A Tale of Two Cheeses

Many of the world’s greatest cheeses are made in Wisconsin. It’s a fact that begs the question: How do those cheeses get to be great?

A key ingredient is the Center for Dairy Research (CDR), based at CALS and operated with funds from dairy farmers, dairy food manufacturers and processors, and other industry partners. Located within a licensed, operating dairy plant on the UW–Madison campus, its facilities include a cheese pilot plant, a dairy ingredients pilot plant, a sensory lab, an analytical lab and an applications lab, all of which are available to cheesemakers and other dairy manufacturers for trial runs and testing new products. For experienced cheesemakers seeking rigorous additional training, CDR, in partnership with the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, offers a three-year program of courses and mentoring leading to certification as a Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker.

CDR’s experts boast hundreds of years of combined experience in industry and academia. Those experts have something else in common: Many grew up in the same milieu as the cheesemakers they work with around the state.

We are pleased to present here the success stories of two very different kinds of Wisconsin cheesemakers who availed themselves of CDR’s support and expertise.

Mexican Melty 

When milk is converted into cheese, science alone takes you only so far, says Tom Dahmen, a second-generation cheesemaker who manages the Chula Vista cheese factory near Browntown, in southwestern Wisconsin.

“I’m a big believer in heavy-duty science, but there is always a bit of magic in making cheese,” says Dahmen, who began washing cheesecloths at age 6. Intuition and experience also play a role, he notes.

At Chula Vista, those ingredients are combined to produce a string cheese called Oaxaca (wa-HA-ka), which received the Best in Class award in the Hispanic melting cheese category at the 2016 World Championship Cheese Contest in Madison. The CALS com- munity can take pride in this honor, because CDR helped Chula Vista create the cheese.

Oaxaca is a white, mild-flavored cheese used in many Mexican dishes. The cheese gets its name from the Mexican state where the style originated.

At the Chula Vista plant, named for its beautiful view of Lafayette County dairy farms, people work two shifts making two styles of Mexican cheese.

Chula Vista and V&V Supremo of Chicago were cheesemaking partners for decades. Last September V&V bought the plant, where employment has risen to 80, up from 34 about seven years ago.

Although Chula Vista purchased and sold Oaxaca cheese for several years, “We were never happy with the qual- ity, so we decided to move production in-house,” Dahmen says. “I had spent 14 years making a related style, but there were challenges to our ‘make,’ so we went to CDR. They helped us from the beginning.”

Starting in around 2010, Dahmen and Alan Hamann, V&V’s senior man- ager of quality control, began talking with CDR researchers about the details of fat-protein ratios, milk solids, chemis- try and pH.

“You have to control all of these factors even as the milk changes subtly from one truckload to the next,” says Hamann, who has more than 36 years of experience in the dairy industry.

Once the ideas were collated, they needed to be tested. At Browntown, each test would require 5,000 pounds of milk, Hamann says. Vats at CDR, however, would require only 500 pounds, reducing cost and eliminating errors attributable to running tests with different batches of milk. “At CDR, we could test several variables at once,” Hamann says. “Working at CDR drastically cuts your timeline and offers much more control.”

When the improved Oaxaca reached the market in 2015, Chula Vista was producing one or two vats per week. Now the company makes that much in a day.

Oaxaca cheese is produced using a procedure similar to that used for fresh mozzarella. Pasteurized milk is set (coagulated) and cut in a stainless- steel vat and then turned into curd slabs that are moved to a cooker-stretcher, a machine where heating and repeated folding links protein molecules, forming the familiar elastic product called string cheese.

The stretched curd is then formed into cylinders by six nozzles, cut to length and packaged for shipment to stores ranging from “mom and pops” to Wal-Mart, says Philip Villasenor, V&V’s vice president of manufacturing.

Beyond technical advice, CDR offers business consulting to the dairy industry, says Vic Grassman, CDR’s technology commercialization manager. “We help firms develop products and expand,” says Grassman. “I help with economic development financing, permits, workforce information and development.”

As employment tightens, particularly in rural areas, CDR links manufacturers with existing resources for economic development. “It’s not just ‘Develop the product and you are on your own,’” Grassman says.

But when you visit Chula Vista, it’s all about the cheese. Even though Chula Vista aims for a standardized, pure product, “Every vat is a controlled experiment,” says Dahmen. “We are predicting what is going to happen, and we are pretty accurate, but this is a living system, and unplanned things happen: A pump dies. A cooler dies. People don’t show up. But once you start a batch, you have to finish.”

Those snafus are familiar to both Chula Vista and CDR, says Dahmen. “The beauty of working with CDR is that they are heavy, heavy on science, but their people have all worked in the industry. They have this blend of science and art that you can only gain from experience. For our Oaxaca cheese, they greatly shortened the timeline to reach the product quality we were looking for.”

