Tuesday, May 30, 2023

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Interview With Wisconsin Cheesemaker Pam Hodgson of Sartori Cheese

We have teamed up with Wisconsin Cheese for an interview mini-series known as Meet the Cheesemakers, that includes a sampling of the state’s best makers and their award-winning creations.

I’ve been surrounded by girls with a knack for cooking for so long as I can bear in mind. My mother is a chef and caterer, and whereas her mom wasn’t precisely a gourmand (she liked a canned vegetable second), Granbobbie made some actually superb dishes in her time, together with her well-known potato salad. On my dad’s aspect, I’ve an aunt who’s been chargeable for the Thanksgiving candy potatoes since earlier than I used to be born—to be clear, they’re about 50 % candy potato, and the remainder of the recipe is actually butter and sugar. I’m advised my dad’s mother, my Bestemama, might make a imply batch of lefse that she served with butter and jam. These girls formed me and my sister, and at this time we supply on their love for cooking in our personal houses.

Cheesemaker Pam Hodgson of Sartori Cheese additionally grew up surrounded by girls with a ardour for meals. As a third-generation cheesemaker, her mother and father and grandparents influenced the way in which she thought of dairy from an early age. A lot of the produce the household ate was grown by her mother, in two giant gardens on their farm. With out the matriarchs in her household, it’s potential that this Grasp Cheesemaker might’ve ended up in one other line of labor completely—and the identical may very well be stated for me. I sat down with Pam to speak about Wisconsin’s cheesemaking neighborhood, Sartori’s unbelievable lineup of cheeses, and the significance of mentorship within the dairy trade.

This interview has been edited and condensed for readability.

MADISON TRAPKIN: Are you able to inform me who you might be, what you do, and the place you’re employed?

PAM HODGSON: I’m Pam Hodgson, and I am a Grasp Cheesemaker at Sartori Cheese in Plymouth, Wisconsin.

MT: What does it imply to be a Wisconsin Cheesemaker?

PH: Right here in Wisconsin, we take dairy very significantly—our license plates learn “America’s Dairyland.” As a Wisconsin cheesemaker, I’m each the beneficiary and the service of that custom, and I attempt to at all times convey out the Wisconsin goodness in each pound of cheese that we make. [Dairy is] our largest agricultural pursuit, and we’ve nice trade help. Our farms have one of the best giant animal veterinarians. They’ve soil scientists, they’ve nutritionists. The Heart for Dairy Analysis in Madison, Wisc. has nice help to assist [the farmers] produce the best high quality milk, and we’ve nice help with a purpose to make the best high quality cheese. For me, as a cheesemaker, I really feel extremely lucky. Once I go to conferences like [the American Cheese Society conference] I get to speak with a whole lot of actually gifted cheesemakers, however none of them have the help that we’ve right here in Wisconsin.

Picture by Sartori Cheese

MT: Did you at all times know that cheese can be your path?

PH: I actually didn’t plan on changing into a cheesemaker, however I really feel very lucky that this path discovered me. Once I was rising up, my first profession objective was to be a dairy farmer like my mother and father. Years later, when my husband and I had been newbie farmers and wanted just a little extra revenue to gasoline the dream, there was a gap at an area cheese plant. I utilized for a top quality assurance place as a result of it was good, sincere work. On paper, I may not have been probably the most certified candidate, however I used to be provided the job as a result of I believed that the plant supervisor noticed one thing in me. I believe he was proper as a result of as soon as I obtained into the plant and obtained working there, I simply thrived. I liked the method. I liked the individuals. I liked how there was at all times one thing happening that will problem me both bodily or intellectually. Cheesemaking actually engages your complete self as a result of, as cheesemakers, we let the milk and the cheese inform us when it is time to go to the following step. It’s a neat course of, and I fell in love with it.

MT: There are solely two feminine Grasp Cheesemakers on the planet and also you’re one among them—what’s that like?

