Monday, November 21, 2011

[HOT LIST] Michigan cheese

At Reserve in Grand Rapids. L to R: "Brighid" from Cowslip Creamery, Fourme D'Ambert (France), and "Heard It Through the Grapevine" from EverGreen Lane. All photos by Nicole Rupersburg.

Behold, the power of cheese. According to the Michigan Department of Agriculture, Michigan was the 8th largest producer of cow's milk cheese in the country in 2010. As artisan food movements continue to gain momentum all over the country, Michigan's artisan cheese makers are growing in number, visibility, and overall quality and diversity of product, making cheeses not just from cow's milk, but also more esoteric cheeses from goat's and sheep's milk.

We all know about Zingerman's Creamery and their popular Detroit Street Brick (a creamy goat's milk cheese made with peppercorns and widely available in area restaurants and markets) as well as their hands-on mozzarella classes, but what we should also all know by now is that when ol' Z's sets the bar, others will surely follow. The Michigan Cheese Makers Cooperative exists to promote and support the craft of artisan and farmstead cheeses and has coined the term "Great Lakes, Great Cheese." From funky artisan to old-world Amish farmers cheese, Michigan's cheesemakers are certainly earning that title.

#1 Leelanau Cheese Company (Suttons Bay)
In 2007 the Leelanau Cheese Company, located on the Black Star Farms agricultural property in Suttons Bay, was awarded "Best in Show" at the 24th Annual American Cheese Society cheese competition for their aged raclette. So it's not just one of the best cheeses in Michigan; it's one of the best in the country. The Leelanau Cheese Co. makes precisely two kinds of cheeses: raclette and aged raclette. With all of that undivided attention it gets, its no wonder that this buttery, semi-firm cow's milk cheese receives such high accolades. If you're in Traverse City, stop by Tastes of Black Star Farms for a traditional Matterhorn Grill Dinner featuring Leelanau's raclette cheese (a steal at only $50 per couple WITH wine).

#2 EverGreen Lane Farm and Creamery (Fennville)
The cheeses made at EverGreen tend towards more of a cheese aficionado's palate. They make artisan goat's milk cheese from their heard of La Mancha and Alpine goats and cow's milk cheese using milk from the Jersey cows at Moo-Nique Dairy in Vandalia, Michigan (Jersey cows are known for a richer, sweeter milk with higher butterfat content). Both farms are committed to sustainable practices. Known for their creamy fresh chevre, a recent discovery at Reserve in Grand Rapids called "Heard It Through the Grapevine" (a washed rind semi-firm goat's milk cheese washed in red wine) is an outstanding example of their artisan craft with an extraordinary balance of flavor and texture.

#3 Cowslip Creamery (Grand Rapids)
Meet the ladies of Cowslip Creamery. First, the 30 Jersey Cows; then the cheesemaker herself, Jana Deppe (who is about to obtain the prestigious "Master Cheesemaker" designation). Jana makes approachable artisan farmstead cow's milk cheeses which include Brighid (a tangy yellow semi-firm cheese with a thin layer of pine ash in the center) and Phocas (a mild, earthy semi-soft cheese).

#4 Pinconning Cheese Company (Pinconning)
The Pinconning Cheese Company has been around since 1948, producing their signature Old-Fashioned Pinconning Cheese, a Colby-style cheese with huge aging potential (the "super sharp" and "super super sharp" aged varieties are only available in the retail store). They produce a wide range of different flavored cheeses, cheese curds and cream cheese spreads, and also carry a variety of different imported cheeses on their online store, along with Michigan-made meats and a host of specialty food products. Gift boxes are available for the holidays.

#5 Farm Country Cheese House (Lakeview)
Located in Michigan's Amish countryside, Farm Country Cheese House has been making cheeses in Lakeview using milk supplied by the surrounding Amish communities since 1984. The cows are naturally raised, grass-fed, antibiotic-free and hand-milked. Farm Country produces over 20 different kinds of traditional and distinctive cheeses, including their decadent Truffle cheese (made with black truffle peelings and white truffle oil) and their extra, extra sharp Christmas Cheddar, aged for three years and only available during the holidays. Their products are widely available in gourmet markets like Holiday and Plum, or you can order online.

Bubbling under Traffic Jam and Snug (Detroit), Zingerman's Creamery (Ann Arbor), Grassfields Cheese (Coopersville), Dancing Goat Creamery (Byron Center), Michigan Farm Cheese Dairy (Fountain), Williams Cheese Co. (Linwood), Greystone Farm and Creamery (Chelsea)

TASTES of Black Star Farms on Urbanspoon