It’s official: We’ve interviewed all the masters that Green County has to offer. It took three visits, but we’ve wrapped up the south-central part of Wisconsin. All (?) that are left are visits to another eight or nine cheesemakers in the northwest and central-western parts of the state.
We kicked off our trip by visiting the charming and historic Maple Leaf Cheese plant, headed up by masters Jeff Wideman and Paul Reigle . Reigle’s (unusual) master specialty is yogurt cheese, and Wideman was a walking encyclopedia of state dairy lore. I’d planned to write some of the book’s introduction by synthesizing the contents of various dairy history books, but at least some of that will (I think) be replaced by Wideman’s recollections and information, which duplicates the factual content of the history books in a much more lively voice.
Here’s a shot of Reigle with Maple Leaf’s English Hollow cheese:
And here’s a classic-looking one of Wideman:
Not far from the plant, we discovered a sign touting farm-fresh eggs. Try your best to resist this charming countryside shot… what’s that? No luck? Not surprising.
Jake Niffenegger of the Lactalis plant graciously showed us the skillful mold-cultivation that goes into each and every brie and camambert cheese that his plant puts out under the President name. Look for brie tasting notes coming out soon. We can’t get enough of this mellow, mild, creamy stuff.
We also spoke with Doug Peterson, the independent dairy consultant who heads Dairymasters, LLC. Peterson seems likely to play the role of “gruff-but-lovable truthteller” in our book — he wasn’t afraid to speak plainly about some of the challenges facing the Wisconsin cheese industry, which made for an engaging interview. We met up with Peterson at Rookies, a sports bar in Black Earth, Wisconsin, which gave the interview a decidedly more relaxed air than many of the ones we’ve done in corporate boardroom-style settings.
Last but certainly not least, we chatted with Gary Grossen, Babcock Hall’s cheesemaker in residence. Grossen, whose Gouda-style cheeses have been finding a great deal of success on the national level in recent years, plays a special role as a hands-on collaborator with the brains at the Center for Dairy Research, and as a mentor to those seeking their Wisconsin cheesemaker licenses.
Here’s a shot of the man and his cheese (Dutch Kase, if memory serves):
And an interesting shot Becca took from the observation deck overlooking the Babcock plant:
Of course we stopped at the Babcock Hall dairy store on our way out for some cheese curds, chocolate milk and Blue Moon ice cream…