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Wisconsin Original Cheese Festival

Specialty, artisan, farmstead cheeses take center stage in Madison

Oct. 28, 2009
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Nov. 6-7 marks Madison’s first Wisconsin Original Cheese Festival, the crowning event in a list of activities hosted by the Wisconsin Cheese Originals. The new member-based organization is designed to share information about specialty, artisan and farmstead cheeses through events like informative seminars, tours and cheese-maker receptions. Chefs, suppliers, retailers, dairy producers and all-around cheese enthusiasts fill the ranks of this fromage-loving group for its nice membership perks, like pre-market cheese tastings and insider info.

Here are some impressive stats:

According to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, our state is home to approximately 15,000 dairy farms that milk more than 1.2 million cows to produce an average of 18,850 pounds of milk each per year. About 90% of this milk is used to produce cheese at 115 plants. Wisconsin has more skilled and licensed cheese-makers than any other state in the union, and is the only one that offers a “Master Cheesemaker” program. Our cheese-makers craft more than 600 varieties, types and styles of cheese, more than 2.4 billion pounds a year, which accounts for over 25% of all domestic cheese. Participants in the “Master Cheesemaker” program are not only required to complete studies in dairy science and cheese-making before they can be licensed, but they also have to serve as an apprentice under a licensed cheese-maker. These are all worthy reasons for a party of epic proportions.

The first Wisconsin Original Cheese Festival is a two-day event that offers visitors the opportunity to taste more than 100 cheeses from three different categories.

n Specialty: cheeses that are notably unique, of exceptional quality, or produced in quantities of less than 40 million pounds per year

n Artisan: handmade cheeses created in small batches

n Farmstead: products made on the farm from milk produced by cows on that farm

This year’s sold-out festival has also attracted cheese-lovers because of its fun lineup of activities. Friday night’s “Meet the Cheesemaker Gala Reception” at the Grand Terrace gives participants the opportunity to meet 30 Wisconsin cheese-makers and sample their wares. The next morning the festival is offering two tours: a private bus tour of two Green County cheese factories, including Chalet Cheese, the only Limburger cheese-maker in the United States, and a fondue lunch at Roth Kse’s culinary center; or a personalized walking tour of the largest producer-driven farmers’ market in the country, with lunch at Fromagination near Capitol Square.

Saturday afternoon is dedicated to six educational tasting seminars that cover topics like Wisconsin’s washed-rind, cave-aged and goat and sheep cheeses, as well as how to pair cheese with wine and beer. The festival comes to a close on Saturday evening with the “Artisan Cheesemaker Dine Around,” when chefs at six participating Madison restaurants partner with a unique Wisconsin cheese-maker to host a three-course dinner at a private table for 12.

Innovation, rigorous standards and artistry are hallmarks of Wisconsin’s long, rich heritage of cheese production. As the self-proclaimed capital of America’s Dairyland, our state is a central figure in the revival of artisan and farmstead cheese-making, a position worthy of celebration.

Plan for next year’s second annual Wisconsin Original Cheese Festival by visiting www.wicheesefest.com.n


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