Friday, April 16, 2010

Cheese! Glorious Grilled Cheese.

Like grilled cheese?
Wow -- do we have a treat for you.  It's the Grilled Cheese Academy.

And I quote:
“First of all, do not be fooled by our name. We are neither a cooking school nor an establishment of higher learning. We are, however, an institution dedicated to deliciousness. United by our love of Wisconsin Cheese, we are relentlessly committed to creating the tastiest and most sublime gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches to ever grace plate or tempt palate. We hope you find your visit both inspiring and, of course, mouthwatering.”
Complete with a sandwich directory and a cheese index, the Academy is the kewlest site you may ever see dedicated to grilled cheese. And these aren't your ordinary run-of-the-mill sandwiches. The Academy takes the humble bread-and-cheese sandwich to an entirely new level -- adding ingredients like caramelized onions, knackwurst, pineapple, duck breasts and watercress. The site is not only a tribute to mouth-watering sandwiches, but a source of inspiration for those of us who like to take the concept of an ordinary grilled sammich and kick it up a notch.

But, before you head off to check out the site (never to return), we've got some pretty delicious pictures of our own to share. The fact is, we were Very Honored to have been invited to the party celebrating the launch of the GC Academy Web site this past week. We embarked on our journey to Madison with foodie friends. Both SJ Whipp (from Ramblings) and R and J from Cakewalk drove along with us -- which made the experience all the more enjoyable.

The event was held at the Soleil Cafe -- baby sister restaurant of the esteemed L'Etoile in Madison, Wisconsin.

Like Meritage in Milwaukee (which we visited earlier this week), L’Etoile features year-round seasonal menus composed from local ingredients. This remarkable feat is achieved thanks to their relationship with many small-scale farmers and the restaurant’s strategy of putting up quantities of local produce throughout the growing season.  L’Etoile values its relationship with the farmers tremendously and their best products: delicious meats, like grass-fed dry-aged Scottish Highland beef and Berkshire pork, artisan cheeses (from local producers like Widmer's, Hook's, and Farmer John), and the freshest produce available, are an essential part of every L’Etoile menu. 

So, it wasn't a particular surprise when the first thing on the agenda was local cheese-tasting. The spread was fantastic. And the cheeses were even better.
We were privileged to sample:
  • BellaVitano Raspberry Cheese (soaked in New Glarus Raspberry Tart Ale)
  • Roelli Dunbarton Blue Cheese (reminiscent of English cheddar with the bite of French blue cheese)
  • Carr Valley Benedictine Cheese (hand rubbed and cellar cured sheep & goat's milk cheese)
  • Roth Kase Buttermilk Blue (creamy and tangy)
  • Widmer's 4-year aged Cheddar (sharp, nutty and crumbly)
  • Holland's Family Marieke's Raw Milk Gouda (sweet, with notes of caramel; aged on wooden boards)
Although we enjoyed every one of them (who can resist cheese?), we particularly enjoyed the raw milk gouda and the BellaVitano Raspberry cheese.  The gouda possessed a particular complexity -- something you don't always find in goudas made from pasteurized milk. The cheese's subtle sweetness was appealing, as was the creamy texture. And the raspberry cheese was simply a delight.  The cheese itself resembled an aged parmesan. The lactic acid crystals present in the cheese gave it a great texture, and the light sweet raspberry flavor on the finish made it a real stand-out for eating out of hand.

Once we'd eaten our fill of cheese, we each grabbed a beer and headed over to the grilled cheese sandwiches -- which were being made fresh by L'Etoile's own, Chef Tori Miller. 

While most of the guests mingled in the back of the cafe, we decided to take a spot by the window, where the lighting was better for photos!
Each grilled cheese was served in a sample size, with a recommended locally brewed beer pairing.  Here are some that we tried!

The Lil' Kahuna - Pepper Jack, pineapple, and sauteed bell peppers on King Hawaiian bread
Paired with Groovy Brew, Sand Creek Brewing Co., Black River Falls, WI -- A Kölsch style beer reminiscent of sparkling wine in its crispness. It has mild fruit flavors of green apple, grape and a touch of citrus. The finish is light and fleeting on the palate.
The Monroe -Limburger, bacon, caramelized onions, and fig jam on a whole grain baguette   
Paired with Wild Ride IPA, Sand Creek Brewing Co., Black River Falls, WI: An Imperial Pale Ale with moderate hops. Balancing the mild herbal bitterness typical to IPA's are underlying elements of pine, grapefruit and apricot which provide a touch of sweetness as the flavor develops.  

