My first stop on our Wisconsin cheese tour Friday took us to the Carr Valley Cheese factory in LaValle.
Sid Cook — a fourth-generation cheesemaker — bought the operation in 1986, and he’s one of only a handful of Master Cheesemakers in the country.
Carr Valley makes more than 60 types of cheeses, including blends of sheep, goats and cows milk, and has won an astounding amount of awards over the years. We tasted a wide variety of cheddars, and learned the distinction between a cheddar aged only a few months, to a year, and all the way up to 10 years. A 10-year-old cheddar crumbles fairly easily and jumps out at you as soon as you put it in your mouth. Sid also makes several flavored cheeses, including an chipotle cranberry cheddar and a goats milk cheese covered in cocoa that he called a truffle.
After a mere 5 minutes with Sid, you start to pick up on his sincere passion for the craft of cheesemaking. As closely as possible, he sticks to an Old World style, particularly with the milling process for the curd. They use steam heat instead of a wood fire to heat the milk, and a metal agitator instead of human might, but the overall approach is unquestionably old school.
During our visit, workers were busy churning out cheese curds, and I finally had a chance to try this local delicacy. It doesn’t have a lot of flavor, mainly because it’s young cheese that hasn’t been aged, and it makes a squeaky sound when you bite into a spongy morsel. Doesn’t sound appetizing? Well, plenty of people around here like it. The workers were busily shoveling curds into labeled bags and preparing to ship them out to local stores who make up the largest customer base for curds.
But word has obviously spread beyond the locals. On our visit alone, cars with license plates from as far away as Kentucky and Minnesota were in the parking lot. In the Chicago area, look for Sid’s Carr Valley cheeses at stores such as Pastoral and Binny’s and restaurants such as Bin 36, Pop’s For Champagne and of course, ENO. In other words, it’s not difficult to find out for yourself what Sid’s cooking up.
S3797 County G
La Valle, WI 53941