How well do you know your Wisconsin cheese?
While Wisconsin has literally hundreds of cheese options to choose from here are some Wisconsin made cheeses, tips and pairing options suggested by the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and www.wisconsincheese.com to tempt your tastebuds and bring out to your next gathering.
sake (preferably medium dry), rioja and malbec. Plenty of spirits sip well with BellaVitano, as well, including port, madeira, scotch, brandy, light rum, tequila reposado, tequila añejo, rye whiskey and cognac. This cheese is definitely a chameleon when it comes to pairing.
Serving tips: Family favorites like macaroni and cheese, tuna melts with capers and onion, French onion soup and Cobb salad all up their already tasty game with creamy, melty, mature BellaVitano.
little sticky sweetness, so we often serve it with a homemade jam, chutney or honey. You can also get to that winning combo by way of tart with sweet pickles or pickled beets. It makes for a classic English Ploughman’s lunch (cheese, fruit and veggie board) and we also love it with big, peppery green salads, a warm grain salad (barley, farro, quinoa) or most hearty soups.
This Wisconsin original has won a trophy case full of national and international awards. It’s all nutty, fruity, cow’s milk goodness up front. When it comes to texture, think young, creamy cheddar with the crystalline crunch of a premium farmstead parmesan. It’s often hand-rubbed or soaked with an array of flavors like Black Pepper, Espresso, Chai, Merlot, Citrus Ginger and many more. If you’re lucky enough to enjoy BellaVitano at your table, you’ve just corralled yourself a unique piece of time-honored Wisconsin culture. Savor it.
Appearance: Smooth, pale yellow interior usually with a rubbed or soaked exterior Texture: Creamy with a crystalline crunch Flavor: Highly meltable premium young cheddar meets robust farmstead parmesan Performance notes: BellaVitano is our versatile, foolproof friend in the kitchen. We like to slice it for sandwiches, melt it in panini and grate it into salads. We also think it goes particularly well with all sorts of lightly smoked meats.
Pairing notes: All things alcohol get along famously with BellaVitano. Beers and ciders that pair well include fruit beers, stout, weiss beer and brown ale. Wines that we recommend: cabernet sauvignon, chianti, pinot noir, merlot, red zinfandel, pinot gris, syrah/shiraz,
We don’t shy away from sharpness, so we adore this been-around-the-block cheese for its full-flavor cheekiness. You see the life experience in its beautiful crystalline cracks and you taste it in its always complex and sometimes tangy flavor. This lower- moisture, often flaky cheddar is sometimes but not always clothbound. Any way you slice it (or not), live free, aged cheddar -- you’ve certainly done your time!
Appearance: Typically ivory and often with a rind Texture: Dense, solid and usually flakey Flavor: Complex and rich and usually on the sharper end of the spectrum Performance notes: We leave the melty, ooey-gooey dishes to young cheddars. Aged cheddar has earned the right to be left alone next to breads, pastas and robust soups.
Pairing notes: There’s a lot of flavor and texture going on with aged cheddar, so you want a drink that stands up to that but doesn’t overpower it. We like offdry, mature beverages that have just a touch of sweetness like saison ale, cider, bock and Belgian ales. For wine, we recommend riesling, chardonnay and champagne (whites) and syrah, pinot noir and chianti (reds). Bourbon and single malt scotch are always sure bets too.
Serving tips: Aged cheddar likes to be eaten with a
Colby makes Wisconsin proud. Cheesemakers in the central Wisconsin community of Colby dreamed it into existence in the late 1800s, and if there were a state cheese colby would be a frontrunner. Many think of it as a milder form of cheddar, because the cheese making processes are similar. It’s tender, it’s lacy, it’s a perfect melter, and most importantly, it makes everything you put with it tastier.
Appearance: Golden-to-orange and sometimes beautifully marbled Texture: Softer and more elastic than cheddar with tiny holes called “eyes” Flavor: Mild and young cheddar-like Performance Notes:”Longhorn” refers to the popular large cylinders of colby. Sometimes cheesemakers form cheddar the same way. At the market, “Longhorns” are usually sliced into half-moons or sometimes even sticks.
Pairing notes: Colby is a mild, crowd-pleaser of a cheese, so it’s friendly with all sorts of drinks. If you’re wanting beer, go for a pilsner, pale ale, brown ale or lager. Wines that pair well with colby include cabernet sauvignon, chianti, pinot noir, red zinfandel, champagne, riesling and malbec. If you prefer the strong stuff, tequila reposado and rye whiskey are definitely good bets.
Serving tips: Fold some grated colby into your next batch of savory biscuits and enjoy them any time of the day. They won’t last long. Colby is also an excellent slicing cheese, so you can stack it high on sandwiches. We especially like it straight-up as a snack with crisp, slightly sour apples.