The collaboration with CDR also served as a rich educational experi- ence for Dahmen. Earlier this year he earned certification as a Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker for Quesadilla and Oaxaca cheeses.

Alpine Goodness

If you walk into Roelli Cheese Haus near Shullsburg in southwest Wisconsin, you’ll see plenty of succu- lent Wisconsin cheeses—but not Little Mountain, the company’s champion cheese. It lives behind the counter, with nary a sign.

Little Mountain, described by its maker as a “classic upland style from Switzerland,” is not contraband, but Roelli is practically running on empty after a “Best of Show” at the American Cheese Society contest last July. “We feel pretty honored,” says company owner Chris Roelli, noting that Little Mountain bested 1,842 other cheeses in the competition.

Although Roelli is a fourth-generation cheesemaker, in creating the recipe and honing the details of microbiology, timing and equipment, he got assistance from CDR. “For us as a small business, tapping the experience at CDR was invaluable,” says Roelli. “It accelerated our path to bring this cheese to the market, literally by years.”

Little Mountain requires at least seven months of careful aging to achieve its characteristic flavor, texture and rind. Aging occurs in an above-ground “cellar,” with cooling pipes along the walls. Forced air would waft microbes, threatening the cheese with spoilage.

Roelli’s great-grandfather, Adolph Roelli, immigrated from Altburon, Switzerland to Green County in the early 1900s. “He was a cheesemaker’s apprentice in different areas of the Swiss Alps,” says Roelli. “He settled here as a farmer and sold milk to a co-op, which offered him a job as head cheesemaker, based on his experience in Switzerland.”

Roelli says he’s been in and out of cheese factories all his life. “I watched my granddad make commodity cheddar,” says Roelli, but the factory closed shortly after Roelli got a cheesemaker’s license in 1989. “We weren’t able to compete.”

In 2005, unable to stay away from the family business, Roelli returned with “Cheese on Wheels,” a cheese plant mounted on an 18-wheeler.

The following year he started an artisanal cheese business in a new factory behind his store on Highway 11 east of Shullsburg, and started to envision a Swiss cheese that would go back to the family’s roots. In preparation, he says, “I went around and tasted as much Swiss mountain-style cheese as I could.”

Both Emmentaler and Gruyère were already produced nearby, and Roelli mulled a Swiss version of Parmesan before settling on an Appenzeller, a hard-rind cheese flavored with “washes” of brine as it ages.

He approached John Jaeggi, CDR’s cheese industry and applications coordinator, with some flavor profiles he was looking for. “I made a couple of batches here as total experiments, and we went to the CDR and made six batches to fine-tune the culture and process,” Roelli says.

In Jaeggi, Roelli found a particularly kindred spirit for this project. Jaeggi is a third-generation, Swiss-descended cheesemaker from Green County who, like Roelli, grew up in a cheese family. “If you look at the history of Wisconsin, a lot of cheese factories were family operations and the family was involved in all aspects of the business,” Jaeggi says. “The younger generation would start on the bottom floor, cleaning, sanitizing, packaging and working their way up.”

The initial conversations with Roelli, Jaeggi says, concerned flavor, texture and equipment. “We talked about aging, culture, the ‘make’ schedule. Chris came up to CDR and worked in our test vats, looking at cocktails of microbial cultures for different flavor profiles. Once we got close, we went to his plant two or three times to make the cheese, then optimized the make procedure to fit his plant.”

The cheese would be aged from seven to 16 months while being washed with a hush-hush recipe of salt, yeast and bacteria. The wash would break down proteins and fat to create the rind and desired flavor.

“Although artisan cheesemakers are pretty open in general, when it comes to world-class cheese, there are still secrets out there,” Roelli says.

Holding secrets is a point of pride at CDR. “To be able to draw from the knowledge base at CDR was invaluable,” says Roelli, who has earned certification as a Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker. “There is nowhere else you could get that. If John Jaeggi or Mark Johnson [a CDR cheese scientist] asks for help from someone in Europe, they will help. They don’t know me, but they know them.”

Someday the world’s top cheesemakers may start to know Chris Roelli, who has built his future atop his history and the cheese wisdom brought by his great- grandfather from Switzerland. “If you make something really good, people will find it,” Roelli says. “We entered competitions to garner some interest from places where we don’t normally get it. You don’t have to set the world on fire with advertising.”

Between the store and the cheese plant, Roelli Cheese Haus has five employees. Chris Roelli also runs a larger business hauling milk from farms.

Demand for Little Mountain exploded after the award in July, Roelli says. “We beat the world champ from last year, and three other American Cheese Society Best of Shows from past years. We have upped production for the end of 2017 as much as we can. I still have a list as long as my right arm wanting the next batch.”

