Wednesday, May 22, 2013


A recent piece by our friends over at Wisconsin Life.  Probably one of the most succinct summaries of why we love our home so much.

Take a listen!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Brewing the Viking Whey: Blaand

This weekend is Syttende Mai, which commemorates Norway's independence from Denmark in 1814. There are impressive Styyende Mai celebrations happening in Norwegian neighborhoods throughout the state but, if you happen to be in southern Wisconsin, the city of Stoughton throws an awesome Syttende Mai shindig that dates back to 1868. Skal, y'all!

In honor of Syttende Mai, and our state's reputation for fabulous cheese, my Norwegian-American fiancé and I are brewing a couple batches of a lesser-known Viking beverage. Sure, almost everyone has heard of, or sampled, mead. But very few people know about blaand, and I have yet to find anyone (in Wisconsin, at least) who has ever sampled the beverage. Perhaps for good reason-- blaand is made from fermented whey. Yes, the byproduct of cheese making! As the story goes, Vikings would bring casks full of whey on their voyages at sea. By the time they reached their destination, the Vikings would have a fermented, boozy beverage. Unfortunately for the modern day brewer, there isn't much written about blaand. And there certainly isn't any recipe to follow. So. We're blazing new frontier here. After pillaging the local homebrew store for a few simple ingredients, our mission to brew a contemporary approximation of Viking blaand was underwhey. (see what I did just there? :D)
For our four test batches, we used a few strains of brewer's yeast, hops, and various grain blends. We purchased these supplies at the Wine and Hop Shop on Monroe Street in Madison, WI.

This morning at 6am, we drove up to Willow Creek Cheese in Berlin, WI. The owners generously donated two, five-gallon buckets of fresh goat's milk whey for our Viking blaand experiment. Thanks, Willow Creek Cheese! The whey doesn't look like much. Two big buckets of glossy white liquid. If you have cats, watch your back when the lids come off of the whey buckets. We managed to snap this shot without any feline tampering, but it must smell like cat ambrosia. 
Two buckets of fresh goat's milk whey from Willow Creek Cheese in Berlin, WI.

We reduced the whey in a propane powered turkey fryer.

We're brewing four, 1-gallon test batches in various styles. Because most brewing yeast cannot digest lactose, we decided to make one standard blaand and a couple of blaand/beer hybrids in order to see which variety will be 1) most successful--read: most fermented, and 2) most flavorful. Here's the line-up:
1) Straight-up blaand: Containing only reduced whey and lambic blend yeasts.
2) Milk Stout: Traditional recipe with reduced whey substituted for brew water.
3) Milk Stout with lambic yeasts: Traditional recipe with reduced whey substituted for brew water, plus the addition of lambic yeasts.
4) Scotch Ale: Traditional recipe with unreduced whey substituted for brew water.
After a day of brewing, all of the batches are in the fermenters and ready to go. Friends who've heard about this project have joked that we should take the fermenters on a canoe trip in order to add extra authenticity but, for now, they're stashed safely in the basement. Some of the lambic batches will age for close to a year and we'll uncork them during Syttende Mai 2014. The hybrid batches will be ready to sample in a few short weeks. If there are any brave Madison-based readers who want to give this stuff a whirl, let me know in the comments! 

Stay tuned for more adventures in Wisconsin whey brewing later this summer...

Monday, May 13, 2013

Limburger: A Wisconsin Favorite

Yes, we are More Than Curds.  But does that mean we should shun our beloved dairy form our blog?  I think not.  Although we here at MTC strive to bring you an overview of Wisconsin that reaches far beyond the simplistic cheese, beer, and Packers stereotype, we also must admit that we really love our cheese, beer, and Packers!  So having said that, I present you one of our most traditional and unique cheeses from Wisconsin: Limburger.

America's last Limburger-er
Yes, Limburger.  The name alone will conjure images of cartoon mice that won’t eat the infamously stinky cheese.  But I believe that was drawn by one who has never tasted the amazing taste and texture of Limburger.  Yes, it has a pungency to it, but Limburger is fantastically delicious.  And it’s only made here in Wisconsin.  At one time, Limburger was a favorite working-man’s cheese and was produced by about 25 cheese factories, though it’s popularity waned as the American palate for cheese favored bland, mass-produced cheeses that didn’t require much care.

We begin driving south, to Monroe.  Limburger, although originally from Germany (or Belgium, depending on who you ask), is now only traditionally made by hand in one place: Chalet Cheese Cooperative.  Myron Olson, the only Master Cheesemaker in Limburger in the world, is our guide.  This man is so into his Limburger that even his license plate sings its praises.  The Chalet Cheese Co-op was founded in 1885 by five farmers as a cheese co-op and still operates as a co-op with 21 family farms today.  Myron got his start in the factory as a janitor when he was in high school and worked his way up into the age-old craft of cheesemaking.

