Explore Wisconsin With These 13 Cheeses

It is hard to think of a food and place more synonymous than Wisconsin and cheese. It is literally called The State of Cheese. Wisconsin artisan cheesemakers have been making cheese for over 180 years — before Wisconsin was even a state, notes Wisconsin Cheese. In the 1830s and 1840s, European immigrants arrived in Wisconsin, bringing their cheesemaking traditions and expertise. Decades later, in the 1910s, the state was finally awarded the title of No. 1 dairy producer in the nation and got the name "America's Dairyland." Wisconsin is home to one of only two master cheesemaker programs in the world, and the local cheeses have won over 5,500 awards since 1995, says Wisconsin Cheese.

This past year, seven Wisconsin kinds of cheese ranked among the 20 best at World Championship Cheese Contest. With over 100 cheesemaking companies in the state, the selection is endless. Fear not, we compiled a list of cheeses to start with on your Wisconsin cheese journey.

Klondike Odyssey Peppercorn Feta

Not all feta is Greek — Klondike Cheese Company has been making feta since 1988. Feta is that perfect crumbly, squeaky cheese that has a soft mouthfeel and a bit of tangy brine. It is usually made from whole sheep's milk or a combination of sheep's and goat's milk. The brininess comes from a salty brine that the cheese is pickled in. As feta ages, the cheese block gets firmer and saltier.

Recently, feta had a moment because of a viral TikTok recipe. Grocery stores couldn't keep it in stock once this baked feta pasta dish took the world by storm. This black pepper feta will take this recipe to new heights. There are tons of ways to incorporate feta — making a dip, crumbling it on salads, spanikopita, or in a quiche. Klondike Odyssey Peppercorn Feta took first place at the 2022 American Cheese Society (ACS) Competition. The addition of black peppercorns gives it an earthy bite. It comes in 4-oz, 6-oz crumble form, and an additional 8-oz chunk form.

Saxony Alpine Style

This first-place winner at the 2022 American Cheese Society (ACS) Competition is an American take on traditional alpine-style cheese. Alpine cheese comes in a large wheel and is known for being distinctly nutty, and some are coated with herbs and edible flowers. Saxony Alpine Cheese is made using summer milk from pasture grazed cows which gives it an additional grassiness and freshness. Like the animals in the French and Swiss Alps, the cows at Saxony graze in different areas depending on the season, so each wheel has taste variations.

Saxony's cows graze on two-to-six acres of fresh pasture that offer 35 plant species, from grasses, fescues, clovers, alfalfa, and trefoil, notes the site. The wheels are made with freshly squeezed milk that ages in caves and then overseen by an in-house affineur until it is deliciously firm with roasted hazelnut and grass notes. This style of cheese can age well and will become more complex with time. It is also known to melt well and is a perfect cheese for potato gratin.

Red Barn Vintage Cupola

Biting into a slice of Red Barn Vintage Cupola is a pleasure-dome of smooth and supple texture with Pop Rocks-esque explosions of crystalization. Flavors are layered with caramelization, nuttiness, and even a tropical vibe from notes of pineapple. Made for Red Barn Family Farms, this is a raw milk cheese handcrafted in small batches at Door Artisan Cheese Company in Egg Harbor, Wisconsin. It is aged for three years, and the richness of that aging time comes through.

It's a thought-provoking style that pairs well with tropical fruits, funky ciders, smoky charcuterie, and orange wine. It's great for melting and will bring your risotto to new levels. In addition to being ridiculously delicious, Red Barn's mission is to advocate for ethical dairy farming and to give small producers leverage in the market. The name "Cupola" comes from the traditional toppers of Wisconsin barns to showcase alliance with local farms, notes the site.

Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve

Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve is highly revered across the country, having won numerous awards. In fact, Pleasant Ridge is the most-awarded cheese in American history, and this is another example of an alpine-style cheese made from raw summer cow's milk. The milk comes from nine different cow breeds. It gets a lovely sweetness and freshness from the grass-fed dairy, and the washed rind gives it a savory nutty flavor.

When it is young, it has some floral characteristics and brightness, and as it ages, the flavors deepen into a caramelized note. Inspired by Beaufort, the texture is firm yet creamy on the palate. Pair it by matching the nutty notes with an aged cava from Penedes DO, made by Agusti Torello Mata, or a Vin Jaune from the Jura. This cheese and an oxidative wine together is an umami party. If you want to temper the cheese's nuttiness, play opposites attract and opt for some slices of pear or grilled pineapple.