The Power of Pizza

The busloads of schoolkids who visit Jauquet Dairy each year have lots to talk about when they get home—from the really cute newborn calves to the really big cows and the really cool machines that milk them.

Dave Jauquet gets a kick out of all that, but he wants them to remember something else as well: The link between his farm and what they eat. And he has a good way of getting that across.

“I tell them that the milk from these cows ends up on pizza. I like to tell them that because they can connect it all the way from standing here, seeing a lot of cows eating food, to something they actually have for supper,” Jauquet says. “Because pretty much every kid eats pizza.”

And so do their parents, friends and neighbors. In the myriad menu items that make up American cuisine, pizza is as close as you get to a universal food. Ninety-seven percent of U.S. consumers had some at least once last year, and 41 percent of us eat it once a week.

That matters in a very big way to people like Jauquet and his partners—his wife Stacy and brother Jeff. Virtually every pound of milk produced on their Kewaunee County farm is made into six-pound loaves of mozzarella and sleek “salamis” of provolone. Like the people who buy that cheese—mostly independent Italian eateries—the Jauquets, their dozen employees and 600-plus Holsteins are in the pizza business.

That’s the case for somewhere around a quarter of Wisconsin’s 1.25 million dairy cows—the working girls in an industry that generates 150,000 jobs, half of the state’s farm revenue and $26.5 billion in economic activity. At least 85 percent of the state’s milk goes into cheese, a third of which is mozzarella, the vast majority of which ends up on pizza.

“As pizza goes, so goes the dairy industry,” says John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association.

Forty years ago, cheddar was the state’s big cheese. Mozzarella was a specialty cheese, made by firms that specialized in Italian varieties sold primarily to Italian American customers. Since 1970, Wisconsin’s mozzarella production has increased tenfold—it surpassed cheddar in 2000. So has U.S. per capita consumption. “That’s all pizza,” Umhoefer says.

In a nation with 70,000 pizzerias and pizzas sold in every bowling alley and convenience store, it’s hard to imagine a time when pizza wasn’t part of the broad cultural landscape. But it wasn’t until after World War II that pizza went mainstream. Cultural historians attribute the shift to American G.I.s who acquired a taste for it while serving in Italy. It also meshed with trends of the time: Informal dining, ethnic foods, eating by the TV, and lots of cars to facilitate takeout, delivery and road food.

If you want to get a feel for how pizza transformed Wisconsin’s cheese business, a good person to talk to is Roger Krohn, master cheesemaker at the Agropur facility in Luxemburg. Krohn is in charge of turning milk from Jauquet Dairy and 150 other area farms into pizza cheese. His family began making cheese at this site in 1892, and when they sold the business 108 years later, Roger Krohn stayed on to oversee cheese production. It was in his DNA. He grew up next door to the cheese plant and began making cheese there at age 14.

For the first 68 years, like most Wisconsin cheese firms, the Krohns made cheddar. In 1960, that changed. “I think my dad was looking to branch out into something a little less competitive—a new niche market,” Krohn says. “An Italian gentleman encouraged him to get into mozzarella, because he foresaw the pizza industry really taking off.”

It was a leap of faith—“Pizza was not a real big deal in 1960, at least not in the Midwest,” Krohn says—but a smart one. The mozzarella making began modestly—two guys kneading and stretching the curd by hand—but never stopped expanding. By next year, when a major expansion is done, the plant will be using 2.4 million pounds of milk from 28,000 cows to produce about a quarter of a million pounds of pizza cheese—every day.

As pizza picked up, more Wisconsin cheddar plants followed suit, says Dean Sommer of the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research (CDR), a CALS-based dairy foods research and education program.

“They read the tea leaves,” says Sommer, who in 1986 took a job at Alto Dairy (now Saputo foods) in Waupun—then the nation’s largest cheese plant—to help the firm expand into mozzarella. “Consumption of pizza was on a double-digit increase every year, and the margins of making mozzarella were higher than for cheddar cheese. They could see that with the growth of pizza and the growth of mozzarella, and the profitability, this was a better place to be.”

Our Signature Foods—and CALS

Wisconsinites aren’t called Cheeseheads for nothing. But consider, too, our deep love of brats fresh from the grill and a gooey ice cream sundae for dessert.

These foods are nothing less than the taste of Wisconsin—a taste that is acclaimed around the world. We here at CALS can take particular pride in that. A big part of our job has been to develop those foods to their full potential, sharing what we learn in our campus labs and production plants with industry, students and other stakeholders around the globe. When you savor the rich flavor of a Wisconsin artisan cheese or sausage, or a scoop of Babcock Hall ice cream, as a CALS grad you also appreciate the sophisticated science behind it.

