About the cheese
Fun and flavorful, Hill Valley Dairy’s Cheese is about promoting their small-batch, high-quality products for those that appreciate good cheese in their fridge any day of the week.
The Cheesemaking Process
Creation of the cheese starts in the field, where the 65 milking cows and Romari Farms are given as much air and good food on the 240 acre farm can sustainably produce. Every Sunday, a milk truck from Clock Shadow Creamery picks up the milk from the dairy and delivers it to Clock Shadow Creamery in Milwaukee where Ron Henningfeld, cheesemaker, produces his small-batch cheeses.
Ron describes the process: “Early Monday morning, we start with about 500 gallons of milk being pasteurized and flowing into the cheese vats. The milk is warmed, the cheese culture is added. We’ve spent a lot of time choosing the cheese culture to meet the flavor profiles we are looking for in our cheeses. We leave the culture in the milk for an hour where the culture organisms feed on the lactose and start thriving in the milk. After that we add the coagulate, referred to as rennet, which changes the liquid milk to a semi-solid state.
We cut this semi-solid state into little ¼ inch cubes with a cheese harp – a metal frame strung with wires. Once cut, a liquid called whey starts to come out of the curds. The resulting curds and whey are mixed with large paddles. The addition of a little heat starts to shrink the curds and expel more whey. At this point, we need to separate the curds from the whey. We open a small valve on the vat, which releases the whey and keeps the curds in the bottom of the vat. The curds are still stirred while salt, our final ingredient, is added. At this point, the curds will be put in block forms or wheel forms depending if they are to become cheddar or Gouda. In the absence of the forms, we’ll bag our cheese curds to get our famous delicious cheese curds.”
Why and how we develop our flavors
For our cheddars, I wanted a nice creamy cheddar flavor up front, backed up by the notes carried by the milk, like the milk I drank in childhood. I wanted to share the taste of my home farm. Southeastern Wisconsin has a unique flavor profile that carries from the land to the animals, to the milk, and through to the cheese.
With our Gouda, I wanted a creamy, tangy, nutty Gouda. I tweaked little steps in the process to attain the moisture level and culture levels I wanted, which makes the cheese express that nutty flavor that Gouda is famous for.
People love cheese curds. It is Wisconsin’s famous snack food. The challenge with cheese curds is that it is a young, fresh cheese, which will show any flaws in the cheesemaking process. Because of this, I’m working very hard from batch-to-batch to maintain the most consistent product that I can. These cheese curds are also the base for the rest of my cheeses, so making them correctly is the starting point for people understanding my ability to make cheese.
Where playfulness comes into our cheese
Black pepper cheddar
There is something about a strong cheddar and black pepper that is irresistible. We started with the cheddar as the base then add a high-quality freshly ground black pepper that becomes a great snacking cheese or a melted cheese on hamburgers.
Our bacon cheddar is one of two collaborative cheeses we’ve developed at Hill Valley Dairy. What started as a conversation with Nick Vorpagal, of Lake Geneva Country Meats, soon became a fun collaboration where they supplied the high quality bacon, and we incorporated it into the cheese. This took a lot of trial and error to get the perfect bacon flavor in every bite of cheese. Our first version was just bacon and cheddar, which was good, but we wanted something a little more. In the second version, we added some seasonings in with the bacon to create added flavor throughout the cheese. We use a variety of bacon sizes in the cheddar, so every bite is a delightful surprise with our bacon cheddar.
This cheese is as much about family, as it is about making a really fun product. The cheese starts from the milk from my brother Frank’s farm, Romari Farms. After the cheese is finished, we soak the cheese in a Wisconsin rye whiskey made by my brother-in-law Tyler’s business, Great Northern Distillery, out of Plover, Wisconsin. Lake Geneva Country Meats, our collaborative partner in the bacon cheddar, was planning for a whiskey event with Great Northern Distillery a few years ago. They contacted the creamery to see if we could do a whiskey cheese. After several rounds of experimentation, we found that aging, then soaking in the cheese, created superior cheddars and Gouda. What was fascinating is that the cheddar picks up the oakey smoke flavors out of the whiskey, while the Gouda picks up the sweeter notes and aromatic characteristics from the whiskey. The results are great snacking cheeses, but we highly recommend putting the cheese in a grilled cheese sandwich. Once you warm up that Gouda and get the Gouda and whiskey flavors…it is a real treat.
Serving recommendations for our cheeses
Like beer, everyone has their own way that they prefer to eat cheese. For curds, our favorite way at Hill Valley Dairy is to warm them up to room temperature for 30 minutes to one hour before we serve them. This amount of time will change based on the time of year. To store our cheeses, keep them in an airtight container in the fridge for best results.