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The Art of Cooking with Cheese

September 15, 2023

The Art of Cooking with Cheese

The Art of Cooking with Cheese

Here in Wisconsin, there’s a palette of specialty cheeses from which you can paint your next culinary masterpiece. Cheese attributes like acidity, moisture, textures ranging from soft to hard, and flavors from mild to sharp assist the artist behind the apron in determining the right cheese to make any dish a standout. An earthy, full-flavored blue sprinkled on grilled beef steaks provides a rich, crumbly texture and amplifies umami flavor. While a milder, melty treasure can play a supporting role layered on flatbreads or dolloped on pasta. Using your imagination as inspiration, flex your culinary prowess with these tips.

Flavor Creators

Our cheesemakers make it easy to hone your delicious pièce de résistance with artisanal cheeses that provide the perfect touch of flavor. They push the boundaries of cheesemaking with authentic aged brick, innovative alpine styles, flavor-infused colby and cheddars, smoky blues, fresh cheeses and more.

Stacks of flavored washed rind cheeses against dark blue background

Natural Knockouts
These beauties are often aged to produce unique flavors and textures or blended with herbs, bold or hot spices, dried fruits, and other exciting natural ingredients like maple syrup. To wow guests with a cheese board or spice up your next dish, try Renard’s Maple Syrup Cheddar, Henning’s Peppercorn Cheddar or Springside Chipotle Jack.

Stacks of flavored washed rind cheeses against dark blue background

Fine and Brined
Artfully crafted washed-rind cheeses are typically washed by hand with brine and often turned daily during aging. The brine (sometimes with whey, even wine and beer!) helps the cheeses develop distinct and complex flavors. Explore Roth Grand Cru® Surchoix, Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Widmer’s Aged Brick.

Mixed smoked rubbed cheeses against dark blue background

Savory Smoked
Like the great pit masters, cheesemakers smoke cheeses using cherry, apple, oak or hickory wood chips. The process imparts striking deep-colored rinds and subtle flavor nuances, including toasty, meaty and earthy notes. Savor Carr Valley Smoked Glacier Point Blue™, Burnett Dairy® Smoked Provolone and Nordic Creamery Smoked Cheddar.

Mixed smoked rubbed cheeses against dark blue background

Rind Winners 
Flavorful rinds are created by rubbing or soaking the outside of cheeses with delectable ingredients, such as spirits, beer, wine, herbs and espresso. They’re unique and taste just as good as they look. Sample Sartori Merlot BellaVitano®, Hill Valley Dairy Whiskey Gouda and Carr Valley Apple Smoked Cheddar™ with a paprika-rubbed rind.

Master the Melt

Imagine long, stretchy strands of cheesy goodness when you slice into a piping hot pizza. Those perfectly orchestrated cheese pulls are considered an art form in our state. And it’s exciting to pull apart a warm, gooey cheese bread or spoon a silky cheese sauce over herbed-stuffed chicken. Create the ideal melt with our expert advice and fulfill your comfort food fantasies.

Close up of hands pulling apart cheesy pizza. A table with a pizza and drinks is seen in the background

Only the Good Melt Young
For mouthwatering results, turn to young cheeses—whipper snappers aged six months or less like baby swiss, brie, butterkäse, colby, fontina, gouda, mozzarella, muenster and queso quesadilla. Experiment with flavor-infused varieties or make a one-of-a-kind cheese blend by combining your favorites.

Smooth Things Out
Skillfully craft creamy cheese sauces and dips every time. Shredded cheeses melt more quickly and evenly than larger pieces. And you’ll want to shred your own, as store-bought shredded cheeses often have anticaking ingredients that interfere with achieving smooth results. Bring the shredded cheeses to room temperature before sprinkling them into a dish for quicker melting. Also, adding a splash of dry white wine or lemon juice provides moisture and acidity and assists with emulsifying sauces, which helps prevent them from breaking when heated.

Pizza ingredients lay on a wooden table

The Skinny on Thickeners
Toss shredded cheeses with flour or cornstarch when making fondue, and start with a roux when making a cheese sauce. Thickeners add body and help stabilize the emulsion.

Save the Best for Last
Gradually whisk in the cheeses on low heat at the end of the cooking process. Remove the pan from heat once they’re melted to perfection.

The Big Cheese: Executive Chef Luke Zahm

James Beard Award-nominated chef, the owner of Driftless Café and new venture The Owl Farm, the host of television’s Wisconsin Foodie, and a guest speaker at the Art of Cheese Festival, Executive Chef Luke Zahm shares his favorite ways to enjoy artisanal cheeses in the kitchen.

Chef Luke Zahm wears a blue striped apron and blue collared shirt, smiling behind a wheel of cheese

What cheese offers you versatility in cooking?
Crave Brothers Farmstead Classics® Mascarpone is one cheese I love. It’s mild and creamy. I enjoy cooking with nuanced cheeses and their flavor profiles, which often translate easily between sweet and savory courses. I can go in a million different directions with this cheese.

Share some big-flavor cheeses that inspire you.
I enjoy cheddar. Like snowflakes, cheddars vary so much between cheesemakers; each cheese has unique characteristics. I always have blocks to taste throughout the day—Hook’s 7-Year Sharp Cheddar, Sartori MontAmoré® Cheddar or anything from Deer Creek Cheese. It’s amazing how many subtle flavors emerge with a slight nudge; they keep me creative in the kitchen.

Chef Luke Zahm wears a blue striped apron and blue collared shirt. He is cutting into a wheel of cheese on a wooden table.

What are your favorite baking cheeses?
Asking me what cheeses are best for baking is a little unfair because I’m entirely biased toward desserts. I love Carr Valley Glacier Penta Crème™ (yes, it’s a blue cheese) in a fruit tart. I’ve even made gelato with it! It’s a creamy, sweet blue cheese that pairs so well with most fruits that it’s not even fair. Another dessert favorite lately has been brown butter and honey ice cream, with a slight dusting of Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve. The flavor combination is truly magical, and it always takes me back to the pastures of Uplands’ farm with their sunsets that take your breath away.

Share a chef’s secret when cooking with cheese.
Don’t throw away those cheese rinds. When making stock, put them into a stockpot with onions, leeks, parsnips, carrots, garlic, and some fresh herbs, and fill it with cold water. Allow it all to simmer briefly, and remove it from the heat. Let the stock cool, and then place it in the fridge. The next day, remove any rendered fat from the surface and strain. The essence of the cheese remains, and the liquid makes a great finishing sauce in your sauté pan.

A hand reaches for small triangle-shaped pieces of cheese placed on a wooden plate

Elegant Bites for Company

Are you hosting guests soon? Serve them recipes from Executive Chef Luke Zahm. Indulge in his labor-of-love pulled pork with gouda consommé and homemade pierogi stuffed with cold pack cheese.


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