The Wisconsin Cheese Plate

January 15, 2010

Reviewed by Guest Critic, The Man

The Wife (aka The Lady to all of you) made a wonderful homemade Italian Bean and Pasta soup yesterday with sweet Italian sausages, made fresh at the Hawthorne Fred Meyer in Portland. That was our lunch. The Wife called it “Pasta Fagioli”. Personally I prefer “bean and pasta” which according to The Wife is exactly the Italian translation. After such a delightful and filling lunch, which she served with fresh baked sourdough bread (the “take and bake” version) from the Portland French Bakery, The Wife decided a simple Wisconsin Cheese Plate was all The Man and The Cat needed for dinner.

That’s right I called Spaulding Gray “The Cat”; after all, that’s what he is. He may fancy himself to be a “Feline Foodie” and “Portland’s Premiere Feline Cheese Critic” but at the end of the day, he’s a cat. Okay, around here, he’s THE cat, but he’s still a cat. And this garbage that The Cat and The Wife perpetuate about her only “spell-checking” for The Cat; well that’s all it is: garbage. In the dead of night when The Cat and The Wife think I am asleep, I have caught them on more than one occasion working on this very blog together with The Wife doing the typing while The Cat looks over her shoulder and dictates his reviews.

But to quote The Cat… I digress…

The Wife’s friend and Co-Worker, Nate, returned this week from Mecca (aka Wisconsin) and brought The Cat new cheeses to review plus he delivered a special request for Crave Brothers Farmstead Mascarpone, arguably the best Mascarpone made in America. The cheese haul Nate brought also included Roth Kase Butterkase; Green Olive White Cheddar from Jim’s Cheese Pantry (Which calls itself the “Cheese Cut-out Capital of the World”) in Waterloo, Wisconsin and Hook’s Little Boy Blue (made from sheep milk) which came from Dee’s Cheese n More in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin. The Cat wants to review Hook’s Little Boy Blue but asked me, The Man, to give his thoughts on the other three.

The Wife added Sartori’s Bellavitano Gold (from her cheese island) to the cheese plate and as that was my personal favorite (on this particular plate), I’ll begin there.

I have as yet to meet a cheese filled with those crunchy little flavor bursts that I didn’t like. (The Cat has informed me they are Calcium Lactate crystals and then he snarkily added I should know that if I were actually reading the blog regularly. Now, The Cat has attitude. I know, a cat with attitude; what a concept.) Sartori Bellavitano Gold is slightly sweet and crumbly and then those Calcium Lactate crystals burst in your mouth. At room temperature, this cheese emits a bit of oil (The Cat again snarkily advised me that it’s called butterfat) that coats the palate and adds to its enjoyment.

I don’t have Paws; therefore, I give Sartori’s Bellavitano Gold Two Thumbs Up out of Two Thumbs (cause that’s all I’ve got).

Before I review the next two cheeses that Nate brought back from Wisconsin, I have to take a moment to discuss the packaging of two of the pieces of cheese. In Wisconsin, cheese is King, and as such Dee’s Cheese n More evidently doesn’t give a rat’s ass about presentation. This is in no way meant to sound like a criticism; it’s an observation. The two pieces of cheese from Dee’s had thick white butcher-type paper on the outside (and no it was not formaticum) held together with masking tape. The inside piece of cheese was wrapped in cellophane wrap and simply folded together. You have to know your market and my guess is that Dee knows hers. And most likely it’s they don’t give a rat’s ass about presentation as long as the cheese is good.

And as long as I’m wandering off the reservation a bit (but still staying close to the cheese mines), the great retailers of cheese in Wisconsin lack that certain snobbiness that many of the cheesemongers on both the left and right coast of the US have. For example, on Dee’s Cheese n More website, there’s a picture of a woman posing in a cow suit with her udders hanging out. Safe money says it’s Dee. And what respectable cheese shop on the east or west coast would boast being “the cheese cut-out capital of the world”? As down-to-earth as The Wife fancies herself to be, I can’t see her running around in a cow suit strutting her udders; and for that I am grateful. Again, if the cheese is good, who gives a rat’s ass about the presentation?

The piece from Dee’s I will review is Roth Kase Butterkase. This is a semi-soft cheese similar in texture to Port Salut; maybe even creamier. It is the color of rich butter and it melts on the palate just like butter. The taste is mild and, well, buttery. Roth Kase makes it using old world traditions that the founders brought with them from Switzerland back in the day.

I bet this cheese would make a killer grilled cheese and I plan to find out in the next day or two while The Wife is away at the cheesemines and The Cat is napping. BTW, he does that on average eighteen hours a day. Can you imagine having a life as easy as that of a house cat???

I give the Roth Kase Butterkase Two Thumbs Up out of Two Thumbs (cause that’s all I’ve got).

The third cheese on the Wisconsin Cheese Plate was a Green Olive White Cheddar which came from Jim’s Cheese Pantry and was made by the cheesemakers at Brunkow Cheese. A little history on Brunkow. This cheese manufacturer is a cooperative of 30-32 dairy farmers in the Darlington, Wisconsin area that formed the cooperative in 1899. They chose their name after the farmer who donated the land to build the cheese factory. As in 1899, the position of cheesemaker draws his salary from a percentage of the company’s gross income (the cheesemakers today are third-generation family members of the co-op). Visitors are welcome at their plant and can purchase their fine cheeses to take home; a recent visitor took home fifty pounds of cheese for family and friends. They also offer cheese platters for the locals to serve at their parties and other special occasions.

I liked the Green Olive the least of the cheeses, although I did like it. It was a bit on the bland side and the olives and pimentos didn’t “pop” or stand out. I found the texture to be a bit mealy. It might do better in a quesadilla with a little jalapeno added to give it some legs.

I give the Green Olive White Cheddar One Thumb Up out of Two Thumbs (cause that’s all I’ve got) although I would like to add a couple of kudos to the cooperative itself. For me, that’s what American business should be about; cooperating for the common good of the local community.

After The Wife removed the Wisconsin Cheese Plate, she brought out dessert of Crave Brothers Farmstead Mascarpone which she served with Anna’s Ginger Thins. I had to fight The Cat two falls out of three to get my fair share. There’s a lot to be said for having opposable thumbs in this world rather than clipped dew claws.

We had this exact dessert on one other occasion when The Wife returned from her Cheesemaking trip last spring to Wisconsin. The Crave Brothers Mascarpone was just as good last night as it was last May. Maybe even better. I wonder when Nate will journey to Wisconsin again. The Wife has got to find a steady supplier of this sublime cheese.

Unlike The Cat, I included my serving suggestions in the text of my review. To me, that is a bit more streamline and tidier. (The Cat’s not the only one around here who can be snarky.)

As for pairings with wine and beer, my philosophy is whatever floats your boat.

The source on all of these cheeses was cow milk; most likely Holstein as Wisconsin is over-run with those black and white bovine.

Now back to The Cat.