If you visit Sid Cook at Carr Valley Cheese in La Valle, Wis., he’ll carve you a hunk of his beautifully complex chipotle cranberry Cheddar. And if you’re lucky, he’ll tell you how to eat it.
For Cook, every bite of cheese is a symphony waiting to happen. “If you think of the profile in terms of music,” he says of the award-winning Cheddar, “it’s cheesy, and then you get the sweetness of the cranberry. Then you get the smokiness of the pepper, and then the heat comes in. Then you take a sip of beer and start all over again. And that’s three or four measures of music.”
Cook, the fourth-generation owner of the family business, has more than 60 cheese-championship awards to attest to his virtuosity. But in 2002, he earned something else: the title of Master Cheesemaker, which he gained by completing CALS’ three-year Master Cheesemaker program, which is funded by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. The only of its kind in the nation, the program trains experienced cheesemakers in the scientific and technical aspects of their craft, including eight courses, exams and on-site inspections.
Since 1994, 50 Wisconsin cheesemakers have graduated from the program, which certifies them as masters in up to two cheeses.
“It’s like graduate school for cheesemakers,” says food science professor Bill Wendorff BS’64 MS’66 PhD’69. “You have the same kind of relationship with faculty and staff with the cheesemakers that you would have with a graduate student.”
Initially, Cook was unsure about devoting time to the program. Like many cheesemakers, his introduction to the craft was through the family business, which has made cheese for more than 100 years. But increasingly, even veteran dairies are finding that continuing education can pay off. Wendorff notes, for example, that graduates of CALS dairy short courses comprised 38 percent of the winners at this year’s World Championship Cheese Contest in Madison. Short-course grads also won 65 percent of the prizes at last year’s U.S. cheese championships.
Now Cook is sold. “All of those classes that I took with both cheesemakers academics from (all around the world)—that’s invaluable because you can see how they do it and why they do it in a certain way,” he says. In fact, he’s signed up again to add two new cheeses to his master symphony.