Often a cheese, ice cream or sausage maker will come to us with little more than a dream. Our meat and dairy scientists will work with that producer from the recipe stage through production and countless revisions, testing on small batches. Other industry professionals rely on CALS experts for everything from continuing education in production to the latest information on food safety.

These foods are nothing less than the taste of Wisconsin.

Yet our current campus dairy research and production facilities date back to the 1950s, and our meat and muscle lab to the 1930s. While we have done a spectacular job with renovations and workarounds, the time has come when we simply need new facilities in order to maintain leadership in the field. People come to us for guidance, to learn the best from the best, and our facilities need to reflect that. If we don’t act now, Wisconsin risks falling behind.

The good news is that businesses, legislators, your fellow alumni and other stakeholders recognize this need and are committed to addressing it. Efforts to raise private funds for new dairy and meat facilities are well under way, with donations to be matched by the state. Enough funds have been raised from donations so far for both projects to have garnered approval by the UW
Board of Regents.

I invite you to learn more about these exciting projects at the websites below. And please know that when you “share the wonderful,” in the spirit of our new campus-wide giving initiative, your gifts to the CALS Annual Fund will go toward meeting our most critical needs-including our work in advancing Wisconsin’s signature foods. We thank you most sincerely for your help.

Dairy and cheese: www.cdr.wisc.edu/building
Meat: http://meatandmore.wisc.edu/

Crafted with Care

Cheese curds are oddly soothing. This is evident on a recent morning inside the CALS Babcock Hall Dairy Plant, where a few hundred pounds of springy ivory cheese curds are being stirred and drained of whey inside a long gleaming vat.

Within a few hours, those curds will be transformed into juustoleipa (joost-oh-LEEP-ah), or “juusto” for short, a firm, baked Finnish cheese with a browned exterior speckled with creamy white. A barely cooled corner piece is a satisfying blend of fresh, sweet dairy flavor inside and savory caramelization outside—rather like the bubbly cheese part of a pizza without all that pesky pizza.

For now, however, the curds are still curds. Periodically, Babcock’s master cheesemaker Gary Grossen pauses from his constant circuit around the cheese production area to scatter a handful of salt or to cup a few curds in his palm, thoughtfully testing their texture. The cheese curds go from creamy and moist to drier, lighter, with a good portion of finer-grained curds to the egg-sized clumps. The constant motion inside the vat is rhythmic, even mesmerizing.

But for Jay Noble, who is visiting Babcock that day, the morning’s observation is all business. He had traveled from Noble View Creamery, his 400-cow dairy farm in Racine County, to observe Grossen at work. A sixth-generation dairy farmer—“Born with a pitchfork in my hand,” he says—Noble is curious about expanding into specialty cheese, such as Hispanic-style cheeses or possibly juustoleipa.

“Artisan cheesemaking is part of our unique heritage,” Monsen says.

Noble’s reasons for considering specialty cheese echo a common refrain. In the face of volatile milk markets and dwindling prospects for passing a dairy farm to the next generation, cheesemaking offers a dairy farmer the chance to set his or her own prices and carve out a more stable niche in a growing market. Twenty years ago, a dairy farmer might have seen little cheesemaking opportunity in a Wisconsin landscape composed mainly of struggling commodity cheese manufacturers, all being squeezed out by far larger and ever-growing companies, while California threatened to snatch Wisconsin’s dairy industry mantle.

“Artisan cheesemaking is part of our unique heritage,” says Norm Monsen, senior agriculture markets consultant with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP). “In the 1980s or 1990s, we were getting a little bit away from the lessons of our heritage. Since the early 2000s, there’s really been an effort and drive to get those lessons back.”

Today you’ll still find plenty of commodity cheddars and mozzarellas—but you’ll also find a wealth of specialty cheese, be it the savory, golden Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese, fresh, tangy Fantôme goat cheeses, or Bleu Mont’s bold cave-aged originals. There are crumbly, well-aged artisan cheddars, smoky blues, sticky, green-veined Gorgonzolas and a slumping, velvety sheep’s milk Brie. The list goes on and on.

Clearly, the state’s specialty cheese numbers have exploded. Ten years ago Wisconsin had six artisan cheesemakers, whereas today that number is a little above 30, according to Jeanne Carpenter, communications director of the Dairy Business Innovation Center (DBIC). In 2009, the most recent year for which figures are available, Wisconsin produced 477 million pounds of specialty cheese, 18 percent of its total cheese production. That’s a 40-million-pound leap over 2008 figures, courtesy of both newly minted cheesemakers and existing manufacturers who’ve adopted specialty items.

