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Touring Wisconsin Food

Tag: cheddar

5 Fun Facts About Wisconsin Cheesemakers

5-fun-facts-wisconsin-cheesemakersWisconsin cheesemakers have been hard at work in America’s Dairyland for over 160 years, so there are more than a few fun facts and stories about how they make their cheese. Here are five of my favorites!

1. Holland’s Family Cheese – The cheesemakers at Holland’s Family Cheese insist that their cows sleep on soft bedding and get cooled off with fans in the summer. The more pampered the cow, the better the cheese! They must be on to something because 6-9 month aged gouda from Holland’s Family Cheese won Grand Champion at the 2013 World Championship Cheese Contest.

2. Cedar Grove Cheese- Cedar Grove takes special care to ensure that the cheesemaking process doesn’t harm the environment, so they created what they call a “Living Machine”. It’s a greenhouse that uses microbes and plants to cleanse the water used in cheesemaking so it can be safely released back into the ecosystem.

3. Carr Valley CheeseMaster Cheesemaker Sid Cook comes up with new cheese creations for Carr Valley Cheese. On busy work days he sometimes puts a chocolate bar on his Swiss cheese sandwich. This crazy lunch inspired him to create Cocoa Cardona cheese– a creamy white cheese dusted with cocoa powder.

4. Babcock Hall Dairy- The Babcock Hall Dairy plant at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was built in 1951, which makes it the oldest university dairy building in the United States.

5. Hook’s Cheese – When you think of cheese, you probably don’t think of romance, unless you are Tony and Julie Hook of Hook’s Cheese Company. They were college sweethearts and have been making world famous aged cheddar together since 1976.

You can shop for all of the gourmet cheeses mentioned here online at Some of them aren’t available for shipping during the summer months, but with so many cheeses and cheese assortments to choose from, you are sure to find the perfect cheese gift.

Sharp Cheddar Versus Mild Cheddar: Is Older Better When It Comes to Cheddar?

sharp-cheddarA Wisconsin cheesemaker just discovered a forgotten 40 year old block of
cheddar cheese. That’s one old cheese! To give you an idea, a mild cheddar is
generally aged two to three months, and your average grocery store sharp cheddar is aged
about one year, and extra sharp cheddars are aged three to five years.
Specialty cheese shops might have 13-15 year old cheddars, but 40 year old
cheese might be a new record. The cheese is included in a collection of some of
the oldest cheese ever sold according to the Wisconsin
State Journal.

What’s so special about old cheese, really?  

As cheddar cheese matures a few things happen. First, it gets sharper, a
sharp cheese is the kind of cheese that when you bite in to it, it bites back.
The flavor is prominent and assertive, unlike mild cheeses that have a more
subtle flavor.

In addition to the flavor change, the texture also changes. Some aged
cheeses develop tiny calcium deposits that form crunchy crystals in the cheese.
I like this added texture, but some people don’t. This particular 40 year old
cheddar reportedly had an inch worth of calcium deposits on the outside, but
the inside was still fairly creamy. Aged cheddar develops a crumbly texture as
it gets older, while mild cheddar is on the creamier side.

Taste Test

Sharper isn’t necessarily better, it all depends on what you like. The best
way to find out what you like is to taste a variety of cheddars of different
ages side by side. Stick with cheese from one dairy so you have a fair base for
comparison. I recommend Hook’s cheddar because they have cheddars that are aged
five years or more, and if you’re not
near a place that carries Hook’s cheddar, you can order it online here.

I used to think the sharper the better, but after preforming this taste test
I discovered I prefer cheddars in the three to five year range. I don’t enjoy
the older cheddars as much, some of them are so sharp I need to get out the
tongue band-aids!

A Note About Cooking with Cheese

If you’re cooking with cheese, like baking it in a casserole or making a
pizza, don’t use the expensive artisan cheddar. Artisan cheeses are meant to be
savored on their own or maybe with a cracker, some jam or a little fruit. The
cooking process changes the texture and you can’t taste the subtleties in the
flavor when the cheese is combined with other ingredients. Plus if you walk into
a fancy cheese shop and ask for a cheese to put on a pizza they will look at
you funny, I know from experience.


What kind of cheddar do you prefer? Mild? Sharp? Extra Sharp?

A Grilled Cheese Sandwich for Big Kids

grilled-cheese-1 Let’s face it, kids from age 2 to 102 love a grilled cheese sandwich. I live right next door to one of the most popular restaurants in Madison and my favorite dish on the menu is the grilled cheese.  It seems silly to order a grilled cheese sandwich at a restaurant when it is easy to make one at home, but this is not your average grilled cheese.  In addition to the Wisconsin sharp cheddar, this sandwich has tomato, pesto and bacon.  I attempted to make a copycat (or should I say copydog?) and the results were as good, if not better, than the restaurant version! Try it for yourself.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich for Big Kids

Makes 2 Sandwiches

4 slices of applewood smoked bacon, recommended: Nueske Applewood Smoked Bacon

4 slices of sourdough bread

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons basil pesto (homemade is best but I used jarred to make it easy)

1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese, recommended: Carr Valley 1-Year Sharp Cheddar

4 slices of tomato

2-6 basil leaves (optional)


1. Heat skillet to medium-high heat and cook bacon, set aside.

2. Butter one side of each sourdough slice  and make sure your other ingredients are ready to go (cheese grated, tomatoes slice, bacon cooked) and within reach of the stove.

3. Heat another skillet (or use the first one after you drained the grease and cleaned it out) to medium high.

4. Put two slices of sourdough butter side down in the skillet.

5. Put a big tablespoon of pesto on top of each slice of bread and use the back of the spoon to spread it around.

6. Build your sandwiches: Arrange bacon on top of pesto (2 slices per sandwich), sprinkle 1/2 cup of the cheese on each sandwich, top with tomato slices and basil, then the other pieces of sourdough butter side up.

8. Cook until golden brown on each. Flipping can be kind of tricky, so be careful!

9.  Slice each sandwich in half and serve with your favorite tomato soup!

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