Thursday, August 04, 2016

Mike & Carol Gingrich Awarded ACS Lifetime Achievement Award

Mike Gingrich and Andy Hatch of Uplands Cheese.
Photo by Uriah Carpenter
In March, Uplands Cheese co-owner and lead cheesemaker Andy Hatch asked Ari Weinzweig and me if we might write letters of support asking the American Cheese Society to consider awarding Mike and Carol Gingrich the organization's Lifetime Achievement Award.

I asked Andy if he could send me the nominating document he had submitted, as I wanted my letter of support to fill in any gaps and convince the ACS that the founders and creators of Pleasant Ridge Reserve in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, were indeed so very worthy of the award. After all, past recipients include some serious cheese icons, including Ig Vella, Dan Carter, Kathleen Shannon Finn, Daphne Zepos, Ari Wienzweig, Cathy Strange, Ricki Carroll, John Greeley and Steve Jenkins. No one deserves to be in that list more than Wisconsin artisan cheese pioneers Mike and Carol Gingrich.

Photo by Uriah Carpenter
As I watched Andy present, and then Mike accept, the ACS Lifetime Achievement Award award on behalf of Carol and himself last week at the annual ACS conference in Des Moines, I remembered why Andy's original nomination papers had brought me to tears. Nowhere in the history of a master and apprentice relationship has a former apprentice (now a rock star cheesemaker in demand at every cheese event in the country) given so much credit to the two people who took a chance on their successor. And never before has the master given most of the credit to the industry and the people who surround him. You all might call it "Wisconsin nice." I call it being humble and kind.

When Mike & Carol Gingrich asked for my help in spreading the gospel of Wisconsin artisan cheese, I said yes. When Mike & Carol asked me to join a committee or help with an event, I said yes. And I said yes because I respected the time, sweat and money they had given to the industry. Mike & Carol Gingrich will never, in a million years, take credit for anything. But they have changed everything.

A standing ovation for Mike Gingrich.
Photo by Uriah Carpenter

An excerpt from Andy's nomination papers, repeated for the audience at the award presentation:

"Mike and Carol were pioneers in the renaissance of grass-based dairy and farmstead cheesemaking, who had the vision to revitalize old-world traditions in modern ways. Their vision began in the early 1980s, when, together with neighboring dairy farmer and eventual Uplands Cheese co-owners, Dan and Jeanne Patenaude, they were among the first dairy farmers in the country to utilize electric fencing as a way to intensively manage rotational grazing patterns.

"By the late 1990s, when Mike and Dan had combined their herds and purchased a 300-acre grazing farm on Pleasant Ridge, they were producing wonderfully distinctive grass-fed milk and began looking for a way to take advantage of that flavor. After a serendipitous meeting with Ari Weinzweig at the 1998 ACS Conference, Mike became convinced of his milk's potential for alpine-style cheese. Although his idea came in a period when small Wisconsin cheesemakers were contracting, consolidating or just plain quitting, Mike drew up a business plan for a raw-milk, farmstead cheese named Pleasant Ridge Reserve. As with rotational grazing, he saw an opportunity to take advantage of old traditions in new uncommon ways.

Andy continued: "When I bought the farm from Mike in 2014, he gave me a copy of that original business plan. Incredibly, he had done exactly what he had planned in 1998. His was not an easy path to envision back then, and it certainly wasn't easy to navigate. Mike's initial vision of a raw, grass-fed, farmstead cheese struck many as misguided and doomed to fail. When it was proven successful, his refusal to compromise those principles in the name of expansion seemed out of character for an American cheese business. But Mike has the rare combination of a mind sharply attuned to business (he earned an MBA from Harvard before milking cows) and a heart that gravitates to simplicity and authenticity. As he guided Uplands Cheese through growth, awards and recognition, he never wavered from his founding principles, and as he became an impressively profitable cheesemaker, he still provided an opportunity for me, his apprentice, to share in the success and eventually take the reins.