The most successful of Wisconsin’s artisan cheese producers are winning international awards and commanding top dollar in a market increasingly willing, even delighted, to expand its culinary repertoire. “People are beginning to appreciate different flavors in cheese beyond traditional cheddars, Muensters, and Monterey Jack. They want more intense flavors,” notes Mark Johnson, interim director of the CALS Center for Dairy Research. The shift into artisan cheese is so marked, and so needed, that Johnson is willing to call it a “salvation” for the small cheesemaker.

Small Wonder

Wisconsin has a state dance (the polka), a state fossil (the trilobite), a state beverage (milk, of course) and 18 other official state symbols. But a group of CALS bacteriologists say that honor roll neglects a major player in the Badger state’s quality of life: Lactococcus lactis.

Not familiar with the name? You probably know the bacterium better by its handiwork—namely, turning milk into Cheddar cheese. Cultures of Lactococcus lactis are at work in virtually every dairy plant in the state, driving an industry that contributes some $18 billion to the state’s economy each year.

That kind of impact warrants recognition, argues Rick Gourse, chair of the bacteriology department. Gourse and colleagues are pushing a state bill to designate Lactococcus as the official state microbe, which would make Wisconsin the first state to bestow such distinction on a microorganism. Sponsored by Rep. Gary Hebl, the bill passed the State Assembly in the spring but was not considered by the Senate. Hebl is pledging to reintroduce the bill during this fall’s legislative session.

“I thought this idea seemed frivolous at first,” Gourse admits. “I soon realized that it presents a unique opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of microbiological research for understanding and preventing disease. It also highlights the positive role of microbes in key Wisconsin industries, including cheese, brewing and bioenergy.”

Supporters also hope a state microbe would help counter public fears about germs, which often only get attention as causes of disease or illness. But if the Assembly’s first hearings on the bill are any indication, there’s still a lot of room for education on that point.

“During a presentation (about the bill), someone said, ‘I want to wash my hands, thinking about all these germs,’” recalls Michelle Rondon, a bacteriology faculty associate involved in the effort. “That’s exactly the kind of thinking we are trying to change. The vast majority of microorganisms are either innocuous or beneficial, and Lactococcus lactis is an excellent reminder of that fact.”

—Nicole Miller MS’06

Babcock's Artisans Spread Cheese Expertise

Anne Topham has been many places to talk about goat milk and cheese, but San Bernardo, Ecuador was different. The air was cold at 10,000 feet when she stepped off the bus after a five-hour ride up from Quito, and the street was dusty from months of drought. The village was practically vertical: simple, small houses and subsistence plots clinging to steep slopes of a deep, narrow mountain valley.

What she had come to talk about, though, was wonderfully familiar. Topham, who raises goats and makes cheese near Ridgeway, Wisconsin, made the journey to give farmers tips about caring for their new goat herds and trade ideas with the operator of the town’s new cheese plant.

“Cheesemakers love to talk to other cheesemakers,” she says.

CALS’ Babcock Institute for International Dairy Research exists to make sure that happens. For the past eight years, the institute has worked with state agencies to send Wisconsin dairy artisans around the globe to swap stories and share best practices. Such exchanges are mutually beneficial, says Babcock director Karen Nielsen.

“We want to help Wisconsin cheesemakers and other dairy product processors gain expertise so that they can compete in an international market,” she says. “And we’re using the same model to share Wisconsin’s dairy expertise to improve the health, nutrition and income of people living in poverty in Latin America.”

Topham was the first Wisconsin cheesemaker to participate in the exchange, traveling to France in 2003, a trip she says profoundly influenced the cheese she sells today. Since then, the program has sent cheesemakers to a dozen countries. Support from the UW Foundation’s Global Outreach Fund is helping extend the program to less-developed countries like Ecuador and Honduras. Babcock brought a group of Honduran cheesemakers to Wisconsin last year, and this year two dairy students from Honduras’ Zamorano Pan-American Agricultural School interned on Wisconsin dairy farms.

Topham’s visit to Ecuador was sparked by two Peace Corps volunteers who had read about the Honduran exchange through the Wisconsin Dairy Business Innovation Center. They convinced the Center to set up an exchange in San Bernardo, where they had recently introduced dairy goats to help local farmers find a more stable income. Topham gave the villagers tips on caring for their goats and showed them how to make ricotta for home use. But she says she learned at least as much from her hosts, noting that the local cheesemaker taught her how to make mozzarella.
“It was a true exchange,” she says.

