HomeFoodInterview With Wisconsin Cheesemaker Sid Cook dinner of Carr Valley Cheese

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 referred to as Meet the Cheesemakers, that includes a sampling of the state’s best 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 pal Jamie, a Wisconsin native and a die-hard fan. A long time later, Jamie nonetheless loves the Packers, however I now know that there is far more to Wisconsin than simply soccer: The state’s dairy and cheesemaking trade occurs to be one of many best 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 actual fact, Carr Valley’s been in enterprise since 1902. I sat down with Sid at their Mauston manufacturing unit and retail retailer to study 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: Initially, it is a geographical location that could be very appropriate for dairying as a result of we now have a lot of water. In case you take 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 way of the middle, so we have got an excellent panorama for making cheese.

We even have lots of assist. Wisconsin has an important dairy faculty, the Middle for Dairy Analysis in Madison. We have now an important cheesemakers’ affiliation—the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Affiliation—that many cheesemakers from different states belong to due to their fame. Our Division of Agriculture could be very well-versed in cheesemaking and has truly led the nation in laws for cheeses and descriptions of cheeses. Then in fact, we now have our dairy farmers, who’ve come collectively to assist cheesemakers and the dairy enterprise right here in Wisconsin.

MT: Appears like an extremely supportive group, and with so many sources. Are you able to inform me slightly 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 could be my great-great uncle—that began making cheese when he was 13 or 14 years previous. 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 lots of time within the cheese manufacturing unit. I’d tip a five-gallon pail on its aspect and stand by the [cheese] vat once I was 5 or 6 years previous, stirring the corners of the vat for my dad as a result of he could 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 unit each summer season and weekends. Once I was in faculty I would come house and assist. I would work all summer season lengthy within the manufacturing unit and plant, and so I realized so much through the years about making cheese on the sensible aspect.

I realized so much when my uncles would get along with my mother and father—and naturally they talked about cheese. They’d alternate concepts and alternate cultures [for cheesemaking], and so there was lots of assist forwards and backwards.

MT: Did you all the time know that cheese could be your profession path?

SC: Completely not. I believed I would be an engineer or an lawyer. I knew that I needed to go on and get an schooling, which I did. Then I made a decision that perhaps sitting behind a desk the remainder of my life wasn’t actually what I needed to do, and so I received 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 appeared again. In ’91 I purchased one other manufacturing unit, after which one other one, after which one other one. In the present day, Carr Valley manufactures in 4 vegetation.

Photograph by Carr Valley Cheese

Photograph by Carr Valley Cheese

MT: What kinds 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 authentic plant in Carr Valley, we make our blue cheeses on the Linden plant, and we make our Bread Cheese at Fennimore. The entire cheeses which might be made in these vegetation go into distribution at our facility in Portage, the place they’re aged. There, we do affinage, waxing, cotton wrap, packaging, ageing, smoking, and all the things [else] that is wanted to make all of the revolutionary 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 absolutely fairly a tutorial accomplishment. I’ve had about 50 or 60 years of constructing cheese, and to be a Grasp Cheesemaker it’s a must to have at the least 10 years of expertise. It’s important to make the precise cheese that you simply’re being licensed as a grasp in for [a minimum of] 5 years, after which it’s a must to take week lengthy lessons quarterly for 3 years. Then, it’s a must to take a 28-page written examination. Earlier than you are even accepted into this system, you are given an oral check by a dairy scientist on the Middle for Dairy Analysis. Then, the check is graded to just remember to actually are who you say you might be, and then you definately’re a Grasp Cheesemaker.

Usually, you are awarded the Grasp Cheesemaker certification by somebody that has helped you turn out to be a very good cheesemaker, so it is actually an important honor when you think about that each one in all, it is going to take you about 13 to fifteen years to do it. For many of us it is a good 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 an important academic expertise taking all of the lessons and studying easy methods to make totally different cheeses. All in all, I’ve in all probability taken 20 or 25 totally different lessons with cheesemakers and lecturers from all over the world. I’ve taken lessons on Polish, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Greek, British, Irish, Scandinavian, and even Danish cheeses. It actually provides 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 flexibility to innovate past what we grew up with, or what we realized 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.

Photograph by Carr Valley Cheese

MT: It actually looks as if y’all are consistently dreaming up new cheeses, too. What’s that course of like?

SC: There are a number of totally different ways in which we innovate with new cheeses. The primary approach is solely by chance. We have had 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 approach is mainly placing totally different milks collectively, totally different cultures collectively, doing totally different affinage as soon as the cheese is made, and simply seeing what you provide you with.

The third approach is to truly have a plan. We do that generally the place we now have a plan and we resolve what tradition we’ll use, what milk we’ll use, and if we’ll add another taste part to it. Then we resolve if we’re going to age the cheese, how lengthy we’ll age it, what temperature we’ll 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 any individual occurred to style it and say, “That is wild.” It has slightly 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 prefer to innovate and we prefer to put flavors collectively that steadiness one another, and Wildfire Blue is a really well-balanced cheese. If you style it, you get a beautiful mushroom observe entrance and heart, and then you definately 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 all the time do with a extremely 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 an important identify for an important cheese. What does the way forward for Carr Valley seem like?

SC: I feel the longer term appears very vivid. We’re consistently enhancing our tools—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 are able to to take issues ahead for the people who work right here and the generations to return.



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

Our pals at Wisconsin Cheese are dedicated to showcasing all of the wonderful cheeses the state has to supply—and there is lots of them. Wisconsin has extra flavors, varieties, and types of cheese than wherever else on this planet. From Italian classics like Parmesan and ricotta to Wisconsin Originals like colby and muenster, this cheese-obsessed state has slightly one thing for everybody. Discover out extra about Wisconsin Cheese by visiting their website.

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