MANY CHEESES on page 16 meatball soup. If you’re whipping up a taco salad, we highly recommend crumbling some cotija on top.
Named after the town of Cotjia in the Mexican state of Michoacán, where it has been made for over 400 years. Cotija is a semi-hard, slightly aged, seriously tasty crumbler. If we had to compare it to another cheese, feta is the closest comparison. Both are salty and slightly acidic, yet flavorful cheeses that we love to eat cold or slightly warmed in or over soups, salads and other savory dishes. Another name for cotija is “queso anejado,” which means aged cheese, although it’s typically only aged for two months or less. We’re so happy this Mexican classic migrated north -- the universe of great cheese we’re blessed with in Wisconsin would never be complete without it.
Appearance: Ivory and usually in small blocks Texture: Semi-hard, on the dry side and easy to crumble Flavor: Fresh and salty with a very slight sharpness Performance notes: If we have a busy week, we’ll often buy a couple blocks of cotija, and crumble the entire thing into a tightly lidded container. That way, we can quickly grab it from the refrigerator and use it as a tasty topper on a range of dishes.
Pairing notes: If cotija is at the table, we recommend drinking spiked aguas frescas (cold, freshly made Mexican juices), Mexican lagers with lime, margaritas, and micheladas (slightly spicy Mexican lager plus tomato juice drink). Anything that’s light, citrusy or fruity teams up famously with cotija.
Serving tips: If there’s a crumbling of white cheese over a Mexican-American dish chances are high that it’s fresh and yummy cotija cheese. We like to top enchiladas, tostadas, chilaquiles and rellenos with it. We also love to use it in sopa de albondigas, which is Mexican
Take away some of the aging of swiss cheese and emmental and you get younger, milder and higher-moisture baby swiss. Nobody knows for sure the origin story of this buttery delightful, full-of-micro- holes cheese. It seems to be native to the American Midwest and it seems to have been created sometime in the middle of the last century. In the hands of our Master Cheesemakers, baby swiss from Wisconsin is less bold than its siblings but every bit as versatile as swiss and emmental. You have our permission to make it all you own.
Appearance: Pale yellow and holey in or out of church Texture: On the softer side with a bit of spring in its step Flavor: Mild and buttery with a slight sweetness Performance notes: This baby needs no coddling. Baby swiss is best at room temperature, melts really well, and is a good and easy keeper.
Pairing notes: It’s hard to do baby swiss wrong, unless you try to pair it with something too sweet. We never hesitate to pull out the wine and beer for collaborations with baby swiss. Beers that pair well include stout, porter, weiss beer and lager. Wines that enjoy babysitting: oaked or unoaked chardonnay, grüner veltliner, champagne and cava.
Serving tips: Baby swiss is a killer melter, and it makes a memorable omelette, frittata or quiche, whether cubed or grated. We also really enjoy it on a fully stacked club sandwich. We pile turkey, ham, baby swiss, sliced onion, lettuce and tomato on three types of lightly toasted bread (usually wheat, light rye and dark rye) and have at it.
Asiago is the sadly underappreciated Italian sibling of parmesan. Give it some love, people! From young and smooth to aged and crumbly, asiago is a fruity and slightly tart, savory cheese. We love to eat it fresh, but we enjoy cooking with it even more. Named for the small town in northern Italy where it was born, asiago is similar to other mountain cheeses in that it’s dense and firm, well-aged, and originally crafted to weather those long, tough winters in the Dolomites (the Italian corner of the Alps). We love our Wisconsin asiago unconditionally (and year-round!) on its own, on a cheese board or finely grated over nearly any pasta-based entree.
Appearance: Pale cream in color, dense looking Texture: When fresh it’s elastic and semi-hard, when aged it’s hard and slightly granular.
Flavor: From fresh, fruity and tangy when young, to buttery and nutty as it ages For easier slicing and grating, room temperature is best.
Performance notes: For easier slicing and grating, room temperature is best.
Pairing notes: Whether young or aged, asiago is a versatile cheese. Put-in-a-pint drinks that we favor with it include hard ciders and fruit beers, pilsners, pale ales and lighter Belgian ales. If wine sounds fine, then we recommend riesling, sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, cabernet sauvignon and syrah. If liquor is more your speed, then both scotch and rye whiskey pair well. A nutty and assertive sake loves asiago too.
Serving tips: Asiago is great on its own, on a cheese board, in sandwiches or salads or finely grated over pastas or risottos. We love to grate it over lavash, focaccia or other flat bread dough, and bake it until golden and lovingly melted. It’s also really good over broiled fish.