Vintage Wisconsin

IF THINGS HAD PLAYED OUT JUST A LITTLE DIFFERENTLY, America’s love affair with wine might have started on a scenic hillside overlooking the Wisconsin River. In the middle of the 19th century, a Hungarian count named Agoston Haraszthy planted vineyards on those gentle slopes, hoping to introduce the European tradition of fine viticulture to America. But the harsh winters took their toll on both Haraszthy and his grapes, and after just seven years in Wisconsin he headed west. Eventually, he found his way to Sonoma, California, where he founded another vineyard and helped plant the seeds of California’s powerful wine industry.

Today, the fertile hills along the Wisconsin River are again planted with grapes, and Philippe Coquard sees signs that Haraszthy’s vision may finally be coming true. Coquard is chief winemaker at Wollersheim Winery, which has operated a vineyard on the banks of the Wisconsin River for 35 years. Winning both national and international recognition for his wines, Coquard has put Wisconsin on the wine world’s map. But these days,

Coquard has lots of company. Fifty-two commercial vineyards have sprouted in Wisconsin, and interest in viticulture is soaring. And that makes Coquard wonder: Could Wisconsin be known not just as the cheese state, but as the wine-and-cheese state?

“Wine and cheese are a natural pairing,” he says. “Wisconsin has a history of growing grapes since 1850. Once we know what varieties work here, we can grow grapes to make outstanding and recognized wines.”

The idea is compelling. Last year, Americans drank up 25 percent of the wine produced worldwide, making the United States the world’s leading consumer of wine for the first time. Combine that taste for wine with a growing interest in locally produced foods, and Wisconsin grape growers sense opportunity. “People actively go around the state looking for wineries,” says Ryan Prellwitz, president of the newly formed Wisconsin Grape Growers Association. “As our industry expands, people won’t have to go to California to find good quality wines.”

True, Wisconsin winters haven’t mellowed much since Haraszthy fled for the coast. But the new crop of Wisconsin wine growers have a one thing the Hungarian entrepreneur didn’t: the benefit of research. As part of a partnership with state grape growers, CALS’ Agricultural Research Stations have launched a new program to evaluate varieties of grapes that may be best suited for Wisconsin’s growing conditions. Supported by funds from the state’s Agricultural Development and Diversification Grant program, the trial began in 2007 with the planting of 15 varieties of seedless table grapes. Last year, researchers at three research stations—West Madison, Spooner and the Peninsular station near Sturgeon Bay—added wine grapes into the mix. Four red-wine grape cultivars and three white-wine grape cultivars were planted at all three sites, which were chosen for their differing climates. Another five varieties are being tested at West Madison and the Peninsular to test warmer-climate grapes.

Coquard, who helped get the research project off the ground, is already encouraged. “Grape growers in Wisconsin need information on what can grow in cold winters and hot, humid summers, when to prune, what kind of trellis systems work best for which cultivars, what spray will control fungus, et cetera. We at Wollersheim, with (our) experience, have most of these answers, but what works for us might not work at a different site. We don’t have the land or the time to sacrifice vines, either. There are also so many new cultivars available,” he says. “We are looking forward to seeing some true experimentation coming out of these trials.”

Wisconsin’s geography is surprisingly advantageous for growing wine grapes. In addition to deep, rich soils that are conducive to grape vines, our rolling hillsides protect grapes from high winds while allowing gentler breezes to blow through the plants, keeping frost damage at bay. The lakes and rivers that surround the state create a variety of microclimates that can suit the crop quite well. Several vineyards are located near the Mississippi River in Vernon County, with others along the Wisconsin River in Richland and Sauk counties and near Lake Michigan in Door County.

But geography also presents a challenge. “Grape growing is just so specific to the microclimate you are in,” says Julie Coquard of Wollersheim Winery. “It’s just a challenge to learn what to do all along the way, how to take care of (the vines).”

How to Study the Smell of Cheese

SO YOU’RE WELL ALONG IN DEVELOPING THIS GREAT NEW CHEDDAR. You sample a piece from a trial run, and you notice this funny aroma. Kind of reminds you of gym socks. Can this Cheddar be saved? Here’s how researchers in UW-Madison’s food science department tackle the problem.

  • Extract the flavor molecules. Cheese aromas are created by the release of volatile compounds within the cheese. To identify which of those compounds might be causing an offensive smell, you have to capture them for study. The first step is to grate a pound of cheese and soak it in diethyl ether to create a solution.
  • Separate the volatile compounds from the milk fat and solid parts of the cheese. There are several ways to do this. A common one, a solid phase micro extraction (SPME) fiber system, acts kind of like flypaper for volatile compounds. You condition the fiber so that certain types of volatile chemicals adhere to it, leaving the parts of the cheese that have nothing to do with its aroma behind.
  • Identify the individual compounds in the aroma. A cheese might contain dozens of different compounds that contribute to its aroma. Scientists sort them out by sending volatile compounds down a long tube inside a gas chromatograph. Because each compound has a unique molecular weight, the compounds arrive at the other end of the tube in a specific order. The chromatograph then compares each compound’s molecular fingerprint to a database of 130,000 known volatile compounds to identify and label it.
  • Run each of these compounds past a human nose. At the same time, a researcher takes a big whiff of each compound as it arrives at the end of the tube. This human “sniffer” uses a joystick and microphone to describe the intensity of the aroma. Scientists can then compare the sniffer’s report to the chromatograph record to pin down the source of any offending aromas.
  • Go back to the cheese. Most often the culprit can be traced to the presence of spoilage bacteria, yeast or mold in the system, perhaps due to poor milk quality or poor handling techniques. On the other hand, these same techniques can be used to identify pleasing aromas that can be amplified in the cheesemaking process.