Myron's array of awards for his world-class cheese

The Co-op brings in 100,000 pounds of milk  (roughly 11,000 gallons) a day, which might sound like a lot, but is actually quite small for a cheese factory (some larger plants are processing over two million pounds a day!).  The cheese is pasteurized and then taken to the vat for coagulation.  Bacterial cultures and enzymes are added to separate the curds from the whey (at this point you have what is essentially cottage cheese).  The whey is drained and the curds are pressed into small blocks.

Coagulating the milk
Cutting the curd
Hand-washing the cheese
Once the blocks are formed is when the real magic happens.  Unaged Limburger is a lot like Feta: salt and crumbly.  To produce soft texture, buttery flavor, and pungent aroma the cheese must be ripened in a special aging room.  They get a bath of special bacteria and yeast which works on breaking down the proteins in the cheese.  Only at Chalet is this done by hand.  The room is kept at a cool 50 degrees with about 80% humidity.  When the cheese plant moved to its current location in the 1960’s, they found that the cheese wasn’t ripening properly.  They went to the original plant and brought in a few of the pine boards from the old aging room and found that the natural cultures in the wood is what did the trick!  They still use this same culture as when the plant opened in the 1880’s.

Myron is the last Limburger maker in the country, though he is starting to see its popularity come around.  Most people born after 1960 don't care for the full-flavored cheese, but as artisinal cheese becomes more popular, he's hoping Limburger will too. Maybe it's just the name--if was named "Olson's Private Reserved Washed-Rind cheese", then maybe more people would be more likely to try it!

Young Limburger will have a mild flavor and firm texture.  As it gets older, the texture will soften and the smell will get really intense!  For beginners, I usually serve a medium Limburger with the rind cut off.  The way my German grandpa and I eat it is old and smelly!  For a true Wisconsin lunch, serve it on pumpernickel rye with Dusseldorf mustard and raw onions.  All washed down with a beer, of course!


Friday, May 10, 2013

2013 World-Wide Mustard Competition

Recently, More Than Curds was asked to help judge the 2013 World-Wide Mustard Competition at the National Mustard Museum. The Museum is located in Middleton, WI and stocks hundreds of varieties of mustard that curious patrons can sample and purchase.

On the day of the judging, roughly 60 individuals showed up to taste and score mustards for the preliminary round of championship judging. Our very own Greg Long and Erin Ellison were among the lucky participants!

This was the most popular judging strategy: the spoon starburst. 
Most people are familiar with yellow mustards and spicy Dijon, but the Mustard Competition presented a whopping 16 categories of mustard to be sampled and critiqued. The mustards in question were entered by mustard makers from countries all over the world including: Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Africa, Poland, Germany, Sweden, France, England, and Canada.
The mustard categories were as follows: SWEET-HOT, HONEY MUSTARD, CLASSIC DIJON (SMOOTH), WHOLE GRAIN/COARSE GRAINED, CLASSIC HOT, PEPPER HOT, HORSERADISH/WASABI, HERB/VEGET ABLE, GARLIC, FRUIT, SPIRIT, AMERICAN YELLOW, DELI/BROWN, EXOTIC, MUSTARD BASED SALAD DRESSINGS, and MUSTARD BASED BBQ SAUCES, GLAZES, OR MARINADES. Erin and Greg were in the group of judges who sampled coarse mustards (a great category because of the wide variety of flavors and textures), and the ill-fated hot mustard category. 

The coarse mustard category was so expansive that there were nearly 40 entries to be scored. All mustards were presented on a platter in small plastic containers. Each container was labeled with an anonymous post-it label for impartial judging; however, if a participant was really curious about a particular entry, the "mustard grand master" would divulge the name of a mustard after that category had been judged. Some competing entries were even available for purchase in the museum gift shop. Most judges started out the afternoon feeling pretty enthusiastic about mustard. But by the end of the day, the thought of bringing home a jar of mustard (or even consuming the condiment in the coming week) was off-putting. If there's such a thing as a mustard overdose, Erin and Greg certainly experienced it. 

Most of the hot mustards hailed from Asia and were insanely spicy. After a few samples from this category, members in the judging cohort began sweating and chugging water like it was going out of style. All sinus cavities were cleared out after this round of judging! The hot mustards are not for the faint of heart.

The final round of mustard judging will wrap up at the Milwaukee Public Market in Milwaukee, WI. If you have any interest in being a judge for the 2014 World-Wide Mustard Competition, please apply through the National Mustard Museum's website