milking cows, etc. There was even one of patriarch “Big Ed” operating on a “ruptured pig”. And no, I did not ask what a “ruptured pig” was. Kind of didn’t want to know.

Lesson learned from Saxon: It’s never too late to start something new.

We had dinner tonight at Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers (a.k.a. Brett Favre’s old team). It was totally empty and we ate in a skybox overlooking the field. It was breathtaking. But not quite as breathtaking as when Sarah offered to try on as many Packers items as possible in the Packers gift shop. Is she a sport or what???

Needless to say, the arugula salad was the first to go from the dinner buffet. My poor group was so roughage-deprived. When dinner was almost over, there was a tornado warning so we were evacuated to the bathrooms. Kind of a dramatic end to an otherwise blissful evening.

** Fromage-a-thon: Day 4 **

First stop: Belgioioso Cheese
Belgioioso Cheese has five facilities spread throughout the Green Bay area. The reason for this is admirable: they never want to be more than 30 miles away from the farms that produce their milk. That way, milk that is collected in the morning is turned into cheese by the afternoon. Another super-cool thing that Belgioioso does is to pay their milk farmers for the quality of the milk (protein, fat, etc.) instead of the quantity. So, their suppliers are encouraged to work toward a higher standard. Just as their reward system is highly motivating, so is their penalty system. If a farmer includes any milk in their load that contains antibiotics, the farmer must pay each farmer whose milk is mixed with theirs for the “ruined” milk. Additionally, if any bovine growth hormones are ever detected, that farmer is dropped from the Belgioioso program immediately. I just love people that can utilize the carrot and the stick effectively.

Belgioioso was started over 30 years ago by an Italian immigrant whose family had been making cheese in his homeland since the 1800’s. He started by making provolone but then branched out to make many other varieties. His kids now run the operation with the same exacting standards and passion that their father demonstrated.

Then there was cheese. We tasted like eight Belgioioso cheeses followed by blue cheese pasta, two kinds of cheese-based pizzas, tiramisu, beef tenderloin, and – bless them – a huge bowl of green salad.

Lesson learned from Belgioioso: Keep it in the family.

** The trip home **

We departed from Green Bay airport and I was reminded once again that Wisconsin people are the nicest. Passing through security was actually a pleasure. I’m not kidding. When the TSA agent asked if I had anything sharp in my bag before she went through it, I said no, at which point the other TSA agent chimed in, “not even a SHARP cheddar?????”. Now THAT is great security humor. Since I did have cheese in my purse, they also performed what they called the “cheese check”, which I’ve certainly never witnessed at Reagan National.

 

One final shout-out to the peeps on the Wisconsin cheese tour with us (Todd, Virginia, Denis, Kent, LaDonna, Chris, Eve, Danny, Glenna, Tony, Regan, Danny Shawn C., Mark, Shawn M., Tiffany, Christina, Terry, Donald, Brian, and Bob). What a great few days! Of course, not an hour could pass without someone sneakily planting a really stinky cheese in someone else’s bag. But hey – what else are you going to do? After a couple days, eating any more of it was definitely not an option. Seriously, though, I had a great time. Thanks for sharing your ideas, recipes, and general merriment. Next time we meet, the fondue is on me!

 

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Spots still available for Wine Maker event

We have a few spots left for this much anticipated North-South Italian wine event. Meet two wine makers. Taste their wines. Leave happy. Click here for more details.

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Cheesetique in Free Enterprise Video Contest!

So, when my good buddy Meredith Bragg mentioned that he was entering a national video contest about what it means to be “free enterprise” and asked me to participate, my immediate answer was, “OF COURSE”. Not only am I an avid free enterprise supporter, but I love nothing more than being immortalized on film. Meredith came by and on a Sunday morning to capture some scenes. He also filmed our wonderful neighbors, The Caboose and Let’s Meat on the Avenue, for the less-than-two-minute project. The result is fantastic.

Check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OehpD3E_Bcg

The more hits Meredith gets, the better he’ll do in the contest. So let’s go viral, people!!!

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Cheese Class: Little Gems

We still have a few spots available in the “Little Gems” cheese class this month (only Monday spots left). Check out the details on our Events page.

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Patio is Open!

Please join us for lunch and/or dinner on our charming patio. The cheese and wine are flowing!

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Time for a FUN Vote!

Try our “Think Pink” rose wine flight. Vote for your favorite. The overall winner gets put on the new wine list. Time to stand up and be counted!

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New Wine Event this Month

March is “Misunderstood Wines” month. Check out the details of our class on the “Events” tab above.

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