Pippin Hill’s head chef, Ian Rynecki, recently set out on a journey to becoming a true cheese connoisseur. In a cheese convention hosted by International Gourmet Foods and the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, six talented chefs from around the country were invited to experience the cheesemaking process from start to flavorful finish. For four days Chef Ian traveled around “America’s Dairyland”, eating close to two pounds of cheese a day through tastings at local creameries. Read on for his dairy diary to learn about his itinerary and recommended wine and cheese pairings.
Chef Ian flew into Milwaukee to meet his culinary companions for dinner at the Rumpus Room, where he enjoyed a delicious pork schnitzel followed by a night out with fellow Chef Vin of Ritz Carlton DC.
At 6 AM sharp the team was off to an early start with their first stop at Sartori Cheese in Plymouth. Sartori is one of the few makers of a domestic parmesan known as Sarvecchio, which is aged to crumbly perfection in natural caves. Chef Ian layered up with intense full facial coverings, rubber boots, jacket, and gloves to enter the caves. There they had the pleasure of rubbing down large wheels of aged cheese with espresso grounds, followed by a guided cheese tasting.
Up next Chef Ian toured Saxon Creamery, home of famous Big Ed’s Gouda. Here he sampled a variety of cheese spreads, as well as Alpine style and Butterkase style cheeses.
Next stop was Hennings, known for distinct flavored cheeses and unforgettable 12,000 pound cheese wheels. Here Chef Ian met Kurt Henning, the cheesemaker for Deer Creek. a creamery with animal inspired cheese blends. The Stag, the Blue Jay and the Imperial Buck were some of Chef’s favorites — he even ordered wheels to use at Pippin Hill! Chef Ian also got to witness the labor intensive process of “cheddaring”, where curds are kneaded with salt, cut, stacked and turned by hand to create the distinctive flavor. Pro tip: mild cheddars pair perfectly with a refreshing slightly sweet white, such as our Viognier.
Chef Ian ended the day with a highly anticipated visit to Crave Brothers, a farm that operates the entire cheesemaking process from farm to factory on 100% clean energy. Crave raises its cows on feed from their farms, even processes the manure to power their operations and 300 homes in the area! All while churning out thousands of pounds of delectable cheese a day. Chef returned that night full of inspiration for cheese and charcuterie boards, which are best paired with Pippin Hill’s Red Pump Red.
Ready for tight-packed schedule of tastings, their day begun Maple Leaf Cheese, a co-op cheese company with a range of specialty flavors, including famous Butterkase Swiss style cheese.
Next Chef Ian got the chance to visit Hook’s, the oldest cheesemaker on the tour. Already avid fan of Hook’s cheddar, Chef Ian was most looking forward to this tour and especially excited to try a 20 year old cheddar! Hook’s did not disappoint, serving up some of the best blues Chef had ever had. His favorite was whimsically called Ewe Calf to be Kidding me, made from a blend of Wisconsin raised calf, goat and sheep milk. Goat cheese is a premiere ingredient in many of Chef’s dishes, including the Caromont Goat Cheese Agnolotti, which pairs best with the tannins and slight acidity of our Merlot Reserve.
The team had lunch at Gray Dog, followed by a mini cheese trade show at Great Dane brewpub. The star of the show was Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve, who made only one kind of cheese, an aged Alpine style. Very small production, they consistently win awards for incredibly rich and salty flavor, with a long fruity finish.
The final day in Wisconsin winded down with a trip to Carr Valley in Mauston, where Chef immediately bought a wheel of their whimsically delicious take on the famous French cheese, Morbier. Carr’s version features a layer of sheep milk cheese and a layer of goat milk cheese separated by a layer of grape vine ash. Goat and lamb cheese are both premiered on Chef’s signature cheese board, often complimented by Pippin Hill’s 2017 Rosé. A highlight of this tour was their innovative cheese making process, which actually reuses the whey. In order to make cheese, rennet is added to milk and the milk then separates into curds (the solid) and whey (the liquid). The curds become cheese, and the whey is usually discarded. Sid, the cheesemaker at Carr, has developed a tank system using algae and aerobic bacteria to clean the whey and turn it into clean drinking water. This water is then given back to the cows as their drinking water, completing the cycle.
After a week sampling gourmet varieties of gouda, swiss, parmesan, and more, Chef Ian reflects his opinion on Wisconsin cheese was changed for the better. Chef says, “I thought it was all Jacks and Cheddars, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Wisconsin turns out some of the best artisanal cheese this country has to offer.” The state hailed as “the Big Cheese” has certainly earned its name. Now we can’t wait to taste how the marriage of Wisconsin cheese and Virginia wines inspires the Pippin Hill Tasting Room Menu.