The Francesca - Mozzarella, pepperoni, and sauteed shiitake mushrooms on rosemary ciabbatta
Paired with: Organic Revolution, New Glarus Brewery, New Glarus, WI: A self-styled American Pale Ale that drinks more like a Dortmunder-style Lager. Yeast and raisin aromas meet with understated hops and lightly honeyed malt. Finishes easily with slightly grassy and minty notes.
The Biloxi - Fontina, pulled barbeque pork, and creamy coleslaw on buttermilk white bread
Paired with: Matacabras, Dave's Brewfarm, Black River Falls, WI: A unique ale with cross-stylistic qualities; mild nuttiness and fruitiness, caramel and a spicing of hoppiness come together to create a smooth almost creamy texture.
The Bavaria -Edam, knackwurst, and sauerkraut on dark rye bread
Paired with: Matacabras, Dave's Brewfarm, Black River Falls, WI: A unique ale with cross-stylistic qualities; mild nuttiness and fruitiness, caramel and a spicing of hoppiness come together to create a smooth almost creamy texture.
The Athena - Feta and seasoned grilled eggplant on grilled pita bread with tzatziki
Paired with Groovy Brew, Sand Creek Brewing Co., Black River Falls, WI -- A Kölsch style beer reminiscent of sparkling wine in its crispness. It has mild fruit flavors of green apple, grape and a touch of citrus. The finish is light and fleeting on the palate.
And... for dessert: 
The Bianca - Marscapone, dulce de leche, and raspberry preserves on cinnamon raisin bread
Although the sandwiches were sample sized, we found ourselves getting full fast.  There were simply too many delicious things to try!

That said, if the sandwiches were fabulous, the company was even better.  Over the course of the evening, we met a delightful group of foodies from all over Wisconsin.  Among them were some of our favorite blogger pals -- Mel from A Taste of Life, Allison from Post College Kitchen, and Mandy from A Serving of Life. It was like a little Wisconsin blogger party!

At the end of the night, we fell into bed -- exhausted by the sheer delightfulness of our grilled cheesy day.

Truth is, it would have been great if all of you had been able to join us. However, I did manage to bring a little bit of the magic back with me.  I managed to get a hold of a recipe to share with all of you.  This grilled cheese was the hands-down favorite among the members of our group -- and for good reason.  Just imagine that slow cooked pork -- slightly smoky, thanks to a bit of Wisconsin bacon -- paired with fontina cheese and delicious homemade coleslaw.  Sounds like a win to me.



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19 comments:

  1. OMG - These photos look amazing! How did you come across this?

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  2. Great write-up! It was such fun meeting you in person, too - hopefully that will happen again soon.

    And I can't believe I didn't taste the Biloxi! Not having tried it, my favorite was The Monroe. So, so good.

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  3. Oh dear freakin' gods...grilled cheese for DESSERT? Can't wait to try them all!

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  4. Yes, yes, and yes! I am so jealous.

    I met a woman a while back who said she didn't care for cheese, and I swear it took me a minute to process what she had just said. I love 'em all - the stinkier the better. I am always looking for new grilled cheese creations, I'm printing these one out.

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  5. I need to move to Wisconsin, I could live on cheese! I'm with you on the Gouda, it's one of my favorites. And for a sammy, I'll have the Athena to go please.

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  6. Sound great! I wish I had been there, although the selection was very meaty.

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  7. That looks all so fantastic! I want to find some of that raspberry cheese now. Wonder if its available in Mpls.

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  8. I have to say that the Biloxi was my favorite, and I wouldn't have gotten a chance to try if Peef didn't point it out! It was so good!

    It was great meeting you guys as well!

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  9. I wish we could go back to that party every day. It was sooooo good!

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  10. Sounds like the event was a blast!!! All those sandwiches look fantastic! I'm jealous.

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  11. us Sconnies get made fun of, e.g. Cheeseheads, but come on, look at those sandwiches and fabulous cheeses. its BRILLIANT!!

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  12. OMG how fun was this? Wow, this is my kind of event!

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  13. Looks amazing! I can definitely relate to an event where "Once we'd eaten our fill of cheese, we ... headed over to the grilled cheese sandwiches" Cheese: yum!!

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  14. wow....these are all great!! and I do love cheese!!
    thanks so much for sharing your experience with us

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  15. I'm forlorn that we couldn't make it out that night. But I'm glad the site is getting a lot of good buzz; the food looks amazing!

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  16. Fantastic Lo. I can't wait to dig into another grilled cheese sandwich.

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  17. I am SO JEALOUS!!! Everything looks amazing! I just posted about cheese too - great minds think alike I guess!

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  18. This actually makes my chest ache with missing Wisconsin so much. I know I'm only in Illinois, but it's 3 hours to the 'ol border....sigh. That's quite the haul when you just want to grab some New Glarus and aged cheddar.

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