The Case for Queso

Everyone knows about Wisconsin cheese—but that doesn’t mean that everyone likes it. For many Latino consumers, for instance, our cheese just doesn’t cut it.

“It’s not viewed as authentic,” says Scott Rankin, an associate professor of food science. “When a (Latino) consumer sees a package of blended Colby, Jack and Cheddar labeled ‘Mexican-style’ cheese, it’s almost insulting.”

With the growth of the Latino population in the United States, Latin American-style cheeses have become one of the U.S. dairy industry’s fastest-growing markets. Production of these cheeses jumped about 36 percent from 2003 to 2006, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. But Latino consumers are also “very attuned to a cheese’s performance, such as melting qualities,” says Rankin. “The shape, color and package all have to work.”

For the past two years, Rankin has studied Latin American cheeses to learn why American-made ones don’t measure up. With graduate student Luis Jimenez-Maroto and postdoctoral researcher Arnoldo Lopez-Hernandez, he has analyzed the chemical, microbiological and physical components of three popular types of cheese sold in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

The team found that some American-made cheeses compare favorably to the taste of authentic Latin American cheeses, which have a simple flavor meant to complement other foods. But there were other differences between these cheeses that may factor as heavily as taste.
One of the biggest surprises was the importance of packaging and marketing. Cheeses from Mexico are usually round and prominently display the red, white and green colors of the Mexican flag on their labels. In Mexico, these cheeses are often sliced from larger blocks directly in the store. “The experience of buying cheese is important,” says Rankin, noting that consumers typically have close relationships with merchants and show strong loyalty to local varieties.

Partly because American-made cheeses don’t offer the same experience, there’s now a growing black market for authentic Latin American cheeses, which raises concerns about food safety. And that may be all the more reason for Wisconsin cheesemakers to take a closer look at the Latino market.

“There is no great technological hurdle to making this change,” Rankin says. “The cultural change on the part of American producers is the hardest thing right now.”

Catch up with…Mark Crave

GROWING UP WITH FOUR BROTHERS, Mark Crave BS’88 learned early how to play well with others. On the Craves’ farm near Waterloo, Wis., he and brothers Charles, George and Tom (all graduates of CALS’ Farm and Industry Short Course) share the duties-and the honors, too. They’ve won a pile of awards for their artisan cheese, made in a factory on the farm, and at last year’s World Dairy Expo, the four jointly earned the title of Dairymen of the Year.

For some of us, it’s hard to imagine running a business with siblings. How do you and your brothers do it?

Well, it’s difficult for me to answer that because I’ve done it for so long.We try to show people that we do things from the field to the cows to the cheese-every step.There are definitely different dynamics to being in a family business. It forces you to do a lot of things that you should do anyway in any profession-treat each other with respect, as adults, as professionals-and if you do those things you get along pretty well. It’s when you revert back to some of your childhood tendencies or carry a lot of baggage that you start running into trouble

Which of you has the hardest job?

I’d say that I’m the key … Seriously, it’s pretty complex. I’m the herd manager, and I’m responsible for all of the cattle and all of the people that take care of the cattle. If this were a factory, my role would be production manager, because everything we do, be it growing crops or fixing tractors or changing tires, it all comes back to producing milk. That’s our only revenue stream here-producing milk and selling surplus livestock.

For a lot of family-run businesses, the key to success is sticking to tradition-if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So how do you keep the business fresh and new?

It’s definitely a balancing act between using the experience you have and incorporating it into new technology. And to be honest, I think a lot of progressive farmers have done a good job of doing that. We’ve always tried to take what we know, look at the new technology and say, ‘Okay, this makes sense to us because of the background we have,’ whether it be from our experience as farmers or our education.

So why did having the cheese factory on the farm make sense to you?

We’re in the specialty cheese business, so we do have to differentiate ourselves. You used the term ‘fresh,’ and that’s really a proper term-we try to keep it fresh and we try to bring people out to the farm. We try to show people that we do things from the field to the cows to the cheese-every step. And that’s what seems to get people excited. It’s a good-quality product, and we can show them where it comes from.

