Food Republic: Wisconsin’s famed cheese makers get eco-friendly
Article By: Kristine Hanson / foodrepublic.com
In a state with about 1,200 certified cheesemakers — many are master cheesemakers and known for award-winning fromage — the competition to turn out excellent cheese is stiff. Putting an eco spin on the production process is one way these Dairy State cheesemakers stand out.
There are some solid examples of how the state’s cheese industry infuses cutting-edge, green business practices into a storied history of making cheese.
At Willi Lehner’s creamery (Bleu Mont Dairy) near the rolling hills of Blue Mounds State Park, he ages his organic cheese in an underground cave constructed from straw bales. Wind and solar power keep the whole operation running smoothly. The Swiss-American cheesemaker creates products that are the kind your palate won’t ever forget: think sharp, full-bodied notes in his English-style bandaged cheddar and a washed-rind cheese called Driftless Select “Earth Schmier.” Lehner makes Cheddar, Gouda, Havarti and Swiss, all from milk derived from cows at local dairies that have the run of a pasture.
In this year’s United States Championship Cheese Contest, Bleu Mont Dairy’s clothbound cheddar snagged a third-place award in the category of “Class 6 Bandaged Cheddar.” Its cheeses are served at L’Etoile, a restaurant that famed Slow Food advocate Odessa Piper founded in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1976 when many communities across the country hadn’t even begun to forge farm-to-table connections. Bleu Mont Dairy also sets up a stand at the Dane County Farmers Market — purported to be the country’s largest farmers market — and retails at one of Wisconsin’s best artisan-cheese shops (Fromagination in Madison).
Within facility maintenance lies a lot of room to implement eco-friendly measures. Crave Brothers, which has made farmstead mozzarella and mascarpone right on its Waterloo dairy farm since 2001, has designed a process where the cow manure is transferred into energy. Drop by any day of the week and you’ll be greeted by hundreds of cows that supply the milk used to make its award-winning cheese. This spring, Crave Brothers won two awards at the United States Championship Cheese Contest: Second Place Award in the Open Class Soft Cheeses Category (for its Mascarpone) and Smear-Ripened Semi-Soft Cheeses Category (for its Les Frères).
This was the 11th time its Les Frères took home an award. But what most people don’t know about is Crave Brothers’ computer-controlled (via an office in Milwaukee) anaerobic digestion system. By turning manure into energy, it generates not only enough electricity to keep the farm and cheese factory running — but enough for 300 area homes too, making the neighbors very happy.
Rolling out an organic cheese is another way to be green. Organic Valley, whose dairy products are sold nationwide through a co-op structure with 1,636 farmers, was founded in LaFarge, Wisconsin, in 1988 and has several organic cheeses in its catalogue, including Raw Milk Sharp Cheddar, Blue Cheese Crumbles (a three-time first-place winner at the World Dairy Expo) and “Stringles” (Mozzarella string cheese).
These green ways of doing business are proof that dairy farming is just as cutting-edge as other agricultural fields. And for Wisconsin, the number-two U.S. state (after California) in terms of the number of dairy cows (with an impressive 1.26 million milking cows) and the quantity of milk produced, this do-good, eco-friendly talking and walking is a boon for the economy. The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board estimates that Wisconsin dairy farmers generate $26.5 billion annually to the state’s economy. Thanks, in large part, to cheese.
S08 E13 – Kyle and Jessica take on the Bayview of Milwaukee in a day of great food and cocktails.
S08 E12 – Wisconsin Foodie visits Spain with Jessica and Karen Bell to see and taste all it has to offer.
S08 E11 – We explore Organic Valley at the Kickapoo Country Fair and All Seasons Farm and watch Organic Valley turn their milk into butter.
S08 E10 – We explore the world of perch at UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Science and at Wendt’s Fish Fry.
S08 E09 – We celebrate Native American culture at Indian Summer and then are treated to a traditional musky meal made with wild rice.
S08 E08 – It’s all things cheese at Cheesetopia where we check out a bunch of cheeses and then profile LaClare Farms and their amazing goat cheeses.
S08 E07 – Stoney Acres Farm hosts a pizza night with ingredients right from their farm.
S08 E06 – In this episode, we join George Bregar at Company Brewing as he makes a pale ale with fresh, locally sourced hops. Then we celebrate Oktoberfest with Deb and Dan Carey of New Glarus Brewing.
Wisconsin Foodie is organizing Cheesemaker tours this Spring/Summer and we’d like you to join us.
S08 E05 – This week we tour the driftless region and visit Driftless Organics, Viroqua Food Co-Op, and Rooted Spoon.