Bob Wills and Mike Gingrich.
Photo by Uriah Carpenter
"Despite his obvious accomplishments, Mike never took undue credit for the success of his cheese, and he recognized that his company was riding a wave propelled by many people" from the scientists at the Center for Dairy Research who helped him develop the recipe, to Bob Wills, who opened up his cheese plant to allow Mike and Carol make the first batches of Pleasant Ridge Reserve.

Andy concluded: "People in our industry regard Mike not only as a successful cheesemaker, but also as someone who plowed ground that became fertile for the rest of us. It's rare in any industry to find such a celebrated producer with his humility and altruism. While our larger food culture at times seems to revolve around its own narcissistic gravity, the ACS does well to honor a career based on core values of education, networking and sustainability. Mike and Carol Gingrich have embodied those values since they began milking cows in 1980. This is our chance to honor what they have achieved and given to all of us."

Congratulations to Mike and Carol Gingrich, and thank you for putting Wisconsin artisan cheese on the map.


Monday, August 01, 2016

New Fall Cheese Class Series Announced

Hey Cheese Peeps! In an effort to alleviate the hate mail I've been getting because all of my Wisconsin Cheese Originals classes are sold out through the end of the year, I just added four new tasting and talking classes. Whoo-hoo!

Here are the details:

You get to hang out with me, Jeanne Carpenter, American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional, on a Sunday evening and taste and learn about at least four different cheeses each time. You may purchase classes separately for $25 each, or purchase the entire four-class series for $90.

We meet at the lovely Firefly Coffeehouse, 114 North Main Street in downtown Oregon, Wisconsin, located just a quick 10 minutes south of Madison. Classes start at 6:00 pm. Each is limited to 20 attendees. Classes include a complimentary glass of wine, beer or beverage of your choice.  

This is important: These classes sell out fast, so reserve your seat in advance at www.cheesetickets.com

September 25
Cheese 101: Taste the Eight Categories of Cheese

Start out with an introduction to the eight different types of cheese – fresh, semi-soft, soft ripened, surface-ripened, semi-hard, aged, washed rind, and blue. Learn and taste your way through your very own cheese board of eight artisan cheeses, then take the board home and impress your friends with your new-found knowledge.

October 23
American Farmstead Cheeses

Perhaps some of the most eye-appealing and palate-pleasing cheeses are those hand-crafted on the same farm as where the animals – cows, sheep or goats - are milked.  Learn the stories and taste four of the best farmstead cheeses made in America today.

November 20
The Best of American Original Cheeses

The United States is home to some of the most innovative cheesemakers in the world. We’ll taste four original cheeses dreamt up by cheesemakers either through sheer genius or, more often, by mistake. Hear the stories of what it takes to create an award-winning American Original.

December 4
Cheese & Chocolate Pairings

Give yourself an early holiday gift with tickets to this festive tasting of four American artisan cheeses paired with four different chocolates from local chocolatiers. Learn tips and tricks of pairing sweet with savory, and get ideas for holiday gifts for your friends and family!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Roelli Cheese Wins 2016 ACS Best in Show with Little Mountain

Photo by Uriah Carpenter
Every once in a great while, good things happen to good people. Such was the case tonight at the 2016 American Cheese Society awards ceremony, as Master Cheesemaker Chris Roelli, one of the country's most humble, hardworking and beloved cheesemakers, took home Best in Show for the very first time. Ever. And he did it with a cheese he created to honor his family.

With tears in his eyes and emotion flowing through his voice, the first call after the pomp and circumstance ended onstage was to his father, Cheesemaker Dave Roelli, who first taught Chris how to make cheese as a young boy. Chris is the fourth generation in his family to make cheese at the family plant near Shullsburg, Wisconsin, and just two years ago, he and his cousin purchased the business from their fathers.

"Sit down," he told his dad over the phone. "I just won the whole ACS show. Yes. Best of Show with Little Mountain. It's everything we've ever worked for."

Everything he's ever worked for: indeed, Chris Roelli and his wife, Kristine, have worked long days and nights establishing and rebranding Roelli Cheese after they reopened the once-closed cheese plant ten years ago. Chris found early fame with his American Original, Dunbarton Blue, a natural rinded cheddar streaked with blue veins, and also with Red Rock, another cheddar blue made in blocks with a white mold rind and creamy texture.

