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Interview With Wisconsin Cheesemaker Sid Cook dinner of Carr Valley Cheese

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

As a child, I related Wisconsin with the Inexperienced Bay Packers and never a lot else, due to my mother’s finest buddy Jamie, a Wisconsin native and a die-hard fan. Many years later, Jamie nonetheless loves the Packers, however I now know that there is way more to Wisconsin than simply soccer: The state’s dairy and cheesemaking trade occurs to be one of many best on this planet (sure, world!). Makers like Sid Cook dinner of Carr Valley Cheese have been shaping the area’s tacky story for over a century—in reality, Carr Valley’s been in enterprise since 1902. I sat down with Sid at their Mauston manufacturing unit and retail retailer to study extra about their spectacular lineup of cheeses, his journey to cheesemaking, and what the longer term holds for the Carr Valley crew.

This interview has been edited and condensed for readability.

MADISON TRAPKIN: ​​Are you able to inform me who you’re and what you do?

SID COOK: My identify is Sid Cook dinner, and I am a Grasp Cheesemaker at Carr Valley Cheese in Wisconsin.

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

SC: Initially, it is a geographical location that could be very appropriate for dairying as a result of we now have plenty of water. Should you have a look at the state, you will have the Mississippi River, Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, the Wisconsin River, after which the Fox River flowing by means of the middle, so we have a really perfect panorama for making cheese.

We even have quite a lot of assist. Wisconsin has a terrific dairy faculty, the Heart for Dairy Analysis in Madison. We’ve got a terrific cheesemakers’ affiliation—the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Affiliation—that many cheesemakers from different states belong to due to their popularity. Our Division of Agriculture could be very well-versed in cheesemaking and has truly led the nation in laws for cheeses and descriptions of cheeses. Then in fact, we now have our dairy farmers, who’ve come collectively to assist cheesemakers and the dairy enterprise right here in Wisconsin.

MT: Seems like an extremely supportive neighborhood, and with so many sources. Are you able to inform me a bit of bit about your loved ones’s historical past within the cheese world?

SC: I am a fourth-generation cheesemaker. It was my mom’s household that began within the cheese enterprise again in 1883, and it was a gentleman by the identify of Ed Lepley—who could be my great-great uncle—that began making cheese when he was 13 or 14 years outdated. My grandparents have been cheesemakers, all my uncles have been cheesemakers, my mom and father have been each cheesemakers, and so I come from a tribe of cheesemakers.

As a really younger baby, I spent quite a lot of time within the cheese manufacturing unit. I might tip a five-gallon pail on its facet and stand by the [cheese] vat after I was 5 – 6 years outdated, stirring the corners of the vat for my dad as a result of he could be up within the consumption weighing in canned milk. That is the way in which we did issues again in these days. By the point I used to be 11 or 12, I used to be making my very own vats of cheese to assist out with issues. I labored within the manufacturing unit each summer season and weekends. Once I was in faculty I might come residence and assist. I might work all summer season lengthy within the manufacturing unit and plant, and so I discovered rather a lot over time about making cheese on the sensible facet.

I discovered rather a lot when my uncles would get along with my mother and father—and naturally they talked about cheese. They might trade concepts and trade cultures [for cheesemaking], and so there was quite a lot of assist backwards and forwards.

MT: Did you all the time know that cheese could be your profession path?

SC: Completely not. I believed I might be an engineer or an lawyer. I knew that I wished to go on and get an training, which I did. Then I made a decision that perhaps sitting behind a desk the remainder of my life wasn’t actually what I wished to do, and so I obtained concerned within the household enterprise. My brother and I labored [at our family’s plant] collectively for 10 years earlier than I purchased out his share, after which in 1986 I purchased the Carr Valley plant and by no means appeared again. In ’91 I purchased one other manufacturing unit, after which one other one, after which one other one. Right now, Carr Valley manufactures in 4 vegetation.

Picture by Carr Valley Cheese

Picture by Carr Valley Cheese

MT: What sorts of cheeses do you make?

SC: We make brine-salted cheeses and pre-press cheeses at our plant in Mauston, we make vat-salted cheeses on the unique plant in Carr Valley, we make our blue cheeses on the Linden plant, and we make our Bread Cheese at Fennimore. All the cheeses which might be made in these vegetation go into distribution at our facility in Portage, the place they’re aged. There, we do affinage, waxing, cotton wrap, packaging, ageing, smoking, and all the things [else] that is wanted to make all of the modern cheeses that we do.

