There are few things in life that excites me as much as finding a new really good cheese. I am not sure if my husband has it easy or hard because of that. Last year Hubs planned a surprise 29th birthday party for me and as part of the surprise we ended up at Wollersheim Winery. The wine was fantastic, the friends were fun and we had an awesome time. As we were shopping for wine at the end of the tour we came across a little table with some cheese on it. One little piece was all it took and I was hooked on this cheese like a Kardashian is hooked on being on camera.
So please let me introduce you the the king of the cheese drawer in our house. World, meet Montamore from Sartori cheese. Yes, if you read this blog with any regularity you’ve seen me talk about my love for this cheese. But today’s post isn’t just about Montamore. Today’s post is about the Sartori family, their factory and the cheese that’s taking the cheese world by storm.
One of the perks of this blog is the opportunities it has created for me to meet people that I normally wouldn’t have an excuse to meet. When June Dairy Month came around I set out to highlight some of my favorite Wisconsin companies and one call to Sartori and I had the ultimate field trip to the Northwoods planned. While I had hoped to interview someone from Sartori, I never expected to be invited to not only tour the cheese plant but actually make cheese with their master cheesemaker and then take a trip to meet one of the families that ship their milk to Sartori. I hung up the phone and called my husband. His first thought when hearing the glee in my voice was that I had just purchased a herd of the cutest cows in the world… that’s right, I love this cheese as much as I love cows.
So the biggest question I had for the folks at Sartori after I found out that they have been in business for over 70 years is how in the world had I only just discovered them in the last year? It seems that they have been burning up the awards stages at cheese shows for years but until about 6 years ago they only sold their cheese wholesale to other companies that used it as an ingredient in their products. Then one day the folks had a thought, they knew their cheese was good, they all kept it on hand for eating, why weren’t they sharing their cheese with the rest of the world? That stroke of genius has enabled the rest of us to enjoy the quality work that goes into each wheel and block of Sartori cheese and now I get to share my day with Sartori!
It was a beautiful day to check out the Sartori factory in Antigo Wisconsin. Sartori also makes cheese in Plymouth Wisconsin but they make a greater variety in Antigo so that’s where I went.
This semi truck is filled with milk that will become Sartori cheese. Every farm’s milk is tested and each semi load of milk is tested for quality and antibiotics. Hard to imagine but if this load of milk tested positive for antibiotics, the entire semi would be dumped.
Each load is tested for antibiotic residue and several other quality indicators such as Butterfat and Protein content of the milk as well as Somatic Cell Count an indicator of udder health of the cows that produce the milk.
I was so excited about making cheese I wouldn’t have cared if I was told I had to wear a hula skirt and coconut bra. Thankfully Sartori provided me with a uniform, just don’t look at my butt. They are extremely careful to make sure they keep their plant clean and street clothes aren’t allowed in the plant. Pasteurization and adding the bacterial cultures that make their distinct cheese are the first steps for the milk.
Here the curds and whey are pumped into a big tank. I was enthralled with this part. So many curds!
So since I am a cheese curd lover I had to stop the tour at this point and ask if I could try some of the curds. Mike, the Master Cheesemaker at Sartori who was showing me around, yes we are on a first name basis because I am cool like that, scooped up a handful for me to try. They were warm and they tasted like…. not much actually. Proof that not all curds are created equal. These curds really shine after they are pressed into rounds and aged.
So you know that cheesecloth stuff you use when you’re cooking or canning?You don’t cook or can? Then just pretend you do. It is a real thing and it’s called cheese cloth because it holds cheese curds in. Surprise! Here I am putting the cloth into the plastic “hoop” that will shape the cheese. Sartori switched to plastic hoops instead of metal because they are lighter and aren’t as loud when they are banged around, which makes the folks making the cheese much happier.
The guys that put the curd into the hoops have it down to a science. They can look at the hoop and know if a hoop is heavy or light on curd, but they do weigh it just to check. I am wrapping the ends of the cheesecloth over the top of the curd and placing the plastic circle that fits inside the hoop on it. In case you haven’t noticed, I am beaming from ear to ear in all of these pictures. Why? because I LOVE CHEESE!
The hoops are all turned on their sides in big rows. Then they are all squeezed together to get all the extra moisture out. I am not smiling here because I am concentrating really hard. I was scared I would tip these all over and spill the curds on the ground and that would be a tragedy.
After the cheese is squeezed checked over, it’s flipped and squeezed again.
Once the cheese is squeezed to the proper point it’s time to de-hoop it. Here I am peeling the cheesecloth off and checking the wheels over. About this time I also realized that making cheese is hot, heavy and wet work, but I am still smiling!
Cheese needs salt and the cheese at Sartori gets to swim in a brine. The cheese in this picture is actually stacked several deep in the brine tank.
So this was a lot of fun. This might have also been the part of the tour where the kind folks at Sartori started to rethink their decision to allow me into their plant. The only way to get the cheese to the back of the tank? Throw it! Wheeee!!!!! Also, my aim isn’t very good but they say I didn’t screw anything up too badly. They might have just been being nice.
Wheeeee! Splash! Whoops! ….. repeat.
So the cheese that Sartori makes is all aged for the perfect amount of time in this climate controlled room. I could live in this room. The cheese just keeps going on and on and on!
Sartori makes several types of cheese that get rubbed with herbs and spices or soaked in yummy things like Merlot wine, Espresso or New Glarus Brewery’s Berry Tart. After it comes out of the ageing room I got to smear several wheels of BellaVitano with black pepper. Let me tell you, that room smelled delicious!
A huge thank you goes out to all of the Sartori Cheese employees for allowing me to crash their work day, slow them down, take a million pictures and in general interrupt their work day. I really enjoyed talking to each one of the folks I met that day and an extra special thanks goes out to Mike Matucheski for letting me pick his brain and showing me the passion he has for his craft.
So I got to make cheese. I got to make one of my most favorite cheeses of all time. I got to meet the guy that’s behind the cheese. I got to meet the hard working folks at Sartori in Antigo and then…..
And then they took me into the conference room and I got to try every cheese that Sartori makes. I almost shed a tear in happiness! I thought that I had tried all of the cheese that they made and I was wrong! I didn’t even know that they were making Extra Aged Goat Cheese. The Mediterranean Fontina was garlicy and delicious and the Limited Edition Cannella BellaVitano was out of this world!
So after a morning of making cheese and then eating cheese the awesome folks are Sartori took me out to tour one of the farms that sends their milk to Sartori. The Schropefer family was kind enough to show me around their farm. They had just hosted the Langlade County Breakfast on the Farm the previous weekend so I know they were probably already behind on chores but they were kind enough to take time out for a tour. I love meeting farmers and of course I loved seeing their cows. No surprise, I was talking too much and didn’t take as many pictures as I could of.
The first order of business was for the kids to show me their new baby kittens! Barn cats always find the most interesting places to have their babies.
The Schroepfer family milks about 165 cows on their farm and raises crops on about 700 acres and is now in it’s 3rd generation of ownership by the Schroepfer family.
I am really proud to be a part of the cheese and dairy industry here in Wisconsin. I love to introduce the cheese that our farmers and cheesemakers craft so well. I really would like you all to find some Sartori cheese and try it out. Heck, just go buy yourself any cheese and as you enjoy it take a moment to think about the work and passion that went into producing that cheese. From the cows, to the farmers, to the cheesemakers, to your plate, with love and pride from Wisconsin to you…. Yum.
Have you tried Sartori cheese? Be sure to show them some love on Facebook, follow them on Twitter and check out where you can buy Sartori where you live here!