Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Cheesehead Revisited - Part 2 - Dispatches from Maine

The Williams Farms Cheesemakers and Samples of  the new "Bon Bree"
Part 1 was posted on July 13.  Please check it out.

I noted in Part 1 that I always find it gratifying to learn there are others who share my hankering for a good hunk of cheese.  And speaking of a good hunk of cheese, not long after my original cheese posting back in 2009, I began to receive regular comments from others who appreciate some of my cheese recollections, particularly my discovery and enjoyment of “Bon Bree,” a unique cheese produced for many years in a small cheese factory in Mapleton, Wisconsin (northwest of Milwaukee).  Four years ago I happened to visit Mapleton after a long absence only to learn that the factory had closed several years earlier.  As I would learn from the comments I received, I and many others have mourned the passing of Bon Bree cheese into history.

Back in January I was contacted out of the blue by a fellow who lives in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, not too far from my old stomping grounds in the early 1970s.  He had seen my posting about my fond memories of Mapleton and Bon Bree cheese and we agreed it was a black day when the Mapleton cheese maker decided to close up shop.  The good news, however, was that he and his partners at the Williams Farms Creamery in Waukesha, were hoping to soon replicate “a Mapleton style cheese” similar in consistency and taste to the Bon Bree cheese of old.  In doing so, they would answer the prayers of its many loyal disciples who have long mourned its passing.

Always interested in cheeses and those who try to do something interesting or unique in the production of cheese, I asked to be kept abreast of developments in Waukesha.  In March I received a report that Williams Farms and partners were in the last stages of their sample runs using their own milk and hoping to perfect the “Bon Bree taste” through test batches leading to a final recipe  “We are all cheese heads and waiting  anxiously for that first sublime taste.”  This was exciting news as the dream gradually became a reality. 

“We have cheese” was the next message I received at the beginning of May.  “Our 24th test batch turned out great.”   The best news was they were shipping a sample to me in Maryland.  At first there was concern that the cheese would not withstand its transit through the US postal system, but I assured them it would be OK.  Bon Bree was always a hardy cheese, and my family sent blocks to me in college in Florida and Arizona.  I even had Bon Bree sent to me during a year I spent studying in Germany.  Surely it would hold up on the trip from Wisconsin to Maryland.  And it did.  The promised sample arrived in mid-May and I could not wait to sample it.

Although the color was more white than the buttery hue of the original - something which only occurs with proper aging - it looked, felt and smelled the same as the old Bon Bree.  My memories rushed back to the trips I made to the cheese factory in Mapleton four decades ago.  Beyond the entrance was the room where the cheese was produced and it was here that smell first hit you.  As I open the sample in my kitchen I knew this was going to be a treat!  And the taste?  It had that “squeak” that young cheeses have when you first bite down . . . wait for it . . . yep, pretty damned good! Maybe slightly saltier,  but it tasted like the Bon Bree I remembered (the curds and whey are mixed together into brick molds which gives Bon Bree its unique taste).  I immediately contacted the good folks in Wisconsin with the good news and two thumbs up.

I have been in touch with Williams Farms over the past two month as they have proceeded with the production run, the first of which generated 380 pounds of cheese using 3500 pounds of milk.  The next “make” occurred in late June and these  bricks have been cut and wrapped and racked and are currently resting to acquire age and that special taste “bringing back the Bree”.  To date they have three batches, totaling 827 pounds, currently aging and they hope to have the cheese in the markets by the beginning of August.  I am waiting patiently to hear the good word.  

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

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