"Wisconsin Cheese" book is a labor of love
Martin Hintz is a freelance writer extraordinaire. But don't think for a moment that he's a passion-less pen for hire. No, Hintz -- who in addition to having authored dozens and dozens of books of all kinds also edits the Irish American Post and is part of a gossip duo with his wife Pam Percy -- loves all things Wisconsin.
And his latest book, "Wisconsin Cheese: A Cookbook and Guide to the Cheeses of Wisconsin," co-written with Percy, is a perfect example of a Hintz labor of love.
"Being a writer must be the best business in the world," he says. "The job / assignment / passion allows us ask questions and learn a lot in the process. And sample cheese."
And sample cheese they did. To complete this 260-page paperback book, published by The Globe Pequot Press, Hintz and Percy traveled around the state, visiting farms, factories and restaurants and also tested all of the recipes in the book.
"We worked on more than 200 recipes to arrive at the 100 or so featured," Hintz notes, "with many of the finalists tested more than once to ensure that all the preparation variables were considered. Some of our meals consisted of seven cheese courses. That's why a health club membership was required while researching this book. But it was well worth it."
The result is a lively, illustrated look at Wisconsin cheese in all its glory. There are articles on the ethnic groups that launched the cheese industry in the state, detailed explorations of some of the varieties most popular here -- from Cheddar to Swiss to Italian and French cheeses and Hispanic cheeses, too. The authors discuss cow's milk cheese, of course, but also goat's and sheep's milk cheese, too.
There are recipes that will have you salivating -- like cherry cheddar crusted pork tenderloin -- and others that will pique your curiosity, like iced goat cheese carrot cookies.
Hintz and Percy, who live on five acres in the Milwaukee area, raise chickens, quail and goats and grow vegetables.
As for the best place to start a journey into Wisconsin cheese, Hintz says, "The historic cheesemaking center in Monroe is a great place to start learning about how cheese is made. The facility is in an old train depot and packed with artifacts, photos and background on the cheese world. Monroe is also home of the Green County cheese days, held Sept. 19-21 this year. Once there, you just have to do a polka at the Cheesemakers' Ball, held in the Swiss Turner Hall.
"And have a limburger, raw onion and rye bread sandwich at Baumgartner's cheese store and tavern on the town square. Hmmmm, marvelous."
A tougher question for Hintz to answer is, "what's your favorite Wisconsin cheese?"
"Do you mean favorite of the day? The hour? Or the minute? (I) love a dash of blue on a steak for dinner! A brie and chutney melt can't be beat at any time! I'd die for sheep cheese ravioli! Hmmmm, mascarpone fondue! And how about an 8-year old cheddar! Then there's the french-fried cheese at the Wisconsin State Fair! All great reasons why you gotta love this state."
It should come as no surprise then that Hintz has gotten a message for the statistics-minded folks who point out that there are bigger dairy and cheese-producing states than Wisconsin.
"Have these poor souls never tallied up all the international competitions won by our cheesemakers? It's obvious the naysayers probably never dined at Bartolotta's Lake Park Bistro and savored the macaroni gratin there, or tried Nick Klug and Clinton del Marcelle's smoked chicken and sharp cheddar panini at the Evensong Spa in Green Lake's Heidel House, or sampled the Pleasant Ridge Reserve with rhubarb-bacon compote on pecan raisin bread at L'Etoile in Madison. Hey, you philistines, it's not just how you cut the cheese, it's how you make it in the first place."
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