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One of most traditional gifts to get at Christmas was a package from the Wisconsin Cheeseman. All those sausages and mustards and petite fours and Cheese. Although you may not get a Wisconsin Cheeseman or Swiss Colony catalog out at your home, they are still out there, and still serving up all that wonderful cheese. Which got us thinking, in a world of locally sourced and organic everything, where in the country can you find some traditional, All-American Cheese?
You knew it was going to be here. They don’t wear cheese on their heads, dairy-aires and everywhere else they can put it because it is fashionable. They do it because it is what Wisconsin is good at. Cheese and beer came out of that state, and I can’t thank those guys enough.
The first cheese factory started in Wisconsin in 1841 and less than a century later they numbered more than 1,500. They still produce more than any other state, with around 90 cheese makers producing more than 600 varieties of cheese. If you want to see it for yourself, consult The Great Wisconsin Cheese Tour or get to the Wisconsin Cheese Mart in Milwaukee, offering up over 200 different kinds of cheese. They even have a cheese bar where you can sample cheese with Wisconsin beer and wine from around the world.
California has been making cheese longer than it has been making wine. And California can take the credit for creating Monterey Jack Cheese. Named after the colorful Monterey land baron David Jacks, who started exporting a self-named version of the Spanish Queso del País, eventually the “s” was dropped and people just asked for Monterey Jack Cheese.
The second largest producer of cheese in the U.S., they have over 50 cheese factories producing more than 250 varieties of cheese. If you want to make the pilgrimage, hit the California Cheese Trail (they even have an app!) or get to the Cheese Cave in Claremont, CA and take a beer and cheese class.
Idaho has been doing cheese right for a long time and they have been doing it locally. So much so that even the Wal-Marts in the state carry the local brands. Their production of cheese is the third biggest in the country. The big providers, Manwaring, which produces under its own label, and Glanbia, which produced under the Idaho Preferred label, lead the way.
Glanbia actually operates the largest barrel cheese factory in the world (they’re Irish, so you can bet they know their cheese). If you are looking for a retail spot that rocks, head to the Boise Co-op, where they feature local, sustainable and specialty products and have a great selection of local cheese.
And while you are in Boise and we are on the subject, stop at Berryhill & Co. for their Baked Mac and Cheeses, voted best in the country by Food and Wine Magazine. The dish is penne pasted served with four cheeses, mushrooms, tomatoes and Berryhill bacon plus you can throw chicken or shrimp in for an additional charge.
No one would really think of New Mexico when it comes to cheese, but they are at the fourth largest in the nation, just edging out New York. They have 150 dairies in the state and boast the largest average herd size in the U.S. Glanbia, who operates the largest cheese factory in Idaho, started producing in Clovis, N.M. in 2006, but if you are looking for something more artisan, they have that, too.
Look for The Old Windmill Dairy brand in stores, restaurants and farmers markets, but if you want to have some real fun, take a cheese-making class right at the creamery. You can even do “A Day in the Creamery” where for $199 you get to go through the entire cheese-making process hands-on, get to personally label your wheel of cheese and then, three months later, after it is aged, go pick it up and take it home.
On the retail side, opening this week in Sante Fe is the Cheesemongers of Santa Fe, not just offering local cheese but national and international as well.
New York doesn’t fool around when it comes to cheese. Rome, N.Y. is the home of the The New York State Museum of Cheese, and if you get to Cuba, N.Y. you can visit the Cuba Cheese Museum. New York has fallen in cheese production in the last decade to fifth largest producer in the in the country.
There are so many producers of cheese in New York State that there is actually a Cheese Trail that you can follow in the Finger Lakes Region.In the city, Murray's is probably the most famous, with a store in Grand Central Station and one in Greenwich Village. If you are in the Village, stop at their Cheese Bar, where you can enjoy cheese, a full menu, craft beer and wine. For those of you outside of the state, Kroger shopping stores normally carry a full line of Murray's Cheeses.
The average consumption of cheese per person per year in the U.S. is right around 32 pounds. Cheddar and Mozzarella are the favorites, but the appreciation of cheese is growing to other varieties with availability growing and artisan creameries popping up all over. We may have had a lot of American Processed Cheese Product growing up, but many of us are figuring out there is more to the world of being cheesy.