Sartori Chardonnay BellaVitano

Founded in 1939 by Italian immigrant Paolo Sartori, Sartori Cheese has a deep connection to the famous cheeses of Italy. Today, Sartori has won over 330 of the most prestigious awards worldwide, notes the brand's site. Sartori Chardonnay BellaVitano is a rich and creamy cheddar-like parmesan hybrid that has been washed in chardonnay, giving it a brightness and tropical essence. This cheese screams spring and summer vibes. As it ages, it will acquire a slightly crunchy feel from calcium crystals (calcium lactate). So, of course, chardonnay is the perfect pairing for this cheese.

Raeburn and Kenwood both offer chardonnays with a slight buttery note that will match that of the cheese, as well as an acidic lift to balance the pairing. Nibbles of dried apricots and figs are an excellent complement to slices of the BellaVitano. Still, this cheese can also be used as shaving cheese to add complexity to salads, flatbreads, and pasta. It is also meltable and makes gorgeous gooey strands when added to a panini.

Marieke Gouda Plain Young

It's all gouda, baby. This young gouda from Marieke is a mild cheese with hints of sweetness. It is made with fresh raw milk from the family farm, and the wheels are made using Old World techniques and aged for two-to-four months on Dutch pine planks. Marieke is female-owned and operated by Marieke Penterman, who was born and raised in the Netherlands on a dairy farm. In May 2002, she founded Marieke in Thorp, Wisconsin.

It is now a 350-cow dairy farm that makes authentic Dutch Gouda. Due to its young age, this gouda is still soft and milky and pairs deliciously with a crisp rosé like Mateus, strawberry jam, honeydew melon, or a crunchy summer salad. Or, if you are looking for a cozy comfort meal, this tomato soup, and grilled cheese with gouda combo will have your dopamine levels firing off with one bite.

Carr Valley Glacier Penta Crème

Decadent doesn't begin to describe Carr Valley Glacier Penta Crème. This five-creme blue cheese is made from cow's milk with a substantial amount of cream. It melts in your mouth, and sweet cream, earth, and white peppercorn flavors expand across the palate. There is that slight ammonia-type note that blue cheese enthusiasts know and love. Pair this with bits of truffle honey, grapes, marmalade, or peaches.

For a wine pairing, Sauternes and blue cheese can not be beaten. The unctuous, floral, and honeyed wine is the perfect match and has contrasting characteristics to mitigate the salty richness of the cheese. The sweetness and racy acidity cut right through it. To cook with it, try this blue cheese fondue with blackened crab or this pear salad with mint, blue cheese and dates. Carr Valley Cheese was founded in 1902, and it sources cow's milk from 40 farms and now makes over 65 different cheeses.

Schroeder Kase Triple Crème Brie

Brie is a creamy farmhouse cheese that hails from Seine-et-Marne, France. It is encased in a bloomy rind and is soft-ripened. Schroeder Kase Triple Crème Brie is a soft-ripened, un-pressed brie cheese made from cow's milk. It is made in small batches in an eight-ounce wheel that is aged for at least two weeks. The rind is downy soft, and the inside is rich and gooey. The triple cream butterfat gives it buttery textures and flavors that are layered with notes of mushrooms and an umami tang. Add a burst of effervescence by pairing this with a Champagne like Champagne Delamotte Blanc de Blancs.

The autolytic and mineral characteristics meld with the creaminess of the cheese in the most luxurious way. To cook with it, give this burnt carrots with brie recipe a whirl, or try this cranberry brie bites recipe. But honestly, the most straightforward "recipe" is to put a wedge of brie and dollop of apricot jam in the microwave or oven until it is soft and melty, then top it with toasted almond slices and serve with crackers. Unbeatable.

Roelli Red Rock

Adolph Roelli came to the area of Lafayette County, Wisconsin from Switzerland in the 1920s, and his family has made award-winning cheeses for Roelli Cheese Haus for 100 years. Roelli Red Rock is an American-style, naturally bloomy rinded cheddar cheese with a slight blue vein. It is the marriage of two of the best cheeses — blue cheese and cheddar. Red Rock is aged for at least 60 days and is named for the local stone that lines the room in which it is aged. It gets its bright orange hue from annatto, and the color is not the only thing that is bold with this cheese — it's creamy and tangy and not shy in flavor.

