I am a strong believer in the phrase, "much cannot be made better by adding cheese." Obviously there are foods that are perfectly fine without the addition of cheese, many desserts, for example. (Except of course cheesecake and, for some people, apple pie.) Not many drinks get a slice of cheese as a garnish or come in a cheese-rimmed glass. (However, "would you like some cheese with that whine?" is a constant favorite around the office and at home.)
My cheese-related ramblings do have a point: cheese is a well liked and widely used food throughout the country and world. And whether it is enjoyed baked in layers of flaky phyllo dough or removed from a clear cellophane wrapper, there are a variety of cheeses that fit nearly everyone's tastes.
In November, I was invited to the Randolph County Technical Center to a presentation by the Northeast Retail Marketing Manager of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Sue Bosse and Supervalu Fresh Specialist Denny Kottelich. Kottelich spent time on dairy farms in Wisconsin learning how the different types of cheeses were made. Many of the cheeses he watched being made will end up on the shelves of Shop'n'Save in Elkins and Parsons.
TURNING BLUE — Tygarts Valley High School seniors Tiffany Smith and Andera Warner sample the blue cheese during a tasting at the Randolph Technical Center. The students tasted a variety of cheeses that were part of a presentation on Wisconsin cheese. (CU and The Inter-Mountain/Grant Jones) © The Inter-Mountain, all rights reserved.
The presentation included a slide show explaining briefly the history of cheese making in Wisconsin as well as the reasons "the best cheese" comes from that area. According to Bosse, Wisconsin's climate is nearly perfect for cheese making. The state falls on the same latitude as the "premier cheese making regions in Europe." Wisconsin is also the only state that requires a licensed cheese maker in every plant.
Bosse and Kottelich provided the opportunity for the audience, comprised of Randolph County students, teachers and employees of the Parsons Shop'n'Save, to taste cheeses made in Wisconsin. We were presented with a cheese from seven of the eight cheese categories. Some students were more brave than others, and even myself, especially when it came to the Amish-made blue cheese.
The stand-out samples were the mascarpone, butterkase and gouda. I had never eaten any of the three cheeses and was happy to have the chance. The first, the mascarpone, falls in the "soft/fresh" category; the second and third in the "semi-soft" category.
Giada De Laurentiis was the first person I had ever seen use mascarpone. She has used it in desserts, sauces and even hot chocolate. The soft, spreadable cheese was served on mini vanilla wafers and the combination tasted like cheesecake. With a fairly neutral taste, mascarpone is versatile according to Bosse and can be used in nearly any recipe.
The information provided on butterkase says its origins are Germany and Austria. When I bit into it, it reminded me of Velveeta. I don't want that to turn you off from trying it though. The texture reminded me of the processed cheese food, not the flavor. Butterkase is smooth and creamy. It has a very light, milky flavor. The meltability of the cheese would make it perfect for homemade mac'n'cheese or salsa con queso.
After the earlier samples, I was slightly disappointed in the gouda when its time came. Honestly, I thought it tasted like a very mild cheddar. While it comes in a smoked variety, the gouda we had wasn't. The taste reminded me that, like books being judged by their cover, we shouldn't judge a cheese by its name. While gouda sounded like it would be ripe and full of strong flavors, it was very tame.
All in all, the experience was educational and encouraged me to explore the world of cheeses beyond the seriously sharp cheddar of my parents' home and the string cheese found in lunchboxes across the country.
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