Happy Fromage Friday!
Let’s Talk About Wisconsin’s Best Cheddar
It takes a lot for a cheddar to stand out in Wisconsin, but there’s really nothing like Willi’s Bandaged Cheddar from Bleu Mont Dairy. This cheese is like that kid you were friends with in elementary school, who moved to England for a year and then came back with an accent.
A couple weeks ago, I visited Madison for their acclaimed farmers market outside the capitol building. It was there that I met Willi Lehner, the namesake master cheesemaker behind Bleu Mont Dairy. Willi is a second-generation cheesemaker with Swiss heritage, so he has dairy in his blood. He also studied cheesemaking in Europe, notably in England, where they make some of the world’s best cheddars. This undoubtedly equipped him with the skills to make his own bandaged cheddar here in the Midwest. Willi is one of the only Wisconsin cheesemakers making cheddar in this style.
He doesn’t have a herd or a production facility, but he does have a sick aging cave that he himself carved out of a hillside. This cheese badass sources local, organic milk and creates his cheese at a local plant. Willi sometimes even sources milk from Uplands Creamery, the makers of celebrity cheese Pleasant Ridge Reserve. He then sprays the wheels with a solution of old cheddar rinds and spring water to distribute microbes over the cheese, swaddles them in muslin, and nurses them to cured perfection in his underground cheese cave.
As it ages, the bandaged cheddar develops a molted blue and grey pattern on the cloth and a sweet, tangy flavor. I like to think of Willi’s Cheddar as a hippy pineapple that lives in a smoked-out cave. It’s fairly clean on the palette, with bursting notes of lemon and creamy toasted meringue. The texture is crunchy yet melts into custard on the palette. It’s perfect for finishing dishes such as this heirloom tomato salad.
Willi’s Bandaged Cheddar
Milk: pasteurized cow
Provenance: Blue Mounds, WI
Cost: about $35.00 a pound
Palate level: beginner
Profile: crunchy, sweet, tangy
Pairings: Belgian sour ale, dry cider, candied nuts, or pickles