Appeared September 2008 in Dairy Foods Magazine
Copyright BNP Media
Contributed by Jeffrey Roberts  09/08

What are the hallmarks that make a cheese great? A list would include such obvious items as pasture and feed, outstanding dairy animals, distinctive products, and the cheesemaker’s artistry and scientific skills. Many American artisan cheesemakers and their products reflect these characteristics. The challenge day in and day out, one season after another, is to make distinctive cheeses that are consistently of the highest quality. One such individual is Sid Cook, owner and master cheesemaker of Carr Valley Cheese Co.,  in La Valle, Wis.

Rumors to the contrary, Sid was not born in his father’s cheese vat in Wisconsin; he does admit, however, to riding his tricycle once in a vat. What is true is his long, accomplished career as a master cheesemaker; Sid made cheese before becoming a teenager and obtained his state license at age 16. On his mother’s side of the family, the cheesemaking tradition stretches back to the 1890s. The Cook family lived at the plant, so both cheese heredity and environment run deep. Sid decided against becoming a lawyer, a decision celebrated today by his artisan colleagues and enthusiastic customers.

In 1976, after working with his father for years in the family creamery, Irish Valley Dairy, he purchased the business and with his brother made good, but fairly standard cheese. A decade later, as profit margins dwindled, Sid took a risk and purchased a separate creamery, Carr Valley, in La Valle, a business with roots back to 1902. Here he experimented with innovative, unique handmade products targeted towards restaurants and specialty cheese and food stores. He also invested time and resources to learn more about the technical side of cheesemaking and earned a Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker designation.

Today, Carr Valley Cheese Company makes more than 50 different cheeses from cow, goat, and sheep and blended milks. The company operates three plants—La Valle, Fennimore and Mauston—as well as seven retail outlets. Working with local dairies, they produce limited edition cheeses that consumers seek out. Several years ago, Sid set up an open-air cave to ripen cheese. Often it was a well-established recipe, but with the cave aging he created completely different flavors and textures.

What distinguishes Sid Cook and Carr Valley is steadfast reliability, commitment to consistent excellence, and an ability to make unusual products that never waver from the highest quality.  Often celebrated by his peers, Cook’s products are recognized by the American Cheese Society (ACS) and the US and World Championship Cheese Competitions. Over the past several years, Sid literally wore a path through the carpet as he collected dozens of ACS awards.

In 2004, Carr Valley won the ACS Best-in-Show for Gran Canaria, another excellent example of how Cook blends the artistic, creative side with a keen understanding of milk quality, chemistry, cultures (he learned to make them with his father and grandfather), and affinage. Gran Canaria is a mix of cow, goat, and sheep milk, pressed into 10 lb. wheels and aged for two years in a cave. By anointing the cheese with olive oil, the Carr Valley cheesemakers create a wonderful dark rind, a deep golden color paste, firm dry texture, and full, sweet, complex aromas and flavors of fruits and nuts.

At the recently concluded 25th Anniversary ACS celebration, Carr Valley won the Best of Show for its Snow White Goat Cheddar and Third Runner-up for Cave Aged Marisa. The Snow White, made in 38 lb. wheels, is cave aged for at least six months where it develops a natural rind and sweet tangy flavors. The 10 lb Marisa wheel, made from 100% sheep’s milk, is aged twelve months and develops a natural rind with complex buttery flavors.

These awards are testimony to great skill, artistry, and unswerving attention to detail. Carr Valley establishes a benchmark for other cheesemakers to emulate. Whether consumers or cheesemakers, our world is richer because of Sid Cook.

Jeffrey Roberts helped establish the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese, and is the author of The Atlas of American Artisan Cheese.

Carr Valley Cheese Company, Inc.

53797 County Highway G La Valle, WI  53941
Cheesemaking established 1902
Visitors welcome
Telephone: 608/986-2781
On-premises retail sales and nationwide distribution

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