Little Mountain is Chris' newest cheese. It pays homage to his family cheesemaking heritage in Switzerland. Created with the help of John Jaeggi at the Center for Dairy Research in Madison, Little Mountain is an Appenzeller style made in 15-pound wheels and washed with a proprietary blend of bacteria and brine. It's aged between 8 and 14 months. The winning wheel was aged nine months.

Photo by Uriah Carpenter
"This cheese is more special because it takes me back to my family's roots," Chris said. "It's also the cheese I make the least of." Only 1,200 pounds of Little Mountain currently exist, and Chris now faces the monumental task of trying to fill orders from hundreds of stores around the country, all of which will be clamoring for the Best in Show cheese.

In addition to winning Best in Show, Wisconsin also had a hand in the Third Place Best in Show winner, Jeffs' Select. The aged gouda is crafted by Jeff Wideman at Maple Leaf Cheese in Monroe, and then aged at the Caves of Faribault by Jeff Jirik in Minnesota. The two men shared the prize.

Rounding out the Best in Show honors was Buff Blue from Bleating Heart Cheese in California, and St. Malachi Reserve from The Farm at Doe Run in Pennsylvania. Both cheeses tied for second place. Tying for third place was Greensward, made by Jasper Hill in Vermont and aged by Murray's Cheese in New York.

Overall, Wisconsin dominated the competition, held this year in Des Moines, Iowa, winning 104 awards, more than any other state in the nation. Of those awards, 28 were first place ribbons, 32 were second places and 44 were thirds. Overall, California came in second with 55 awards, and Vermont third, with 36 awards.