MT: You actually do all of it! You talked about that you just’re a Grasp Cheesemaker—what does this imply to you personally?

SC: Being a licensed Grasp Cheesemaker is de facto fairly an educational accomplishment. I’ve had about 50 or 60 years of creating cheese, and to be a Grasp Cheesemaker it’s important to have not less than 10 years of expertise. It’s important to make the precise cheese that you just’re being licensed as a grasp in for [a minimum of] 5 years, after which it’s important to take week lengthy courses quarterly for 3 years. Then, it’s important to take a 28-page written examination. Earlier than you are even accepted into this system, you are given an oral take a look at by a dairy scientist on the Heart for Dairy Analysis. Then, the take a look at is graded to just remember to actually are who you say you’re, and then you definately’re a Grasp Cheesemaker.

Typically, you are awarded the Grasp Cheesemaker certification by somebody that has helped you turn into cheesemaker, so it is actually a terrific honor when you think about that each one in all, it’ll take you about 13 to fifteen years to do it. For many of us it is a good longer journey, as a result of we have been making cheese for lots greater than 10 years.

MT: What does the Grasp Cheesemaker certification imply to Carr Valley?

SC: It is a terrific instructional expertise taking all of the courses and studying how one can make completely different cheeses. All in all, I’ve most likely taken 20 or 25 completely different courses with cheesemakers and teachers from around the globe. I’ve taken courses on Polish, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Greek, British, Irish, Scandinavian, and even Danish cheeses. It actually offers you all kinds of expertise past the cheeses that you just’re used to creating. At Carr Valley, myself and different Grasp Cheesemakers have actually been blessed with the power to innovate past what we grew up with, or what we discovered within the plant. It is actually widened the horizons, and I believe it is actually widened the horizons for Wisconsin cheese usually.

MT: That is so many sorts of cheese!

SC: A lot cheese, so little time.

Picture by Carr Valley Cheese

MT: It actually looks as if y’all are always dreaming up new cheeses, too. What’s that course of like?

SC: There are a number of completely different ways in which we innovate with new cheeses. The primary manner is solely accidentally. We have had plenty of accidents over time which have turned out splendidly. The Creama Kasa was an accident, the Smoked Sizzling Pepper Jack was an accident—we can’t essentially get into how these occurred, however know that they have been accidents. The second manner is mainly placing completely different milks collectively, completely different cultures collectively, doing completely different affinage as soon as the cheese is made, and simply seeing what you give you.

The third manner is to truly have a plan. We do that generally the place we now have a plan and we resolve what tradition we will use, what milk we will use, and if we will add another taste element to it. Then we resolve if we’re going to age the cheese, how lengthy we will age it, what temperature we will age it at. All of these issues change taste profiles and textures and cheeses.

MT: What are some thrilling new cheeses you’ve dreamed up recently?

SC: There’s the Wildfire Blue, which we made as a result of we determined that we wanted a blue cheese that had some warmth to it. With the Wildfire, I believe we made the cheese and any individual occurred to style it and say, “That is wild.” It has a bit of fireplace to it, and so we determined we might name it Wildfire Blue. Why not?

It is a very uncommon blue cheese, and that is what we do. We wish to innovate and we wish to put flavors collectively that steadiness one another, and Wildfire Blue is a really well-balanced cheese. While you style it, you get a beautiful mushroom word entrance and middle, and then you definately get some warmth approaching, however not an excessive amount of. You get a pleasant little pepper buzz, after which it dissipates. Then, such as you all the time do with a extremely good cheese, your hand goes out and picks up one other piece to eat as a result of it is so good.

MT: That feels like a terrific identify for a terrific cheese. What does the way forward for Carr Valley seem like?

SC: I believe the longer term seems very vivid. We’re always enhancing our gear—the renovation that we simply did right here will final this plant most likely 40 or 50 years. We’re not shortsighted, we’re long-sighted. We’re doing what we will to take issues ahead for the people who work right here and the generations to come back.

What’s your favourite Carr Valley cheese? Inform us within the feedback under!

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


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