Hopefully everyone had a fantastic Memorial Day weekend. I was fortunate enough to be able to take a few days off to drive up to Minnesota and spend time with friends and family. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a love-hate relationship with that drive so I try to find amusing stops I can make along the way to break up the drive or explore something new. Having not written about cheese on the blog for awhile I thought it would be fun to stop at one of the Carr Valley Cheese Co. locations and pick up a couple of cheeses to do a tasting.
Located Wisconsin, Carr Valley is known for the tremendous variety of cheeses they offer. Among their more than a hundred varieties you’ll find more traditional cheddar and blue cheese, like the Billy Blue I’ve reviewed before on the blog
as well more uniquely flavored creations, like the Cocoa Cardona, an aged cheese rubbed with, what else, cocoa powder.
It’s been at least a year since I’ve stopped in the shop so I was curious to find something new to try. Although I’ve seen their cheeses at other retailers and restaurants in the Chicagoland area, their stores themselves seem to carry the widest variety. My goal was to pick up something unique that I couldn’t find at home. With this mission in mind I was drawn to the Sweet Vanilla Cardona, made with the unlikely ingredients of vanilla bean and vanilla sugar.
And because I thought it would be fun to compare I also picked up the Cave Aged Cardona.
When I tried the Sweet Vanilla Cardona, at first sniff I immediately got strong aromas of brown sugar and vanilla. Closing my eyes and inhaling deeply I would have NEVER known I was sniffing cheese. The combination almost smelled of cookie dough, but accompanied by a distinct yogurt-like, milky scent. It was definitely unconventional, but I found myself intrigued. We might not typically associate cheeses with sweet, floral notes, but given things like cheesecake, cream cheese icing and cannolis, I found myself thinking, “Why not?”
After taking a bite, I found this cheese tasted exactly like it smelled. The caramel sweetness and vanilla hit me first, but tapered off into a balanced slightly savory and tangy finish. With each bite I found myself oddly addicted, wondering why I hadn’t eaten something like this sooner. If you ever find yourself torn between sweet, savory and salty cravings this cheese nails all three. I’d was well worth nibbling all on its own but even more addictive when paired with some sweet accompaniments. I liked mine with a bit of strawberry jam, but also found myself thinking it would work well with Effie’s Corncakes or some fruit and nut biscotti. I think the only thing that could have made this cheese better would have been if it had a richer mouthfeel, rather than being more crumbly in texture. But even without it I found myself excited by the possibilities. I’d love to shred it and use it to stuff some french toast. I think the end result would be divine.
The Cave Aged Cardona, as one might expect, tasted completely different. You still get the characteristic goat’s milk taste, but with more complexity and nuance from being aged in a cave. The resulting flavor is a bit earthy and a little bit nutty and no where near as sweet the other.
Both cheese were fantastic and wetted my appetite to come back and try even more in the line. It took all the willpower I had not to stash a good three or four more in my basket. Next on my list will probably be one of their fantastic sheep’s milk cheeses. Sheep dairying is less common in the US than cow or goat dairying so every time I see a sheep’s milk cheese I cannot help but want to support the producer.
Of course my stop wouldn’t have been complete without a little fun for Oliver as well. Of course, dogs weren’t allowed in the shop but he had some fun investigating some cows grazing in the yard.
I’m sure he was a little disappointed to discover they were anything but real, but it still made for a fun photo opportunity.
No roadside cheese shop in Wisconsin seems to be complete without a few quirky statues and the cheese and sausage-bearing mouse was a particular favorite. All in all it was a fun stop and a great way to break up my trip. If you happen to be passing through Wisconsin this one was in Mauston, though there are others sprinkled throughout the state.
Of course I’m always looking for other stops! There’s a good chance I’ll head home once more this summer so if you have any other suggestions of cheese shops/producers to check out, I’m all ears.