The best cows in the state are shown at the Wisconsin State Fair, so it stands to reason they are the ones that make the best milk for the best cheese.
At least that is how Mark Lutz is thinking. Lutz is the owner of West Allis Cheese and Sausage Shoppe. His business is partnering with the Wisconsin State Fair Dairy Promotion Board to sell Select Sharp Cheddar, an exclusive 1-year-old cheese made from milk produced by cows exhibited at the 2016 Wisconsin State Fair.
“This is something new this year,” said Katy Katzman with the state fair promotion group. “We were trying to come up with a unique idea for something to do with the milk last year.”
The cheese will be featured through August and sold in approximately 1-pound blocks at Lutz’s original store at 6832 W. Becher St. in West Allis and a second location in the Milwaukee Public Market downtown.
“(The dairy promotion board) approached me about their making the cheese with the milk and having it exclusive, and I said, ‘Noooo, problem!’ ” Lutz said, laughing.
Although Lutz was more than happy to market the finished cheese, Katzman said it can be a struggle to find a dairy plant for a project like this, because state licensing laws, product liability questions and commingling issues make some plants hesitant to take milk from fairs and other dairy shows.
Another hurdle many processors face is that they are too big to take on the milk, according to Phil Van Patenhove, president of Gibbsville Cheese where the Select Sharp Cheddar was produced.
“It came as 14,000 pounds of milk at a time, so my vats are like 16,000 (pound capacity). Most plants now, their vats are 30,000 or 40,000 pounds,” Van Patenhove said. “They can’t deal with that little milk.”
The state fair milking parlor, built in 2003, is licensed for Grade A milk, which exceeds requirements for cheese milk, so safety and quality were not issues. Van Patenhove said he got two bulk tanker deliveries and was able to produce about 2,800 pounds of cheese — 66 40- to 42-pound blocks — that went into storage for aging last August. When he pulled sample plugs last week, he deemed it “a nice, sharp cheese.”
Lutz also got a taste.
“Oh, it was really nice. After a year it was still kind of soft and creamy. Excellent cheese,” Lutz said. “It’s just a really good, typical sharp Cheddar cheese. Better than average, I would say, by far.”
Profits from the sale of milk to Gibbsville Cheese and of the cheese to the public go to the State Fair Dairy Promotion Board, which uses it for scholarships and to support consumer education through daily milking demonstrations and the House of Moo at the Wisconsin State Fair.
Van Patenhove said he was happy to help out the promotion board with their 2016 milk but won’t be able to take any this year. Instead, milk from cows entered in the junior and open dairy shows and from the demonstration herd will go to Clock Shadow Creamery in downtown Milwaukee. Lutz said he is in conversations with owner and cheesemaker Bob Wills about a couple of cheese options for the 2017 milk, which will be unveiled around fair time next year.
The whole idea of putting state fair milk into a Wisconsin cheese that will be marketed in a Wisconsin specialty cheese store only eight blocks from State Fair Park all ties together well for Lutz.
“If I can tie it all together with the industry that I get my products from, it works out great,” Lutz said. “And if they can get a little money to put back into their industry, that’s better yet.”