This Week’s Sunday School: Madame Fromage & “Hybrid Cheese”
It’s a Cheddar… It’s a Blue… It’s a Super Cheese!
By Madame Fromage
Wisconsin cheesemaker Chris Roelli grew up in his father’s cheddar factory. When it closed in 1991 due to waning prices for commodity cheese, Chris turned to trucking and firefighting. In his bones, though, he wanted to make cheese. So, in 2006 he decided to revive the family tradition. Inspired by trends he saw in artisan cheesemaking, he decided to stay small rather than build big. And instead of making Wisconsin cheddar, he created two hybrid “cheddar blues” for which he is now famous. Dunbarton and Red Rock, Chris’s signature cheeses, age in his state-of-the-art cellar near his home in Shullsberg, Wisconsin.
Eat Red Rock and Meet Madame Fromage at This Week’s Sunday School
On February 10, 2019 Tria will feature Red Rock on its Sunday School menu and Yours Truly will be popping into both Tria Cafe locations to spread some love for this unique cheese from my home state. Expect to see Red Rock on Tria’s menu throughout February. We have a feeling that its golden glow and unique blue streak will be the winter antidote you are craving.
The Interview: Chris Roelli of Roelli Cheese Haus
Want a sneak peek? Here’s my conversation with Chris Roelli about cheese names, cheese caves, and why he loves hybrid “cheddar blues.”
Madame Fromage: Do you consider Red Rock a blue cheese or a cheddar?
Chris Roelli: I tell people it’s a traditional American cheddar with a blue vein and a natural microflora rind. It’s a hybrid.
What inspired it?
The real inspiration for me to jump into the world of cheddar blues was I got to meet Randolph Hodgson [of Neal’s Yard Dairy, a shop and aging space in London] and spend some time with him up in Dodgeville, Wisconsin when he visited Uplands Cheese. He made a Stichelton there, and Randolph told a story about the delicacy of a blue piece of clothbound cheddar when it dried down and cracked and formed a fissure with blue mold. I took that to heart, and I thought, maybe I could try that. That was somewhere around 2008. I spent about a year and a half playing with different recipes before I came up with my Dunbarton [also a hybrid]. After that, I came up with Red Rock.
What made you decided to make Red Rock into a brick rather than, say, a wheel?
Logistics. I can fit a lot more bricks than wheels into my cheese room, and it’s easier to turn with the loaf shape, too. Instead of picking it up and flipping it like a wheel, we just give it a quarter turn. Also, people were asking for a smaller footprint cheese that was easier to display.
How do you name your cheeses?
I use road names and township names for my cheeses, that’s my theme. Dunbarton Blue is named after a small unincorporated town a mile south of us – it used to be a railroad depot. There are also veins of red limestone around my hometown. It’s a maroon red, and that’s how I took my name for Red Rock.
Tell me about the milk.
Our milk comes from one dairy farmer. I’m a fourth-generation cheesemaker and he happens to be a fourth-generation dairy farmer. I use over 90 percent of his milk. It’s mostly Holstein but with some Jersey milk in there. I actually go to the farm and pick up the milk. It’s cow to consumer control, which is extremely rare. In the summertime, the cows are grazed with some supplemental feed. In the fall and winter, they transition to mixed-ration feed. The seasons and the weather and the lactation cycles contribute a lot of variables that affect flavor. My artisan cheese is not like other cheeses in the store that taste the same year around. My cheeses tend to swing a little bit, so it takes some education of customers, but the feedback I get is that they appreciate that.
How about the aging process? How long does Red Rock sit in your cave?
A couple months. Sixty days is my mark for selling. Red Rock is on fire for us right now.
How much of it do you produce?
I make 75,000 pounds a year. Dunbarton Blue and Red Rock are close, volume-wise. I have a tremendous cheese curd business here, so I make curds two days a week, and one day a week I make Red Rock, and another day I make Dunbarton.
Who inspires you in the business?
My roots are Swiss, and about three years ago I got to spend time in the Alps in Switzerland with alpage cheesemakers. That really inspired me. That’s where I see my business going – obviously, I’m going to keep going with my cheddar-blues, which is what I built my cheese business on, but when I sit down and think about it, my interest goes back to those Alpine cheeses and true craft.
So are you developing a new alpine cheese?
We do this on a shoestring with my wife as my main helper and two employees in our factory. To continue to grow, it’s going to take more labor. And there’s a fine line between burning out and producing quality cheese. So, we’ll see. A lot of my competitors are my friends, and we work together on certain aspects and against each other in other ways, but we help each other out. It’s what’s unique about the industry. I know that when I am ready, I have lots of friends I can go to.