This cheese will elevate any sandwich and will make your apple pie next level. Pair this with something bold, like an amber ale or a cabernet. Sequoia Grove cabernet sauvignon from the Napa Valley has brooding dark berry notes that bounce perfectly off red rock's sharp flavors. They are both bold enough not to overpower each other.

Roth Buttermilk Blue Cheese

Roth Cheese has a rich history of cheesemaking that began in 1863 when twenty-year-old Oswald Roth from Niederbipp, Switzerland, started O. Roth & Cie., a maker and purveyor of Emmentaler. In 1911, Oswald's son, Otto, immigrated to New York City and brought his cheese smarts to the United States. Carrying on the tradition of Swiss-style cheeses, in 1990, Otto's cousins Felix Roth and Fermo Jaeckle relocated the business to Monroe, Wisconsin, because of the substantial Swiss population. Roth has been making award-winning cheeses in Wisconsin ever since.

The Roth Buttermilk Blue Cheese is made with fresh local milk and uses a higher butterfat content than a typical blue, giving it a silky texture. It is matured for at least two months until its tangy blue veins are at the perfect amount. It is an expert crumbling cheese, so toss some onto a salad with pears and walnuts or crumble it on top of a juicy burger. Pair it with a GG riesling, which is bone dry with ample acid to slice through the fat, and a concentrated bouquet of peaches and white flowers.

Carr Valley Fontina

Carr Valley has been making cheese in Wisconsin since 1902 and has over 100 different styles of cheese in its portfolio. Popular in Italy and Scandinavia, Fontina is a rich Alpine-style cheese. If you are sensing a trend here, you are onto something. Carr Valley Fontina pays homage to the rich European heritage in Wisconsin. Mirroring the European styles, this is a mild and nutty cheese with a touch of earthiness. It is soft and creamy in texture and melts effortlessly. It would work beautifully in this classic cheese fondue recipe, or this scallops & fontina cheese grits.

In Italy, Fontina is used in Fonduta alla Valdosta, which is a traditional dish of Fontina whipped with milk, eggs, and truffles. Coax out the delicate flavors of this cheese with Metal House's Ora d'Oro Cider. The bubbles and bright fruit in this method of champenoise cider will add complexity to the cheese and highlight its nuances.

Renard's 1 Year Cheddar

Door County staple Renard's has been making handcrafted cheese since 1961. While the company ships to all 50 states, it's worth the stop if you are in the area. Complimentary cheese and wine tastings are offered seven days a week. Its cheddars are the most popular, and it's no surprise why — there's a mouthwatering line of cheddars aged from one year to 15 years.

As they age, they become sharper and earthier. Cheddar's "sharpness" comes from bitter peptides. It may sound odd, but this is a sought-after trait that cheeseheads seek out. Renard's 1 Year Cheddar is a young cheddar, so while the inherent sharpness is there, it's not overpowering. A musky and nutty port along with this cheddar is muah; chef's kiss! The tertiary dried fruit notes, along with this cheddar, are luxurious, and the port's sweetness balances the cheddar's saltiness (we're drooling just thinking about it).

Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery Cheese Curds

Finally, we are getting to the curds! In Wisconsin, curd is the word. Whether these squeaky delights are deep-fried, plain, or dipped in a tangy sauce, we couldn't neglect to mention cheese curds! Famous for their starring role in Canada's poutine, cheese curds are also a regional darling in Wisconsin. Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery Cheese Curds are crafted with rBST-free milk from its 250 farms throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota. Cheese curds are little bites of cheesy bliss; oddly enough, they are made with small pieces of curdled milk.

They are rubbery and make a squeak when you bite into them. They are mild in flavor and taste a bit like cheddar. Sometimes they are deep-fried and served with a variety of dipping sauces, but plain curds are excellent, too. Luckily, you can find Ellsworth curds in grocery stores nationwide. There is nothing better to pair cheese curds with than a fresh pilsner. The salt and the fat of the curds need a lift from something hoppy and refreshing, and a pils is just the beer to bring it to the next level.