Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wisconsin Cheese Goes Upscale: Our Cheese Dinner at Bacchus Milwaukee

Did you know that Wisconsin produces more cheese than all of Italy?

And that it takes nearly 10 pounds of milk (just over a gallon) to make 1 pound of cheese?

It's true. Wisconsin dairy farms produce more than 23 billion pounds of milk every year. That's about 14% of the country's total milk supply.As the nation's leading producer of cheese, Wisconsin has a long and productive history, which hearkens back to the mid-1800s.

We were fortunate to have been invited to a special tasting of some delicious Wisconsin cheeses at Bacchus restaurant in downtown Milwaukee. With an emphasis on fresh seafood, exquisite handmade pastas, and perfectly grilled meats, Bacchus serves up some of the best in high end dining in Milwaukee. They also happen to serve an amazing selection of Wisconsin Cheeses.

Among the cheeses we sampled were:
Dunbarton Blue, Roelli Cheese, Shullsburg, WI
Four-Year Aged Cheddar, Widmer’s Cheese Cellars, Theresa, WI
Gran Canaria, Carr Valley Cheese, LaValle, WI
Marieke’s Raw Milk Gouda, Holland’s Family Cheese, Thorp, WI
Shaft Bleu Cheese, Emmi-Roth Käse, Monroe, WI
Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Uplands Cheese, Dodgeville, WI
Ahh, cheese...
Our cheese plate was served with fabulous acacia honey, imported from Germany, and a delicious fig preserves -- both of which were perfect when served with the creamy blue cheese.
As we noshed on each delicious variety of cheese, we chatted with one of the dinners hosts, Heather Porter Engwall of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. She had plenty of great stories to share -- both about the history of Wisconsin cheeses, and about the phenomenal cheese-makers whose ingenuity has helped Wisconsin to become the overwhelming leader in artisan cheese. She pretty much has the coolest gig in the world.

One of our favorite cheeses,
Bandaged Cheddar, hails from Bleu Mont Dairy, where Willi Lehner, a Swiss-American cheesemaker brings astounding creativity to the art of cheese.
His modest farm operates solely on solar- and wind-power. His bandaged cheddar, which as the name suggests, is wrapped in bandages, then spritzed with a mixture of water and previous rinds before being aged on special spruce boards in an aging cave. The cheese is unlike many other cheddars you've probably tasted. The flavor is curiously gamey -- and yet it offers up plenty of welcome buttery nuttiness and a very clean finish.

In addition to our cheese plate, we were delighted to sample a selection of tapas, including a delicious toasted brioche with maple braised pork belly.
We sampled a delightful veal ravioli with spinach, toasted pine nuts, and buerre fondue.
A chilled corn soup was garnished with Maine lobster, creamy avocado, and sweet piquillo peppers.
There was also beet and watermelon salad with crisp proscuitto, arugula, Marcona almonds, and a delicious sampling of Hidden Springs goat cheese.
And we both delighted in a farm-fresh string bean salad featuring Salemville blue cheese, frisee, radishes, and toasted hazelnuts.
For dinner, I ordered the Strauss free-raised veal chop, which came with a baby potato salad dressed in a rustic mustard vinaigrette and served with veal jus.
Lo was delighted with her seared sea scallops, which were served on a bed of caramelized fennel and sauteed spinach, and dressed with a honey-red wine sauce and red grapes.
It's difficult enough to describe the incredible satiety one feels after imbibing in such a delicious array of food and drink, but we were also privileged to enjoy great conversation with a wide array of great people.

We had the incredible good fortune of being joined by a variety of other Milwaukee foodies -- including Mel from A Taste of Life, Stef and Katie from Haute Apple Pie, and the crew from Eating Milwaukee. We were able to chat briefly with Executive Chef, Adam Siegel, who spoke honestly about both the wonders and limitations of his efforts to source as many local foods as possible to accommodate his dinner guests at Bacchus.

Thank you, thank you to Adam Siegel, Chef de Cuisine Andrew Ruiz and all the others on staff at Bacchus who made our dinner truly memorable. And we send a very special thanks to everyone at the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board who made this dinner possible. Heather and Megan -- it was great to meet you both! And we look forward to many more years of supporting (and eating) delicious Wisconsin cheese.

Full Disclosure: Although we received our meal and drinks free of charge, we were not paid to advertise for the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board or any businesses mentioned in this article. All opinions expressed in this blog entry are our own and are reflective of our experience.

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  1. What a fun event, although you had me at Cheese! I've had the pleasure of meeting Mel in person too - just as nice as she seems on her blog! :D

  2. What a great meal! Loved the Bandaged Cheddar..mmm...

  3. Whoa this is a smorgasboard of cheese heaven!

  4. Oh my gosh, did you seriously eat all that? Heaven!!!!!!!!
    PS I would love a recommendation for great, not too expensive, eats in Milwaukee for an upcoming weekend trip there with hubby (Anniversary!).

  5. Can we go back yet??!! Seriously, I've been in a fog since Monday, I swear that normal food just isn't that exciting anymore! :P

    That bandaged cheddar was the most spectacular cheese I have ever had. I want to go to that creamery, perhaps a blogger field trip?

  6. This looks fantastic. Cheese = awesomeness.

  7. Beautiful dinner. I love sampling local cheeses. I saw that cheese plate and kept thinking I just wanted to make an awesome dish of mac and cheese with it though. ;-)

  8. wow, what a meal at Bacchus, ive been wanting to eat there for sometime. maybe a little too expensive but anyway, i need to get there. Great post!

  9. You have brought me to my knees (it's hard to type when the keyboard is above my head....) That list of cheeses you sampled is just... well, you've made me wordless, too. As you know, cheese (that is, making it) has become an obsession of mine and I'm all about the research (eating). That beet and watermelon salad is stunning, too. I need to get to WI soon. (My friend Steph is coming up for a Wisconsin Cheese Originals tour of Hidden Springs Creamery -- so jealous of all the cheese goodness you have there).

  10. I could eat a cheese plate every day, and despite the fact that I'd likely die an early but (fat and) happy death, when I see things like that....sigh.....

    Also, veal chops are one of my favorite meat cuts. That entree looks delicious and....'strauss-free'! heheheheh

  11. Hey, really like the blog! I'm starting a Midwest Travel blog that focuses on local culture, food, and destination ideas. I have a number of entries so far for Milwaukee and would love to get your perspective.


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