Sunday, June 23, 2024

Interview With Wisconsin Cheesemaker Sid Cook dinner of Carr Valley Cheese

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


As a child, I related Wisconsin with the Inexperienced Bay Packers and never a lot else, because of my mother’s greatest 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 rather more to Wisconsin than simply soccer: The state’s dairy and cheesemaking business occurs to be one of many most interesting 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 truth, Carr Valley’s been in enterprise since 1902. I sat down with Sid at their Mauston manufacturing facility and retail retailer to be taught 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 might be 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: To start with, it is a geographical location that may be very appropriate for dairying as a result of now we have plenty of water. Should you have a look at the state, you could have the Mississippi River, Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, the Wisconsin River, after which the Fox River flowing by the middle, so we have a perfect panorama for making cheese.

We even have a number of help. Wisconsin has a fantastic dairy college, the Heart for Dairy Analysis in Madison. Now we have a fantastic cheesemakers’ affiliation—the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Affiliation—that many cheesemakers from different states belong to due to their popularity. Our Division of Agriculture may be very well-versed in cheesemaking and has truly led the nation in laws for cheeses and descriptions of cheeses. Then after all, now we have our dairy farmers, who’ve come collectively to help cheesemakers and the dairy enterprise right here in Wisconsin.

MT: Appears like an extremely supportive neighborhood, and with so many sources. Are you able to inform me somewhat 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 can be my great-great uncle—that began making cheese when he was 13 or 14 years outdated. My grandparents had been cheesemakers, all my uncles had been cheesemakers, my mom and father had been each cheesemakers, and so I come from a tribe of cheesemakers.

As a really younger baby, I spent a number of time within the cheese manufacturing facility. I’d tip a five-gallon pail on its facet and stand by the [cheese] vat after I was 5 or 6 years outdated, stirring the corners of the vat for my dad as a result of he can be up within the consumption weighing in canned milk. That is the best way 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 facility each summer time and weekends. Once I was in faculty I might come dwelling and assist. I might work all summer time lengthy within the manufacturing facility and plant, and so I discovered rather a lot through the years about making cheese on the sensible facet.

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

MT: Did you at all times know that cheese can be your profession path?

SC: Completely not. I believed I might be an engineer or an legal professional. I knew that I needed to go on and get an schooling, which I did. Then I made a decision that possibly sitting behind a desk the remainder of my life wasn’t actually what I needed to do, and so I acquired 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 seemed again. In ’91 I purchased one other manufacturing facility, after which one other one, after which one other one. Right now, Carr Valley manufactures in 4 crops.

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 crops go into distribution at our facility in Portage, the place they’re aged. There, we do affinage, waxing, cotton wrap, packaging, getting older, smoking, and every part [else] that is wanted to make all of the progressive cheeses that we do.

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

SC: Being a licensed Grasp Cheesemaker is actually fairly an instructional accomplishment. I’ve had about 50 or 60 years of constructing cheese, and to be a Grasp Cheesemaker it’s important to have a minimum of 10 years of expertise. You must make the precise cheese that you simply’re being licensed as a grasp in for [a minimum of] 5 years, after which it’s important to take week lengthy lessons 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 be sure you actually are who you say you might be, and you then’re a Grasp Cheesemaker.

Usually, you are awarded the Grasp Cheesemaker certification by somebody that has helped you grow to be an excellent cheesemaker, so it is actually a fantastic honor when you think about that every one in all, it should take you about 13 to fifteen years to do it. For many of us it is an excellent 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 fantastic academic expertise taking all of the lessons and studying the way to make completely different cheeses. All in all, I’ve in all probability taken 20 or 25 completely different lessons with cheesemakers and teachers from world wide. I’ve taken lessons 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 simply’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 feel it is actually widened the horizons for Wisconsin cheese normally.

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 continuously 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 only by chance. We have had quite a lot of accidents through the years 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 had been accidents. The second manner is principally 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 provide you with.

The third manner is to truly have a plan. We do that generally the place now we 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 these days?

SC: There’s the Wildfire Blue, which we made as a result of we determined that we would have liked a blue cheese that had some warmth to it. With the Wildfire, I feel we made the cheese and anyone occurred to style it and say, “That is wild.” It has somewhat hearth 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 stability one another, and Wildfire Blue is a really well-balanced cheese. Once you style it, you get a beautiful mushroom be aware entrance and middle, and you then 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 at all times do with a very good cheese, your hand goes out and picks up one other piece to eat as a result of it is so good.

MT: That seems like a fantastic identify for a fantastic cheese. What does the way forward for Carr Valley appear like?

SC: I feel the longer term appears very shiny. We’re continuously enhancing our gear—the renovation that we simply did right here will final this plant in all probability 40 or 50 years. We’re not shortsighted, we’re long-sighted. We’re doing what we will to take issues ahead for the those who work right here and the generations to return.



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

Our mates at Wisconsin Cheese are dedicated to showcasing all of the wonderful cheeses the state has to supply—and there is a number 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 somewhat one thing for everybody. Discover out extra about Wisconsin Cheese by visiting their website.

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