A visit to Wisconsin and you soon learn that cheese is an important part of the state’s culinary experience. I had the pleasure last fall to spend several days in the lovely Elkhart Lake region of Wisconsin. While this charming area has something for everyone, if you’re a cheese lover, you won’t want to miss the Crème de la Crème of cheesemakers at the first annual ‘The Big Cheese’ event over Memorial Day weekend at the Osthoff Resort, in Elkhart Lake.
The history of cheesemaking goes back some 175 years in Wisconsin, so it’s no wonder they know how to make excellent cheese. European immigrants began arriving in Wisconsin in the 1840s. Over the next several decades, dairy farmers from as many as fifty different ethnic backgrounds called Wisconsin home. The great states of New York, and Ohio, where I’m from, once led in cheese production, but by the early 1900s, Wisconsin had taken the lead not only as the nations largest cheese producer but also the leading dairy state, producing more milk and butter as well.
The Osthoff Resort, considered a landmark in Wisconsin tourism, is known for its lakeshore setting on crystal clear Elkhart Lake, spacious suites, award-winning Aspira Spa and an impressive collection of amenities that includes three restaurants, a cooking school, gift boutiques, indoor and outdoor pools, lake deck with live music, and elegant ballrooms and meeting venues. The Osthoff has added this new foodie festival to its line-up of annual events. The inaugural “The Big Cheese” event is set for Memorial Day weekend, May 25-28, with activities taking place in the resort’s restaurants, cooking school, and specially created tasting rooms. It was the sheer number of award-winning cheesemakers in the Elkhart Lake area, including those with world championships to their names, that provided inspiration for the event, with attendees to be treated to cheese tasting classes taught by the judges and graders of those prestigious cheese competitions.
Participating cheesemakers, all within a half-hour’s drive of Elkhart Lake, represent the best-of-the-best when it comes to cheesemaking. Well-known names such as Sargento, Sartori, LaClare Farms, Saxon Creamery, Henning’s and Deer Creek, plus Masters Gallery which has one of the largest privately held cheese inventories in the country.
I had the pleasure of touring, and sampling cheese, in the award-winning Henning's family cheese business in Kiel, Wisconsin last fall during my visit. While one of the smaller cheese factories in Wisconsin, Henning’s is the only cheesemaker in the U. S. that produces special order cheese wheels from 75-pounds, up to 12,000-pounds. If it’s a cheese wheel found in the U. S. 75-pounds or larger, Henning’s handcrafted it. Henning’s values the opportunity to use the freshest local ingredients available. They rely on only local dairy farmers within about a thirty-five-mile radius, to get their fresh, hormone-free milk daily.
Cheese and wine pairings are on the schedule, but also pairings of cheese and microbrews, cheese and bourbon and cheese and tea are also included on the event lineup. Hands-on cheesemaking classes, cooking classes, cheese tastings through the taste buds of those who grade and judge cheese, a cheese marketplace, a special tasting of world championship cheeses, nine-course artisan cheese dinners prepared by the resort’s culinary director Chef Patrick O’Toole, cheese and cocktail cruises on the lake, even a cleansing milk spa treatment in the resort’s Aspira Spa are all on the schedule as well.
Meals in the resort’s restaurants will feature specially prepared cheese dishes, with the headlining cheesemakers themselves making the rounds through the dining rooms. Wisconsin author Jeannette Hurt, known for her exploration of culture through the lens of food and drink and with several books on cheese already on her resume, will also be on hand to teach cheese and cocktail pairings as well as sign copies of her book “The Cheeses of Wisconsin: A Culinary Travel Guide” and her “Drink Like a Woman” recipe book.
According to Lola Roeh, general manager of The Osthoff Resort, The Big Cheese event was specially created for those who crave authentic foodie experiences. “This event lets attendees experience firsthand the delicious art of artisan cheesemaking in Wisconsin, an art that cheese lovers the world over so closely associate with our corner of the world here in the Elkhart Lake area,” said Roeh.
Overnight guests of the resort, as well as the general public, are invited to pick and choose which classes and tastings they’d like to attend over the course of this cheese-centric weekend, with full event packages that include overnight accommodations also offered. Festivities begin Friday at 10 a.m. and run through brunch on Monday morning. For the full itinerary and ticket and reservation information, log on to www.TheBigCheeseOsthoff.com. To purchase tickets to any of the activities or make overnight reservations, call Osthoff reservations at 877-624-8995.
For more information on the resort, visit www.osthoff.com. Reservation information on The Big Cheese event running Memorial Day weekend may be found at www.TheBigCheeseOsthoff.com.
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