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Willi Lehner’s Bandaged Cheddar & Alpine Renegade

Willi Lehner’s Bandaged Cheddar & Alpine Renegade
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  • Willi Lehner’s Bandaged Cheddar & Alpine Renegade

    Post #1 - October 12th, 2010, 10:15 am
    Post #1 - October 12th, 2010, 10:15 am Post #1 - October 12th, 2010, 10:15 am
    Willi Lehner’s Bandaged Cheddar & Alpine Renegade

    Last week, as part of trip through Wisconsin funded by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, I had the pleasure of reacquainting myself with Willi Lehner, one of the great men of Wisconsin cheese. I met him a few years ago when I introduced myself to him at the Dane County Farmer’s Market. He gave me some cheese to bring back to Sula.

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    On his Bleu Mont farm, Willi is trying to be sustainable with technologies like wind power. I didn't hear any obtrusive sounds coming from the windmill; it was very quiet.

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    Willi built himself a cave to bring his cheeses to the end point of perfection.

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    His signature is affinage, a time-honored craft he practices with precision and excellence. Here is some of the beautiful cheese Willi is keeping in the dark:

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    Last night, the Wife and I shared a few hunks of Willi’s bandaged cheddar (left) and a somewhat new creation: Alpine Renegade (right). I bought these cheeses at Fromagination, a relatively small shop with a stupendous assortment of local cheeses, located right near the farmers’ market:

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    Bandaged cheddar is a fine, fine hunk. Explosive, but not sharp in a tacky way; smooth and earthy. I can’t imagine blaspheming a cheese like this by eating it with anything except bread and wine (and maybe another cheese or two for contrast). The cheese was dense, and like all of Willi's creations that I've had, it had a lot of dimension.

    Alpine Renegade has the smooth scent and taste of soil, chalky at times, and when I say “soil” I mean the mineral taste is sometimes very forward. At other times, the buttery and richly milky flavors predominated, and that’s what I appreciate in a cheese: as I roll around the sensations, new tastes come to the fore, and the cheese reveals itself, slowly. This cheese is made with precious milk from Uplands Cheese Company, the only cheesemaker in the world to win the American Cheese Society Best of Show for three years (2001, 2005 and 2010 – no one else has won more than once)…for the same cheese (Pleasant Ridge Reserve). There is no clearer example of the importance of terroir in cheese production, and Uplands builds their superb product on milk from their grass-fed herd.

    So, although Bleu Mont is a dairy, Willi Lehner doesn’t keep any cows (he buys milk from local dairies) and he doesn’t make the cheese on his property – he uses other local facilities, like those at Cedar Grove.

    At a dinner with Bob Wills, the owner of Cedar Grove, Wills said, and I know this is going to sound high-falutin’ but heck, it was moving, that Wisconsin at this period of history reminded him of Italy during the Renaissance, when a relatively small group of people with drive and energy came together and shared some remarkable dreams. He used Willi as an example of a Dairyland DaVinci who was breaking new ground and making history, in his own small chunk of land in Wisconsin, following his bliss and sharing it with all of us who love the products of the aesthetically controlled spoilage of milk.
    “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
  • Post #2 - October 12th, 2010, 10:30 am
    Post #2 - October 12th, 2010, 10:30 am Post #2 - October 12th, 2010, 10:30 am
    Bought some Bleu Mont cheese at the Madison farmer's market a year or so ago and thought it the best cheese I found there. Thanks for the enjoyable back story.

    Jonah
  • Post #3 - October 12th, 2010, 11:59 am
    Post #3 - October 12th, 2010, 11:59 am Post #3 - October 12th, 2010, 11:59 am
    My current standard is Jasper & Cabot's cloth-wrapped cheddar. Really wonderful. Have you tried it and how does it compare?
  • Post #4 - October 12th, 2010, 12:47 pm
    Post #4 - October 12th, 2010, 12:47 pm Post #4 - October 12th, 2010, 12:47 pm
    David,

    Do you know if that bandaged cheddar is sold anywhere around here?
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #5 - October 12th, 2010, 3:14 pm
    Post #5 - October 12th, 2010, 3:14 pm Post #5 - October 12th, 2010, 3:14 pm
    spinynorman99 wrote:My current standard is Jasper & Cabot's cloth-wrapped cheddar. Really wonderful. Have you tried it and how does it compare?


    I've had Cabot's, but so long ago that my memory of it is not distinct.

    stevez wrote:David,

    Do you know if that bandaged cheddar is sold anywhere around here?


    They have it at Marion Street Cheese Market; about $30/lb.
    “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
  • Post #6 - October 12th, 2010, 3:23 pm
    Post #6 - October 12th, 2010, 3:23 pm Post #6 - October 12th, 2010, 3:23 pm
    David Hammond wrote:
    spinynorman99 wrote:My current standard is Jasper & Cabot's cloth-wrapped cheddar. Really wonderful. Have you tried it and how does it compare?


    I've had Cabot's, but so long ago that my memory of it is not distinct.

    stevez wrote:David,

    Do you know if that bandaged cheddar is sold anywhere around here?


    They have it at Marion Street Cheese Market; about $30/lb.


    I like the Jasper Hill bandaged cheddar a lot, and it is about the only non-local cheese that I will allow myself to buy, but I mostly buy it because Whole Foods constantly runs amazing deals on it, like for $12/lb. Head to head, I'd rather Willi's. It's just more complex, a little more bovine gravitas if I may.

    I've seen it at Marion Street Cheese, but I think the price inches a little north of $30/lb. I've also seen it at Pastoral for about the same price. In Madison, the Willy St. Coop has a good cheese selection too, and in Milwaukee I find an excellent selection at the West Allis stand in the Public Market.

    Great pics David.
    Think Yiddish, Dress British - Advice of Evil Ronnie to me.
  • Post #7 - October 12th, 2010, 3:30 pm
    Post #7 - October 12th, 2010, 3:30 pm Post #7 - October 12th, 2010, 3:30 pm
    Rob-

    Doesn't Cleetus sell Willi Lehner's bandaged cheddar at City Provisions? (He doesn't list it on his website, but I swear I saw it there. Anyway, might be worth checking.)

    Great writeup, David.

    City Provisions
    1818 W. Wilson
    Chicago IL
  • Post #8 - October 12th, 2010, 3:45 pm
    Post #8 - October 12th, 2010, 3:45 pm Post #8 - October 12th, 2010, 3:45 pm
    aschie30 wrote:Rob-

    Doesn't Cleetus sell Willi Lehner's bandaged cheddar at City Provisions? (He doesn't list it on his website, but I swear I saw it there. Anyway, might be worth checking.)

    Great writeup, David.

    City Provisions
    1818 W. Wilson
    Chicago IL


    Hah! I have a blurry picture of it from our little preview walk-through. I cannot say if there's any now.
    Think Yiddish, Dress British - Advice of Evil Ronnie to me.

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