Is Carr Valley Cheese a tiny rural creamery, or is it a time machine? When you step through the doors of their enchantingly bucolic shop in the La Valle, Wisconsin countryside, you’ll be hard-pressed to know the difference.
“You walk in and you feel like we're still doing things the way they did it literally a hundred years ago,” says Master Cheesemaker Sid Cook. “With the exception of the electricity.”
Sid comes from a long line of cheesemakers, and that history is evident everywhere you look—from the century-old factory to the old-school techniques used to craft his award-winning cheeses. But while the cheesemaking techniques may be traditional, the cheeses themselves are anything but.
Sid’s made a name for himself pushing the boundaries of cheesemaking to come up with some of the most imaginative wheels and wedges around.
“The artisan cheeses that we're doing...we just literally made them up!” Sid says. “My passion is innovation, doing things other people weren't doing any place in the world—let alone here.”
That pioneering spirit has taken many rind-blowing forms. Some of Sid’s creations riff on classic fromage, like an ultra-decadent five-creme blue cheese dubbed Glacier Penta Creme. (If you’re not yet a blue-iever, this one may convert you.)
Sid’s also the mastermind behind the outrageously creative mixed-milk cheese, Gran Canaria: an olive oil-cured, 2-year-aged wheel that blends cow, sheep and goat milk in perfect harmony.
Cheese this good doesn’t happen by accident. Over the course of Sid’s 50-year career, he’s honed the ability to balance wild creativity with precise technique.
Enrolling in the Master Cheesemaker program —Wisconsin’s “Ph.D. in cheese”—was pivotal to that process.
“The Master's program was very, very important to me,” says Sid, whose certifications include cheddar, fontina, Gran Canaria, and mixed-milk cheese. “It really gave me a lot of insight into how other cheesemakers are making cheese. And for me, it was an opportunity to try it–because what do I really have to lose but a vat of milk?"
Recently, Sid’s been delving into the little-known world of breakfast cheese with his take on Finnish juustoleipä.
This “bread cheese” is traditionally made with reindeer milk but given the short shelf life of reindeer milk (and Wisconsin’s inconvenient distance from the Arctic Circle), Carr Valley uses fresh, Wisconsin-made cow’s milk.
After the curds are pressed, it’s baked in an oven to give the cheese its trademark browned crust. It may sound odd, but this stuff is chewy, buttery magic when pressed in a waffle iron and dipped in pure maple syrup. Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it—after all, it’s always cheese o’clock somewhere!
As for what’s next? “This is the Wild West,” Sid says of Wisconsin, the true state of cheese. Europe may have a long, well-loved legacy of traditional cheesemaking, but “we left the homeland for a new adventure. Yeah, they're making great cheese in Europe. They're making great cheese all over the world. But this is where the innovation is.”
Taste Sid’s innovative creations for yourself with Carr Valley’s award-winning cheeses, available here. Or browse our continuously updated list of Wisconsin Cheesemakers that offer online ordering.