Earlier in the week, I brought you what I found at the Dane County Farmers Market. While in Madison, the farmers market wasn’t the only place that I was able to see and taste a variety of cheeses.
Remember this picture from the market?
Well this delicious array of bandaged cheddar and cheese curds were made by Willi Lehner of Bleu Mont Dairy. The day before, I had the chance to visit Willi at Bleu Mont Dairy and see how his bandaged cheddar is created.
Meet Willi. He is a Swiss American, a second generation cheese maker, and has been referred to as a mad scientist of cheese. He has earned this nickname for some amazing “experiments” he has made with a variety of cheeses. He pushes the envelope of what is possible and creates a wide variety of complex and full bodied cheese that are made and aged in small batches.He is passionate about cheese and like every Wisconsin Cheesemaker. He loves his job.
Every Mad Scientist needs a lab. Willi is no different, he has a one of a kind lab specifically built for him. He uses other dairy facilities to physically make the cheese, but it is in his lab that his aging process begins. With cheese, the aging process is just as important as the ingredients that go into it. It is where the cheese develops its body and its complex flavors mature. When aging cheese, you want to have a constant humidity and constant temperature. Very similar to the environment that you would find inside of a cave.
Since the FDA probably would have issues with you aging and selling cheese in a natural cave, Willi decided to construct his own! It took about a year to build, but the final result is the perfect way to age cheese.
I had heard that we would be visiting a cheese cave, and really had no idea what to expect. Hearing that someone has constructed a cheese cave is not an every day thought. I pictured a small room with a lot of cheese in it? I was speechless when I saw what Willi had created. Coming out if a hill side, this massive rock structure is not what I expected.
Inside it has domed ceilings that are 12 ft tall and is cylindrical in shape. Inside are two rooms that each have a slightly different humidity. With the structure being buried under tons of dirt and rock, the room is almost impervious to temperature fluctuations. Over the course of a year the temperature will fluctuate 10 degrees. In March, at the end of Winter, the below freezing temperatures will bring the room to around 48 degrees. Then over the next few months the room will slowly climb to around 58 degrees in September. The process will then repeat as all winter the temperature will slowly go back down to 48 degrees in March. This very slow and gradual temperature change takes a few months to occur. If one night is -30 in the winter or a summer day reaches to over 100 it will have little to no effect on the temperature inside.
In addition to the temperature controls, the caves humidity stays constant. Commercial refrigerators can have humidity fluctuations and are incredibly expensive to run. The cave doesn’t require any energy to control its temperature and humidity.
While Willi produces a range of cheeses, my favorite were his bandage cheddars.
These are cheddar cheeses that are aged for 2 and a half to 3 years. They get their name “bandage” because of the muslin wrapping they have around them. The cheeses are wrapped in muslin and then smeared with lard. This muslin casing grows mold on it that helps develop flavor as the cheese ages and protects from cheese mites eating their way into the cheese. Here is what the cheese looks like while aging.
And here is the finished product.
Mmmm delicious. This cheddar is creamy, rich, and definitely has that distinctive sharp bit that all cheddar lovers crave! It is hard to describe, but the sharpness of this cheddar is more complex than the one note stuff you find in vacuum sealed packaging at the grocery store. This cheddar is best in smaller doses. I purchased some at the farmers market to bring home with me and throughout the week I have been trying it on different foods. I have discovered that it works amazingly on anything I would usually put cheddar on. Whether it be on apple slices or a turkey sandwich in an egg omelet. This cheddar works for all of them. The most common way that I have been consuming it has been eating small individual pieces all by themselves. The only downside is that I will soon be done with these piece. Don’t worry, I have more cheeses that made the trip back to NC with me. I will be sharing them with you next week.
Disclosure: The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board hosted me and covered my expenses while in Madison. They have not provided me with any financial compensation for the content on Taylor Takes a Taste. The recaps and posts about the trip are my own views and opinions.