Have you ever tasted a bandaged cheddar? They aren’t available in most grocery stores, so the odds are good, you haven’t. But, believe me when I say you need to do it. Now. (In fact, come to Des Moines, Iowa on Saturday, July 30th for the ACS Festival of Cheeses where you will sample dozens of bandaged cheddars.)
You might be tasting Bandaged Cheddar by Bleu Mont Dairy sooner than you think if you win this month’s 2016 Cheese Give-A-Whey (by simply placing an order at our store (cheesemaking.com) in the month of April). Marc Freshman, our drawing’s official cheesemonger from Murray’s in New York chose Bandaged Cheddar for the prize this month. Marc explained to us why he chose it:
What makes his cheddar so good? It just fits my personal vision of what sublime cheddar should be.
Some cheddars turn creamy and melt in your mouth, which many people enjoy, but personally I don’t want cheddar melting in my mouth – I want my cheddar super crunchy, I want to put some jaw into it. I don’t want my cheddar smooth and mild either, I want my cheddar rocky, jagged, crumbly, strong. When I say strong, I want to taste some earth, some soil, I want that rustic vibe that great cheddars have, the kind that transports you to the country. Remember, I live in Manhattan, so when I taste good cheese, I want the flavor to whisk me away to another place, to the farm or to the creamery, I don’t want to feel like I’m eating cheese on 6th Avenue, because I’m always eating cheese on 6th Avenue! I want to feel like I’m in the country, surrounded by animals and fresh milk, I want to taste where the cheese came from. When you taste Willi’s cheese, you can taste every step of that cheese’s existence just from the flavor profile. On a scale of 1 to 10, this cheese is a clear 10. It’s perfection.
It’s interesting that both this cheese and last month’s choice, Pleasant Ridge come from the same “Driftless region” of southern Wisconsin. They say the soil there yields the sweetest grass because the glaciers never touched the land. Whatever the reason, that area is certainly producing some great cheese!
Bandaged Cheddar is made with pasteurized cow’s milk and vegetarian rennet in 10 pound wheels. Willi Lehner, it’s creator, gives his cheeses a head start with the aging process, by spraying them with a solution of spring water and old cheddar rinds. The cheese is typically aged for 12 – 24 months on cedar boards in Willi’s hand-built, underground straw-bale cave.
We found a great article about Willi and his cheese at the Great Ciao website. (Great Ciao is a small independent specialty food importer and distributor in Minneapolis). Katie Milliron agreed to let us share her article with you as long as you promise to visit her fabulous newsletter which has articles like the one below about all kinds of different cheeses AND every other kind of food there is. (It really is fabulous!)
Of Cloth and Cave: Bleu Mont Dairy Bandaged Cheddar
By Katie Milliron at Great Ciao
Drive about an hour west of Madison and you’ll find yourself in the scenic rolling hills of the Wisconsin Mounds. It is here that second generation cheesemaker Willi Lehner and his partner Qu’itas chose to create Bleu Mont Dairy. Willi began his operation with a small cheese aging room. But when the cold winters and hot summers caused too much temperature fluctuation, he decided to try an alternate approach. In 2008, inspired by the art of European Alpine cheesemaking, and supplemented by the abundance of the Mound’s natural limestone rock, Willi bulldozed into the hill next to his home – and created for himself a beautiful cave for aging his hand-made cheeses.
The cave was designed and contracted by Willi, and built with the help of friends. Bleu Mont Dairy has two caves, one for the delicate soft ripened cheeses, and the other for his Bandaged Cheddars and tommes. Willi and Qu’itas are environmental advocates, and every part of how they designed Bleu Mont dairy is a nod to sustainability and conservation. Outside of the cave, wind turbines and solar panels create enough energy to make their operation completely self-reliant, and produce enough excess energy to feed back into the grid.
Willi has chosen to define himself as a cheese-maker and affineur, rather than as a dairy farmer who makes cheese. Willi does not own any of his own cows. Instead, he maintains close relationships with local dairy farmers, who allow him to hand select batches of milk for his cheese. The milk he uses is from the summer months while the cows are at pasture, eating happily grazing on grass – never silage or fermented feed. Much of his inspiration is drawn from Swiss cheesemaker and affinuer Willi Schmid, who, from tasting a fresh batch of milk, can decide the best type of cheese to create with it.
Cheddar makes up the majority of cheese produced in Wisconsin. Most of it comes in uninspiring 40 pound blocks aged in plastic bags. Willi grew up making these block cheeses with his father. Though today, the cheese he is most known for is his Bandaged Cheddar, a cheese modeled after the legendary cloth-bound cheddars of England’s Somerset County. English farmhouse cheddars are different from their sharp American counterparts. The cloth-binding yields a cheese that can’t age out quite as long – but is full of rich nuanced flavors of the cave and the land, that you just can’t get in a block-cheddar. At any given time, Willi’s cave holds several hundred wheels of his bandaged cheddar, each being nurtured into their peak of maturity. The wheels he sends us have been aged to around 17 months. When you taste them, you’ll wonder why anyone would want a cheese that had been aged for ten years in a plastic bag, when the taste of hand-crafted cheese aged in cloth and cave for a little more than a year can be so profound.
Bleu Mont Bandaged Cheddar tastes of caramel, toasted walnuts, mustard greens and earthy mushrooms. The texture is dense with no holes, and plenty of the crunchy tyrosine crystals we love in a well-aged cheese. A wheel weighs close to eleven pounds, and the beautifully mottled cloth that protects the cheese should be peeled off prior to serving.
We are very proud to sell Willi’s cheese. Give us a call us for pricing, or to place an order at (612)521-8725. We love talking about cheese.