HomeFoodInterview With Wisconsin Cheesemaker Pam Hodgson of Sartori Cheese

Interview With Wisconsin Cheesemaker Pam Hodgson of Sartori Cheese

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We have teamed up with Wisconsin Cheese for an interview mini-series known as Meet the Cheesemakers, that includes a sampling of the state’s most interesting makers and their award-winning creations.


I’ve been surrounded by ladies with a knack for cooking for so long as I can keep in mind. My mother is a chef and caterer, and whereas her mom wasn’t precisely a gourmand (she liked a canned vegetable second), Granbobbie made some actually wonderful dishes in her time, together with her well-known potato salad. On my dad’s facet, I’ve an aunt who’s been answerable for the Thanksgiving candy potatoes since earlier than I used to be born—to be clear, they’re about 50 % candy potato, and the remainder of the recipe is actually butter and sugar. I’m instructed my dad’s mother, my Bestemama, might make a imply batch of lefse that she served with butter and jam. These ladies formed me and my sister, and as we speak we feature on their love for cooking in our personal properties.

Cheesemaker Pam Hodgson of Sartori Cheese additionally grew up surrounded by ladies with a ardour for meals. As a third-generation cheesemaker, her dad and mom and grandparents influenced the best way she considered dairy from an early age. A lot of the produce the household ate was grown by her mother, in two giant gardens on their farm. With out the matriarchs in her household, it’s potential that this Grasp Cheesemaker might’ve ended up in one other line of labor totally—and the identical might be mentioned for me. I sat down with Pam to speak about Wisconsin’s cheesemaking neighborhood, Sartori’s unimaginable lineup of cheeses, and the significance of mentorship within the dairy business.

This interview has been edited and condensed for readability.

MADISON TRAPKIN: Are you able to inform me who you’re, what you do, and the place you’re employed?

PAM HODGSON: I’m Pam Hodgson, and I am a Grasp Cheesemaker at Sartori Cheese in Plymouth, Wisconsin.

MT: What does it imply to be a Wisconsin Cheesemaker?

PH: Right here in Wisconsin, we take dairy very critically—our license plates learn “America’s Dairyland.” As a Wisconsin cheesemaker, I’m each the beneficiary and the service of that custom, and I attempt to all the time convey out the Wisconsin goodness in each pound of cheese that we make. [Dairy is] our largest agricultural pursuit, and we now have nice business assist. Our farms have one of the best giant animal veterinarians. They’ve soil scientists, they’ve nutritionists. The Heart for Dairy Analysis in Madison, Wisc. has nice assist to assist [the farmers] produce the very best high quality milk, and we now have nice assist to be able to make the very best high quality cheese. For me, as a cheesemaker, I really feel extremely lucky. After I go to conferences like [the American Cheese Society conference] I get to speak with lots of actually proficient cheesemakers, however none of them have the assist that we now have right here in Wisconsin.

Picture by Sartori Cheese

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

PH: I actually didn’t plan on changing into a cheesemaker, however I really feel very lucky that this path discovered me. After I was rising up, my first profession aim was to be a dairy farmer like my dad and mom. Years later, when my husband and I had been newbie farmers and wanted a bit of extra earnings to gasoline the dream, there was a gap at a neighborhood cheese plant. I utilized for a top quality assurance place as a result of it was good, sincere work. On paper, I won’t have been essentially the most certified candidate, however I used to be provided the job as a result of I believed that the plant supervisor noticed one thing in me. I feel he was proper as a result of as soon as I acquired into the plant and acquired working there, I simply thrived. I liked the method. I liked the individuals. I liked how there was all the time one thing occurring that may problem me both bodily or intellectually. Cheesemaking actually engages your complete self as a result of, as cheesemakers, we let the milk and the cheese inform us when it is time to go to the following step. It’s a neat course of, and I fell in love with it.

MT: There are solely two feminine Grasp Cheesemakers on the planet and also you’re certainly one of them—what’s that like?

PH: After I began within the dairy business in 1991, it was very male dominated. I truly interviewed [for my cheese plant job] whereas I used to be pregnant with our first baby. My mother was actually supportive, and I could not have accomplished it within the early days with out her. I’d have issues within the plant the place I wanted to remain, and I’d name her and ask her if she might choose up the youngsters, and he or she did. There have been instances once I wanted to work at night time as a result of I knew one thing wasn’t proper [with the cheese], so the youngsters slept over at Grandma’s. I actually couldn’t have accomplished it with out her.

I’m optimistic that the quantity [of female Master Cheesemakers] will quickly develop. I’m basing that on [the fact that] proper now in Wisconsin, there are lots of ladies who’re making excellent cheeses, together with Erin Radtke right here at Sartori. She’ll be eligible to use beginning January 1. She’s an excellent cheesemaker, and I’m excited and looking out ahead to the day the place she turns into a licensed grasp.

Picture by Sartori Cheese

MT: I’ve heard that mentorship is an enormous a part of the Grasp Cheesemaker program, and it looks as if it’s vital to Sartori as effectively. Who’ve your mentors been within the dairy business?

PH: Yeah. When an individual turns into licensed, they’ve a chance to call their mentors. In 2013, when that chance got here up for me, I actually struggled as a result of developing within the cheese business, I discovered from [a lot of] actually nice individuals, names that everyone within the business is aware of. However I additionally discovered simply as a lot—or extra—from women and men who quietly did their job to one of the best of their means. On the finish of the day, I selected my dad and mom, Henry and the late Marilyn Umstead, as my mentors as a result of they taught me to all the time continue to learn and to all the time admire everybody, particularly those that society may look previous.

By way of mentoring [at Sartori], I feel it’s vital to keep in mind that it’s a two-way [street]. I do know I study a complete lot [from the people I mentor], and I hope they study one thing, too. I’ve labored very, very exhausting within the final 30 years to essentially construct my data base, and to do [mentorship] proper, I must cross on that data as a result of that’s a part of the Wisconsin cheesemaker custom. If I do that proper by instructing individuals what I do know, then [eventually] they’re going to know greater than I do as a result of they’re going to have their experiences and what they’ve discovered on their very own, too. So it’s very humbling, however it’s the way it needs to be accomplished.

MT: What makes Sartori cheeses so uniquely Wisconsin?

PH: My hope is that when somebody tries a Sartori cheese, they will style Wisconsin and the care that our household farms have put [into it]—not solely by taking good care of their animals, but additionally by taking good care of the land that grew the crops that fed the animals that they milked. We’re very dedicated to creating Wisconsin Originals [here]. Cheesemaking is historic, [going] again 1000’s and 1000’s of years. At Sartori, we’re cheesemakers first. We wish to create new originals that may wow and delight our patrons, [like] our Merlot BellaVitano. We soak that in vats of Merlot wine, then when the cheeses have been in there lengthy sufficient, we pull the wheel out, let it dry in a rack, and when it’s prepared, we package deal it. That cheese has fruity Merlot notes that complement the BellaVitano cheese itself, which is savory with a number of cooked dairy notes. It’s actually a beautiful cheese.

After I began within the Wisconsin dairy business within the ‘90s, it appeared so massive, like [there were] all these individuals, and I didn’t know anyone. However then as I acquired moving into it, I [realized] that it truly is a detailed neighborhood. We work exhausting, however we play more durable. It’s a neat tradition.



What’s your favourite sort of Sartori Cheese? Inform us within the feedback under!

Our mates 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 kinds of cheese than anyplace else on the planet. From Italian classics like Parmesan and ricotta to Wisconsin Originals like colby and muenster, this cheese-obsessed state has a bit of one thing for everybody. Discover out extra about Wisconsin Cheese by visiting their website.

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