Anything But Traditional
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.”
When it comes to what’s happening in the make room, Carr Valley is old-fashioned indeed. They’re crafting small batches using old school techniques in a factory that’s over a century old.
But the cheese itself? That’s anything but traditional.
Sid, who comes from a long line of cheesemakers and always knew “it would be something that I could do the rest of my life,” has made a name for himself pushing the boundaries of cheesemaking to come up with some of the most imaginative wheels and wedges around.
A Pioneering Spirit
“The artisan cheeses that we're doing...we just literally made them up!” Sid says.
Sid's passion is innovation – making cheeses that no one else was making anywhere in the world.
That pioneering spirit has taken many delicious forms. Some of Sid’s cheesy musings are amped up takes on classic fromage, like an ultra-decadent five-creme blue cheese dubbed Glacier Penta Creme.
Others are outrageously creative mixed-milk cheeses like Gran Canaria, an olive oil cured, 2-year-aged wheel that unites cow, sheep and goat milk in perfect harmony.
Sid is even delving into the little-known world of breakfast cheese (because it’s always cheese o’clock somewhere) with his take on Finnish juustoleipä.
“It was traditionally made with reindeer milk,” he explains.
But given the short shelf life of reindeer milk (and Wisconsin’s inconvenient distance from the North Pole), Carr Valley’s is made with cow’s milk, then baked in an oven to give the cheese its unique browned crust and a new name: bread cheese.
It may sound odd, but this stuff is chewy, buttery magic when pressed in a waffle iron and dipped in pure maple syrup. Learn more about Juusto in this informative blog.
A Cheesemaking Imagination
Cheese this good doesn’t happen by accident.
Over the course on Sid’s 50-year career, he’s honed the ability to balance wild creativity with precise technique, and says enrolling in the Master Cheesemaker program was pivotal to that process.
“The Master Cheesemaker program was very, very important to me,” says Sid, who’s certified in cheddar, Gran Canaria fontina, 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?”
That “just try it” ethos lives far beyond Sid’s cheesemaking imagination. It’s precisely what sets Wisconsin apart in the cheese world.
“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.”
And we gotta say...innovation never tasted so good!