by: Beth Rotto, Cheese Buyer
Thirty Co-op members and friends took a day trip together this fall, heading east for a Co-op Cheese and Apple Bus trip. Everyone seemed to have a great time visiting some of our local producers and enjoying the beauty of the season. Our tour began at Jaime Bjornson’s Countryside Orchard near Lansing, Iowa. There we learned about the challenges of organic apple production, while enjoying a misty morning in a beautiful setting. If you think apple growers plant trees and then wait around to pick perfect fruit in the fall, you are mistaken. Raising organic apples requires careful planning, choosing disease resistant varieties, attracting beneficial insects, and providing natural biological and cultural methods of pest control as well as constant vigilance and hard work. Don’t take your organic apples for granted.
Our next stop was Mount Sterling Co-op Creamery, just over the Mississippi, where award winning goat cheese is produced. We sampled several varieties including Country Jack cheese, which was so good that we’ve added it to our line of Mount Sterling cheeses in the Co-op cheese case. Mount Sterling is a producer-owned and operated cooperative, incorporated in 1976.
Our second tour was at the Cedar Grove Cheese Company outside of Plain, Wisconsin. Here we heard just how cheese is made and understood it better as we looked at the equipment and layout of the plant. Unique to Cedar Grove is the Living Machine, which is designed to be a working ecosystem using microbes and a collection of hydroponic plants to clean the many gallons of wash water used in the plant.
Our most in-depth tour was at Uplands Cheese, a family-run dairy farm near Dodgeville, Wisconsin. Here, milk from grass-fed cows is used to make an artisan, farmstead cheese called Pleasant Ridge Reserve. We donned hairnets and booties and got right into the “caves.” We really got an education. We learned just how much attention and care goes into artisan cheeses, made by hand in small batches. The cheese makers there received our applause when they let us know they had received Best of Show (out of 1400 entries) at the recent American Cheese Society’s annual competition.
On to Mineral Point, Wisconsin where we had time for lunch in a restaurant of our choosing and just a little extra time to be intrigued with the shops and history in this small Cornish mining town. We could have lingered, but we had one more appointment. Our last stop was at Peake’s Apple Orchard between Waukon and Decorah. Here we took a hayride through the trees, enjoying the beauty of a crisp, cool afternoon, and again, we appreciated the hard work required to bring in the harvest. We sampled several kinds of apples and many indulged in an Apple Sundae. The super easy recipe follows!