We’re Number 2 – Eat Local Cheese
The Magic of Illinois and Wisconsin Working Together
Great beer from New Glarus but you cannot buy it. Cheeseheads vs FIBs. Packers/Bears. Hot dogs or brats. Door County instead of the above ground pool. There’s a love hate relationship between Illinois and Wisconsin. Except when it comes to cheese. We get to brandish our locavore pride every year when the American Cheese Society issues their awards. It may be made in Wisconsin, but it fits in all the definitions of our local food. Not the least, a few Wisconsin cheesemakers, Nordic and Brunkow, are very prevelant at Chicago area farmer’s markets. Other “big name” cheeses, Hook’s, Saxon, Holland Family can be found often on restaurant menus. The Reader gives Wisconsin cheese a lot of coverage and seems especially enamored with this guy. So, we kvell when Wisconsin cheesemakers dominate the competition. This year, however, there’s more to the Illinois side of things. We’re not just lovers of Wisconsin cheese.
As our go-to source on all things Wisconsin cheese, Jeanne Carpenter reports, one of this year’s top spots went to a team from Illinois and Wisconsin, top as in 2nd place over all, of all the cheeses entered. The cheese show works like the dog show. First there is best of breed, so cheddars against cheddars, havarti against havarti, etc., and believe me there’s about as many cheese styles as there are beer styles. All the best of type then go up against each other for best of show, or best of cheese. There are three medals awarded. Coming in number two is pretty damn impressive.
Here’s how this winning partnership worked. From Wisconsin came cheese, a mixed milk, goat and cow, from LeClare Farm called Chandoka. This cheese, though, was handed off to folks from Illinois at Standard Market in Westmont. They did the affinage or the aging. Which, as quoted in Merriam-Webster, Zingerman’s founder Ari Weinzweig says, “Affinage does for cheeses what great coaching does for athletes.” As Jeanne notes, the idea of affineurs independent of the cheese maker/dairy is an European (really French) concept. The primary point of the affineur is selling cheese that is ready to eat; in other words be ready to eat the cheese they sell you. This is especially important for washed rind and other softer cheeses which ripen after production. In this case though, the affineurs at Standard did more. They applied lard and linen and aged it in their own built and designed caves. According to Jeanne, “Regular Chandoka, sold by LaClare Farms, is not bandage wrapped and is sold younger. The difference between the two cheeses is night and day. Where regular Chandoka is mellow, creamy and smooth, Standard Market Cave Aged Chandoka is bold, earthy and crumbly. It’s hard to even tell they were ever once the same cheese.” In giving their award, the American Cheese Society recognized the contributions of the dairy and the after-dairy.
This is a nice story. Vindication of work and investment by Standard Market. It is surely a cheese to find and try. Is there more to the story. Now that we’ve got your attention, what. We look forward to reporting on the American Cheese Society winners each year because we know each year the winners will be mostly from around here. That matters to us. It reinforces why we eat and want local food. It’s not because there’s anything special about being on the side of winning cheese. There is no taste of victory aside from the fact that the cheese had to be great to win. To us, we still see the battle for local foods as a struggle. We know of dedicated foodies who think it better to buy peaches trucked in from far away and sold in home improvement store parking lots. Great food is often thought of as from there: French cheese; Italian ham; canned fish from Spain or Portugual, Oregon beer. And yes, for sure, there is great food all over the world. Maybe even great peaches in Georiga–although we recently met a woman from Georgia shopping at the Oak Park Farmer’s Market. So, we asked, how do you think these peaches compare to back home. ”I like South Carolina,” was her response to home-food chauvinism. See, we are not so much as chauvinistic as we want to say, here too. Me too. Mine’s great. Too. We’re not saying you have to have only local stuff. We’re saying when you find out how good the local stuff is, you may never want anything else. We’re saying it’s not all hippie-dippie love our neighbor the farmer that has us eatin’ local. Do it because when you eat local, you’re getting the best. Every year we have a competition that proves it.
Note, the full list of winners of this year’s American Cheese Society competition is currently in online limbo. You can read about the winners, including our local cheeses here.