All Wisconsin companies earning awards at tonight's competition for their cheeses were:
  • Arena Cheese, Arena: Colby, Smoked Gouda
  • Arthur Schuman Inc: Cello Thick and Smooth Mascarpone, Yellow Door Creamery Harissa Rubbed Fontal 
  • BelGioioso Cheese, Green Bay: BelGioioso Fresh Mozzarella 16 oz. Log, BelGioioso Mascarpone, BelGioioso Burrata, BelGioioso Fontina
  • Cedar Grove Cheese, Plain: Sheep Milk Feta, Donatello
  • Cesar's Cheese, Random Lake: Cheddar Cheese Curds, Hand Stretched String Cheese, Cesar’s String Cheese, Oaxaca String Cheese
  • Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Waterloo: Yellow Cheddar Cheese Curds, White Cheddar Cheese Curds, Fresh Mozzarella, Fresh Mozzarella-under 8oz, Jalapeno Cheddar Cheese Curds, Marinated Fresh Mozzarella
  • Edelweiss Creamery, Monticello: Emmental, Brick
  • Emmi Roth USA, Monroe: Pavino, GranQueso Reserve, GranQueso, Roasted Garlic Raclette, Smoked Fontina, Grand Cru Surchoix
  • Hidden Springs Creamery, Westby: Driftless-cranberry cinnamon, Driftless- Maple, Meadow Melody Grande Reserve, Meadow Melody Reserve
  • Hook's Cheese Company, Mineral Point: Little Boy Blue, Barneveld Blue, Pepper Jack
  • Klondike Cheese, Monroe: Brick, Muenster, Odyssey Feta, Odyssey Reduced Fat Feta, Odyssey Tomato & Basil Feta, Odyssey Peppercorn Feta, Odyssey Mediterranean Feta, Odyssey Greek Yogurt French Onion Dip, Odyssey Blueberry Greek Yogurt, Odyssey Greek Yogurt
  • Kraft Heinz: Cracker Barrel – Sharp Cheddar, Cracker Barrel – Extra Sharp Cheddar
  • Lactalis American Group, Belmont: 33 Kg. Triple Cream Brie, 1 Kg. Triple Cream Brie, Feta Crumbles, Reduced Fat Feta, Brie – Herbs, Rondelé Garlic & Herbs Gourmet Spreadable Cheese
  • Landmark Creamery, Albany: Pecora Nocciola, Petit Nuage – Summer Babe, Petit Nuage
  • Maple Leaf Cheesemakers, Monroe: Mild Gouda, Aged Gouda, Aged English Hollow, Jack the Reaper, Pepper Jack, Twin Grove Gouda, Smoked Gouda 
  • Marieke Gouda, Thorp: Marieke Gouda Honey Clover, Marieke Gouda Jalapeno, Marieke Gouda Truffle
  • Montchevre-Betin, Inc., Belmont: Fromage Blanc, La Chevriotte, Trivium, Mini Bucheron, Oh-La-La! Fresh Spreadable Goat Cheese, Bandaged Goat aged by Crown Finish Caves
  • Mt. Sterling Cheese Co-op: Smoked Jalapeno Jack, Sterling Reserve
  • Organic Valley, LaFarge: Organic Pasteurized Colby, Organic Salted Butter 
  • Pine River Pre-Pack, Newton: Horseradish Flavor Cold Pack Cheese Food, Hot Habanero Cold Pack Cheese Food
  • Roelli Cheese Company, Shullsburg: Little Mountain 
  • Saputo Specialty Cheese: Black Creek Colby, Stella Aged Asiago, Great Midwest Hatch Pepper Cheddar, Black Creek Pepper Jack, Black Creek Double Smoked Cheddar
  • Sartori Company, Plymouth: Sartori Classic MontAmoré, Sartori Limited Edition Pastorale Blend, Sartori Classic Asiago, Sartori Reserve Chipotle BellaVitano
  • Saxon Cheese, Cleveland: Saxony Alpine Style – 30 Month, Snowfields Butterkase Style – 12 Month, Saxony Alpine Style, Asiago Fresca, Snowfields w/red chillies and mushrooms
  • The Artisan Cheese Exchange, Sheyboygan: Deer Creek The Stag, Deer Creek The Imperial Buck, Deer Creek The Moon Rabbit
  • V&V Supremo Foods: Queso Oaxaca, Queso Chihuahua with Jalapeno Peppers
  • Widmer's Cheese Cellars, Theresa: Traditional Washed Rind Brick Cold Pack, Washed Rind Brick Cheese, Traditional Colby
  • Zimmerman Cheese, South Wayne: Traditional Smoked Brick, Muenster Cheese
The 2016 ACS Judging & Competition saw 1,843 entries of cheeses and cultured dairy products from 260 companies from 37 U.S. states, three Canadian provinces and Colombia. A total of 374 ribbons were awarded: 104 first place ribbons, 127 second place ribbons, and 143 third place ribbons.

Photo by Uriah Carpenter


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Happy Birthday Veronica Pedraza. Your Cheeses Rock.

Today is cheesemaker Veronica Pedraza's birthday and I think we should celebrate with beauty shots of her fabulous cheeses.

For those of you not in the know, Veronica is the lead cheesemaker at Meadowood Farms in New York. She is also a former monger, spectacular fellow member of the American Cheese Society Education Committee, and is an honorary Wisconsinite, as she attended Beloit College and has been overheard appreciating how just gosh darn nice we are here in the Midwest.

When you find her cheeses at retail, buy them immediately. Each is made lovingly in small batches and is exquisite. Here are three of my favorites:

Ledyard: Veronica was inspired by Robiola and St Marcelin when she created this beauty. A soft-ripened sheep's milk cheese, it is wrapped in grape leaves soaked in Deep Purple, a wheat beer made with Madison County concord grapes.



Strawbridge: in Wisconsin, we have a dearth of non-stabilized soft-ripened cheeses, so this bloomy-rind sheep's milk cheese especially speaks to me. When it's young, it's easy to eat and agreeable to all, but as it ripens, it develops the bold mushroomy flavors of a real Camembert. Similar to a triple crème, it is decadent and buttery.



Juvindale: this is about as close as you're going to get to Reblochon without paying the European airfare to eat the original. Made with cow's milk, the rind is thin and pillowy, with a buttery, tangy paste with just the right amount of barny pungency.


Happy birthday, Veronica! You have a fan club in Wisconsin. Your cheese makes us happy.


Photos by my fabulous husband, Uriah Carpenter.