PH: Once I began within the dairy trade in 1991, it was very male dominated. I really interviewed [for my cheese plant job] whereas I used to be pregnant with our first baby. My mother was actually supportive, and I could not have executed it within the early days with out her. I’d have issues within the plant the place I wanted to remain, and I’d name her and ask her if she might choose up the children, and he or she did. There have been occasions once I wanted to work at evening as a result of I knew one thing wasn’t proper [with the cheese], so the children slept over at Grandma’s. I actually couldn’t have executed it with out her.

I’m optimistic that the quantity [of female Master Cheesemakers] will quickly develop. I’m basing that on [the fact that] proper now in Wisconsin, there are a lot of girls who’re making excellent cheeses, together with Erin Radtke right here at Sartori. She’ll be eligible to use beginning January 1. She’s an excellent cheesemaker, and I’m excited and searching ahead to the day the place she turns into a licensed grasp.

Picture by Sartori Cheese

MT: I’ve heard that mentorship is a giant a part of the Grasp Cheesemaker program, and it looks as if it’s vital to Sartori as nicely. Who’ve your mentors been within the dairy trade?

PH: Yeah. When an individual turns into licensed, they’ve a possibility to call their mentors. In 2013, when that chance got here up for me, I actually struggled as a result of arising within the cheese trade, I realized from [a lot of] actually nice individuals, names that everyone within the trade is aware of. However I additionally realized simply as a lot—or extra—from women and men who quietly did their job to one of the best of their means. On the finish of the day, I selected my mother and father, Henry and the late Marilyn Umstead, as my mentors as a result of they taught me to at all times continue learning and to at all times recognize everybody, particularly those that society may look previous.

By way of mentoring [at Sartori], I believe it’s vital to do not forget that it’s a two-way [street]. I do know I be taught a complete lot [from the people I mentor], and I hope they be taught one thing, too. I’ve labored very, very laborious within the final 30 years to actually construct my information base, and to do [mentorship] proper, I must go on that information as a result of that’s a part of the Wisconsin cheesemaker custom. If I do that proper by instructing individuals what I do know, then [eventually] they’re going to know greater than I do as a result of they’re going to have their experiences and what they’ve discovered on their very own, too. So it’s very humbling, however it’s the way it must be executed.

MT: What makes Sartori cheeses so uniquely Wisconsin?

PH: My hope is that when somebody tries a Sartori cheese, they’ll style Wisconsin and the care that our household farms have put [into it]—not solely by caring for their animals, but additionally by caring for the land that grew the crops that fed the animals that they milked. We’re very dedicated to creating Wisconsin Originals [here]. Cheesemaking is historic, [going] again 1000’s and 1000’s of years. At Sartori, we’re cheesemakers first. We wish to create new originals that can wow and delight our patrons, [like] our Merlot BellaVitano. We soak that in vats of Merlot wine, then when the cheeses have been in there lengthy sufficient, we pull the wheel out, let it dry in a rack, and when it’s prepared, we bundle it. That cheese has fruity Merlot notes that complement the BellaVitano cheese itself, which is savory with a lot of cooked dairy notes. It’s actually an exquisite cheese.

Once I began within the Wisconsin dairy trade within the ‘90s, it appeared so huge, like [there were] all these individuals, and I didn’t know anyone. However then as I obtained entering into it, I [realized] that it truly is an in depth neighborhood. We work laborious, however we play tougher. It’s a neat tradition.

What’s your favourite sort of Sartori Cheese? Inform us within the feedback beneath!

Our buddies at Wisconsin Cheese are dedicated to showcasing all of the superb cheeses the state has to supply—and there is a whole lot of them. Wisconsin has extra flavors, varieties, and types of cheese than anyplace else on the planet. From Italian classics like Parmesan and ricotta to Wisconsin Originals like colby and muenster, this cheese-obsessed state has just a little one thing for everybody. Discover out extra about Wisconsin Cheese by visiting their website.


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