One cool feature of your web site is that each of your wives contributed recipes using your products. Are they involved in any other areas of your business?

George’s wife, Debbie, works full-time with the cheese factory-she helped develop the web site. My wife has a full-time job, so she has no day-to-day involvement with the farm, other than what I tell her over the dinner table.

Do you have a favorite recipe?

I like a lot of them, but one of the favorites is the one that (my wife) Tina contributed-the toffee torte. It’s rich and good after a holiday meal or something like that or with a cup of coffee. It’s a family recipe that she modified to use our cheese.

Ron Paris

When Ron Paris began turning milk from his neighbor’s farm into cream-line yogurt, he figured he might sell a few gallons to locals in cheese-crazy Green County. But Sugar River Dairy, which he runs with his wife, Chris, an alum of the UW-Madison dance program, has earned fans throughout Wisconsin. The Parises now churn out 4,000 pounds of yogurt a week in their Albany, Wis., dairy, and they are mainstays at Madison and Milwaukee farmers’ markets. Ron also has worked with a local distributor to bring artisan dairy products like his own to customers’ doors.

A Whole New WHEY

FOR JESSICA ZIMMERMAN, a fifth-grader at Northside Elementary School in Middleton, Wis., lunch is the most trying meal of the day. Because of a rare genetic condition that makes protein act like poison inside her body, Jessica can’t eat most of the things fifth-graders eat: no hot dogs, no chicken strips, no eggs, milk or cheese. If she were to eat any of these foods, an amino acid called phenylalanine would collect in her bloodstream and travel straight to her brain, where it would cause her to lose concentration on her studies and play havoc with her emotions.

Instead, Jessica follows a prescribed diet stricter than any vegan’s. A typical packed lunch includes a sandwich of artificial cheese on homemade, protein-free bread, a piece of fruit and mineral water. But the really awful part is what she must drink: a foul-smelling, milky-white beverage that provides virtually all of her dietary protein. Blended fresh daily by her mother, Ann, the beverage is a cocktail of amino acids specially designed for people with Jessica’s condition, known as phenylketonuria, or PKU. Jessica drinks this concoction three times a day, even though she hates the way it tastes and how it makes her breath smell.

At school, kids sometimes teased her for drinking “baby formula,” and now she refuses to drink it there, opting to wait until she gets home. But without her mid-day dose of amino acids, Jessica’s mind drifts in afternoon classes.

“Controlling Jessica’s phenylalanine levels poses constant dilemmas no kid should have to face,” Ann Zimmerman says. “A small Rice Krispie treat or a small order of French fries is a rare delight, which requires Jessie to be extra diligent that day. She never gets a day off. Not on her birthday, not on Halloween, not on Christmas.”

It’s unfair, Ann thinks, that food could be so cruel.

IN A LABORATORY-CUM-KITCHEN in Babcock Hall, Kathy Nelson, a researcher at the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, measures ingredients on a digital scale before throwing them in a mixing bowl. She’s making a batch of strawberry pudding, her favorite in a line of foods she designed for Jessica Zimmerman and others with PKU. These items may soon be the first protein-rich foods Jessica ever eats.

The reason?

Nelson’s foods contain a secret ingredient: a unique protein derived from whey, the liquid byproduct of cheesemaking.

For the 15,000 people in the United States with PKU, protein is usually a problem because their bodies lack the enzyme responsible for breaking down phenylalanine, one of the 20 major amino acids that form proteins. All of the proteins we eat in everyday foods contain phenylalanine, and because of that, diet is a chore for people with PKU. A little phenylalanine is essential. But excess amounts can stay in the body indefinitely and interfere with brain function. Too much phenylalanine leads to “an inability to concentrate and focus,” says Sally Gleason, a nutritional counselor and case manager who works with individuals with PKU at UW-Madison’s Waisman Center, one of the nation’s premier centers for PKU research. “They also face emotional problems and depression.” The only solution for Jessica is to heavily supplement her diet with the amino-acid shake, which is specially formulated to exclude phenylalanine.

In the late 1990s, however, CALS food scientist Mark Etzel found another option: a protein known as glycomacropeptide. GMP turns out to be the only dietary protein in nature that doesn’t contain phenylalanine. And the only place you can find GMP is in whey, which is produced when milk curdles to form cheese curds. Working for the WCDR, a largely farmer-funded organization dedicated to supporting the dairy industry, Etzel developed a method to isolate and purify large quantities of GMP from whey, some 22 billion pounds of which are generated by Wisconsin’s cheese plants every year. In fact, for every one pound of cheese, dairy plants end up with nine pounds of whey.