By Bill Anderson
America’s Foray into Artisan cheese
When writing about European traditions in raw milk cheese several months ago, I promised a follow-up series on American raw milk cheeses. America being a young country, our cheese traditions are rather superficial, dominated by mass-produced industrial commodity cheese.
However, in recent years, America has witnessed an explosion of diverse farmstead and artisan cheeses. Inspired by old world traditions, American cheese makers and dairy farmers have added our own touch, and created a cheese renaissance that is only beginning to bear fruit.
For many small organic dairy farmers, creating unique farmstead cheese has become a means to add value to their milk — milk which would otherwise be sold to corporate dairy processing monopolies for a fraction of what it is actually worth.
And for some, cheese is a means to an end – a way of expressing terrior or the unique “taste of place.” This bland white liquid we call “milk” is a deceptively complex medium. No one knows this better than a raw-milk cheese maker. The vast array of flavors and aromas that can be coaxed from high quality raw milk, by the hand of a skilled artisan cheese maker, are truly mind boggling.
Being a native of Wisconsin, and working several years there as a cheese monger (a salesperson and promoter of high-quality cheese) I could easily write a book on Wisconsin cheese, much of it bland commodity cheese produced by medium to large scale factories with mediocre-quality pasteurized milk.
Wisconsin is probably most famous for its cheddar, traditionally manufactured in 40 lb. blocks, and dyed with annatto to lend it an artificially bright orange color — even during the winter when the cows are eating stored feed so the milk is naturally pale in color.
Wisconsin is the only state in the U.S. which requires all cheese makers to pass a training and licensing program. While this ensures that all cheese makers are competent and well trained, the program is designed for industrialized cheese makers, and so there is a strong bias in the Wisconsin dairy industry against small scale artisan cheese makers, despite the large number of small dairy farms.
Fortunately, there are a handful of genuine artisan cheese makers in Wisconsin who are celebrated and cherished for their dedication to quality cheese and sustainable dairy farming. This first series will cover Wisconsin’s artisan cheese makers. Future series will cover Vermont, and other parts of the U.S.
Tomorrow, Raw vs. Heat Treated Cheese.
Bill Anderson is 25 year old cheese maker, now living in Ohio. Born in Wisconsin, and raised on lots of Wisconsin cheese, he became interested in raw milk and artisan dairy in his early 20′s, at local farmer’s markets and local food functions. Bill worked for a number of years as a cheese monger, and is now poised to begin producing artisan raw milk cheese from some of the best organic and sustainable dairy farms.