Here in Wisconsin we take cheese seriously. Very seriously.
Some examples: Wisconsin is the only state in the U.S. that requires cheese makers to have a license. It also is the only one to offer a Master Cheesemaker program (at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Dairy Research).
These and a myriad of other facts, recipes and research compose the content of a hot-off-the-presses cookbook devoted to our number one resource and state treasure, cheese.
“Wisconsin Cheese Cookbook,” by Kristine Hansen, made its publication debut just last week, on March 1. Subtitled, “Creamy, Cheesy, Sweet and Savory Recipes from the State’s Best Creameries,” the work showcases the state of our cheese trade while introducing readers to farmers, creameries and master cheese makers.
It is a pretty book as well. Mouth-watering photos of cheeses, cooked dishes featuring cheeses and the farms complement cleanly formatted recipes in a cleverly designed layout (bottom-of-page footers with little barn drawings).
And if you’re a fan of cute farm animals, you’re also in luck: very photogenic cows and goats abound, grazing and gazing contentedly on their home farms.
A native of Zion, Ill., Hansen came to write the cookbook after being approached by Globe Pequot sometime last year. “I had taken a tour of creameries organized by the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and it opened my eyes to the faces of Wisconsin’s cheese trade,” she said in a recent telephone interview.
“And obviously, I love cheese,” she said.
Hansen is a nationally recognized food, drinks and travel author with articles about Wisconsin’s cheese published on the “Travel + Leisure” website as well as on Fodors.com. She also writes on Wisconsin’s agriculture industry for “Milwaukee Magazine.”
Hansen said the book is “modeled a lot on a book by the same publishers on New England’s orchards, which focuses on regional, local products.”
Over the course of the past year, Hansen traveled to 90 percent of the 23 creameries mentioned in the 181-plus page cookbook. “What I looked for in each creamery was a compelling story, who (the cheese makers) learned from and if the creamery had won any awards,” she said. The latter was easy, because nearly all of Wisconsin’s creameries have taken awards at some point, she said.
Their stories are folded into the book, along with their recipes and recipes from area hotels and supper clubs using the cheeses. Appendices list the winners of annual cheese contests and 35 Wisconsin creameries and cheese retailers. A list of some 11 annual Wisconsin cheese events gives a shout out to Kenosha’s Cheese-A-Palooza, held by the lakefront in early September.
Want to know the difference between cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk cheeses? This book also has that.
According to Hansen’s research, in the heyday of Wisconsin cheesemaking, there were approximately 1,500 creameries. Today that number is about 150.
Recipes run from a simple cheesy potato soup to an exotic chocolate ravioli filled with goat cheese. While all call for cheeses from specific creameries, Hansen says that substitutions are fine if they can’t be found.
As she compiled the cookbook, Hansen said, she was surprised to learn how Wisconsin’s specialty cheeses are finding their way beyond state borders. “They’re even in delis in New York City,” she said.
Retailing at $24.95, “Wisconsin Cheese Cookbook” is currently available for sale at Amazon online and at booksellers including Barnes and Noble, Racine.