“Some people say that the French have the best cheese but I think Wisconsin cheese is the best and I can say that because I wrote the book on cheese” says Kristine Hansen, who actually did write The Wisconsin Cheese Cookbook: Creamy, Cheesy, Sweet, and Savory Recipes from the State’s Best Creameries (Globe Pequot Press 2019; $24.95). “Wisconsin is not just about cheddar; we have a large variety of cheeses which consistently win awards.”
With over a million cows, the state turns out more than 2.8 billion pounds of cheese per year. Hansen focused on the growing artisanal cheese producers in the state and though her cookbook has 60 recipes (as well as beautiful, lush photos), it’s as much of a travel guide—call it a cheesy road trip if you can excuse our pun–to 28 of the state’s creameries.
“A lot of my friends, when they come to visit, want to know the best cheese places I’ve discovered and ask for directions,” says Hansen, a Milwaukee-based journalist covering food/drink, art/design and travel whose articles have appeared in many magazines and websites including Midwest Living, Vogue and on Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler.
Writing the book meant lots of time on the road, visiting corners of the state where she’d never been and learning the intricacies of cheese making.
So, what makes Wisconsin cheese so great? After all, there are cows throughout the Midwest, but Indiana, Illinois and Michigan don’t have nearly the same amount of small batch hand crafted cheesemakers as the Badger State.
“A lot of Swiss immigrants settled here, particularly in Green county,” says Hansen about the home of Green County Cheese Days, the oldest and largest food fest in the Midwest. The festival honors the area’s Swiss heritage (their Swiss credentials are such that there’s also Wilhelm Tell and Heidi festivals) cheesemaking tradition. The later includes a dozen creameries producing over 50 varieties of award-winning cheeses as well as the only domestic maker of Limburger and the only U.S. factory making 180-pound wheels of Old World Emmenthale.
Other creameries mentioned in Hansen’s book include the Door County Creamery in Sister Bay in scenic Door County, where visitors where visitors can not only sample cheese and take a farm tour but also participate in a 40-minute goat yoga session.
“ClockShadow is one of only two urban creameries in the country,” says Hansen about this Milwaukee cheeserie which offers tours. “One of the reasons they opened is they wanted people in Milwaukee to be able to get fresh cheese curds without having to drive very far.”
As an added plus, adults can also combine the experience by taking a tour of the Milwaukee Brewing Company which is just across the street.
“People think the best Gouda comes out of Holland, but Marieke Gouda is wonderful,” says Hansen.
Located in Thorp, Marieke Gouda has a product store, newly opened Café DUTCHess and features tours. Across the street, Penterman Farm where the milk for Marieke Gouda is provided by Brown Swiss and Holstein cows, there’s a viewing room and tours as well.
Bleu Mont in Blue Mounds is one of several cheeseries in the state with a cheese cave.
Asked what’s the most unique Wisconsin cheese she’s sampled—and she’s tried a lot, Hansen mentions Carr Valley’s Cocoa Cardona, a mild, sweet, caramel flavored cheese balanced by a slight nuttiness that’s dusted with chocolate.
“There are about 500 varieties of cheese of so in Wisconsin, so there’s a lot to choose from” says Hansen. “And the cheeses here are not just for those who live in Wisconsin. Uplands Pleasant Ridge cheese costs $26 a pound and sells in New York City. That says a lot about the state’s cheeses.”
Emmi Roth’s Sweet & Spicy Siracha Pizza
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup sweet onion slices, sliced thin
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 12-ounce ball prepared pizza dough
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 cup pizza sauce
1/4 cup BBQ sauce
1 cup chopped broccoli
1 cup chopped chicken
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Roth® Sriracha Gouda Cheese
Green onion slices for garnish, optional
Sriracha hot sauce for garnish, optional
Crushed red pepper flakes for garnish, optional
Place pizza stone in the oven and preheat oven to 425°F.
Place butter and onion in a medium frying pan over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden and lightly caramelized, about 20 minutes. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Set aside.
On a lightly floured surface, roll pizza dough into a circle about 12 inches in diameter or rounded rectangle about 13 inches in length. Transfer dough to hot pizza stone; brush with olive oil and sprinkle garlic over. Spread pizza and BBQ sauces over, and top pizza evenly with broccoli, chicken, reserved onion slices, and Sriracha Gouda Cheese.
Bake 18 to 20 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbling. Remove from oven, let sit 5 minutes before cutting. Garnish with green onions, Sriracha hot sauce or crushed red pepper for more heat, if desired.
Note: If you do not have a pizza stone, you can preheat the oven, then assemble the pizza on an upside-down baking sheet. It will need about 20 to 22 minutes of baking time. Using a baking sheet will result in a less crispy crust.
Hansen shared some recipes from her book. You can mail order these cheeses from the individual cheeseries if you can’t find them in the supermarket. You can also substitute similar cheeses if unable to locate them.
Burnett Dairy Cooperative’s Corn-Meal Crusted Fish Tacos
1 pound white-fleshed fish (such as cod, haddock, tilapia or halibut), cut into 2- x 1-inch pieces
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp finely grated lime zest
1 tbsp lime juice
1/4 tsp ground cumin
8 corn tortillas (7 inch), warmed
2 cups shredded Bibb lettuce
1/2 cup prepared tomatillo salsa
1 cup shredded Alpha’s Morning Sun with Mango Habanero
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
Season fish with 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper; dredge in cornmeal. In large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat; cook fish, in batches if needed, for 2 to 4 minutes per side or until lightly golden and fish is cooked through. Transfer to plate lined with paper towel.
Stir together sour cream, lime zest, lime juice, cumin and remaining salt and pepper. Assemble fish in tortillas with lettuce, salsa, cheese and red onion; drizzle with sour cream mixture.
Tip: For fully loaded tacos, add avocado, cucumber and fresh cilantro when assembling them.
Tip: Use corn or flour tortillas.
Tip: Substitute shredded red cabbage for lettuce if desired.
Yellow Door Creamery’s Tuscan Mac and Cheese
1 store-bought prepared macaroni & cheese of your choice
1/2 cup shredded Tuscan-rubbed Fontina
4 –6 roasted garlic cloves
Handful of baby spinach
Prepare the macaroni and cheese according to package directions.
For the roasted garlic: Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut top 1/4 inch off heads of garlic. Place garlic cut side up in small baking dish. Drizzle a few teaspoons of olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake 30–35 minutes, or until cloves feel soft.
When the macaroni and cheese is done and bubbly, top with roasted garlic, baby spinach, shredded cheese and baked until cheese melts.
Emmi Roth’s Pan-Fried Brussels Sprouts with Horseradish Havarti
3 tablespoons butter
6 cups Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1/2 cup sliced shallots
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Generous pinch of salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded Roth® Horseradish Havarti Cheese
Parsley, for garnish (optional)
Place top oven rack underneath broiler and preheat oven to low broil. If you do not have this setting, move the rack further away (down) from broil heat source.
Place a medium or large oven-safe skillet over medium-high and heat on the stove top. Add butter, Brussels sprouts and shallots; stir vegetables until coated. Cook 10 to 12 minutes, flipping vegetables every few minutes until sides are browned.
Remove the skillet from heat; let sit 2 minutes. Add heavy cream, tossing vegetables to coat, and season with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Sprinkle Roth Horseradish Havarti Cheese over the top; place skillet under hot broiler. Broil about 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted and begins to bubble. Garnish with parsley, if desired, and additional salt and pepper, to taste. Serve immediately.