Milwaukee may not be known for its hot weather, but that doesn't mean that the Brew City can't bring the heat – namely from the kitchen. That's why Senior Developer Nick "Power Palate" Barth and Pop Culture Editor Matt "Powder Puff Palate" Mueller are on a journey, burning their buds and torching their tongues across town to find the city's spiciest dishes. Grab your fork and a fire extinguisher – this is Burning Through Brew City.
The next stop on their capsaicin-rich quest?
A collection of spicy cheeses
Wisconsin Cheese Mart
215 W. Highland Ave.
The next stop on our spice excursion brings us somewhere both predictable for a food tour through Wisconsin and unexpected for a spicy food hunt: cheese.
We Wisconsinites certainly know a thing or two about cheese, from making it to deep-frying it to putting Styrofoam versions of it on our heads and finding just about any excuse to put it on any dish. But do we know how to make it ... spicy? Not nacho cheese spicy – which is to say barely – but actually spicy, bringing a respectable burn and causing a sweat? How could that even be possible? After all, no matter what kind of diabolical spice or pepper you put inside, the cheese would seemingly serve as its own milky, built-in fire extinguisher, so how truly spicy could it be?
To find out, Nick and I headed down to Old World Third Street and the legendary Wisconsin Cheese Mart, where heard rumors of a particularly punchy spicy cheese that would possibly worth our while. Of course, any excuse is a good one to trot over to the Wisconsin Cheese Mart, serving up supposedly the world's largest selection of Wisconsin cheese (more than 230 types!) since 1938 – many as free samples spread throughout the shop. So, of course, Nick and I first indulged ourselves in a free lunch of little cheese bricks, sprinting around the store and hoarding samples that would make Jerry the mouse ashamed of our cheese-obsessed hoggishness. I even tried a brown cheese for the first time (and probably the last time; sorry, brown cheese).
But after filling our bodies with cheese samples to the point that we were more milk product than man, Nick and I hunted down our supposedly spicy cheese. But there wasn't just one. Instead, we found a literal gold mine of spicy cheeses, all made in Wisconsin – and many made in particular by Cesar's Cheese, run by a man who brought his special cheese recipes and secrets up from Mexico.
Clearly there were too many options to just choose one, so Nick and I stuffed our hands chock full of cheddar and then ran back to the office to sample our potentially devious dairy, grading each one simply rather than our usual heat index factors. And because 'tis the season for giving, we also shared them with our co-workers.
Would this cheddar bring the charring heat? Or would they drop a curd right in the middle of our Burning Through Brew City quest and holiday spirit? Let's dig into some dairy and find out!
Nick: Appropriately named, as the cheese has two speeds: mango and fire. The fragrant mango flavor is strong, sweet and punchy up front, giving way to the mildish habanero heat. A mild cheddar with a little chewiness serves to bind the two. Not a personal favorite (I usually don't enjoy sweeter cheeses), but it definitely has a place if you're looking for something different for the cheese board.
Matt: "Unsettling" is not normally a word I like to use to describe food, but it's the most fitting one that comes to mind with the Mango Fire. The fruity sweetness comes on alarmingly strong when you first bite in – and sweet cheese is a flavor combo my palate is not particularly friends with – before dissolving away into a notable but not particularly noteworthy habanero burn. The result is a mildly potent and majorly odd block of cheese that, as our first sample of the day, proved that, yes, cheese can be decently spicy – but maybe it shouldn't be sweet at the same time, too.
Angel de la Muerta
Nick: Angel de la Muerta clearly wins in the naming department. Thankfully the cheese stands up as well. The substantial heat in the cheddar comes from fresh Carolina Reaper pepper. It takes a bite or two to build to a nice burn that's hotter than most cheeses that claim spicy (let's face it; they're usually a disappointment), but not so hot you'll run for a glass of milk. A good cheese overall, though my only complaint is that the cheese is a little dry and crumbles too easily where the peppers divide the curd.
Matt: For the non-Spanish speakers in the audience, the Carolina Reaper-infused Angel de la Muerta translates out to "angel of the dead." But taste wise, this cheese was more feisty than deadly. The spice level was tame, providing a refreshing but overall lukewarm burn that faded out pretty quickly – plus it was an awfully crumbly cheese, without that milky, savory chew that's just so damn addictive – but unlike the Mango Fire, the heat nicely complimented the cheddar flavor instead of cruelly clashing together. An enjoyable contender but one I didn't feel particularly compelled to dive back into after the tasting was done.
El Sancho Diablo
Nick: The label said EXTREMELY HOT GHOST PEPPER CHEESE ... so obviously we had to try it. Cheese-wise, it's very similar to the Angel de la Muerta if you swapped out the Carolina Reapers for ghost peppers. Typical to a ghost pepper heat, it's less in the mouth than a general raise in body temperature. I didn't feel a ton of heat, but someone watching us try the cheese mentioned that my face was getting red. Probably the hottest cheese of the four we tried, it's delicious but does share the very slightly dry, crumbly nature of the Angel de la Muerta.
Matt: Another crumbly cheese, though this one left my taste buds crumbling a bit after my first bite. The wrapper is not kidding: This cheese is legitimately hot, thanks to a solid dispersion of the notorious ghost pepper, once the spiciest pepper in the world (now down to seven thanks to the Carolina reaper). And the heat sticks around too, a sizzling burn that lingers way longer than a milk product should. The dry nature of the cheese made it not my top choice of the day, but when it comes to pure heat, El Sancho Diablo is my favorite. It's also my favorite name of the bunch, translating out to something like "the cheating devil" or "the devilish other man." A delectable, sneakily sinister name for a delectable, sneakily sinister cheesy snack.
Nick: I didn't pick up any tequila flavor, but I'll pick this cheese up any day of the week. The potent heat (courtesy of the titular Carolina Reaper) comes in immediately, but doesn't overwhelm the round cheddar flavor. The cheese is cohesive (no curd crumble), moist and well-balanced. It's great to eat as is, and I'd love to see how it would fare in a cheese sauce, spicy beer cheese soup or Reaper holiday fondue. Not the hottest, but definitely the best overall cheese of the four we tried.
Matt: The Tequila Reaper is by no means grim, coming in with a shockingly strong burn thanks to its party of Carolina Reaper peppers spread nicely throughout the block. It's not quite the spiciest of the bunch – that title belongs to the fiery Sancho Diablo – but it's an addictive heat that sticks around surprisingly well for a cheese. And on that, it's just also a delicious cheese, the enticing heat (I needed a drink afterwards, I admit) mixed in perfectly with a chewy, milky cheese that I could not stop snacking on – and then dreaming of melting it down into a nacho cheese sauce that would put that neon yellow vending stand goo to shame.
Burning Through Brew City heat index
- Jonny Hammers' Too Hot For A Normal Person wings
- Asian International Market's papaya salad
- Hot Head Fried Chicken's 414 Fire fried chicken
- Margarita Paradise's Diablo burrito
- Red Rock Saloon's TCB ghost pepper wings
- The King & I's Volcano Chicken
- Guadalajara's Chile de Arbol salsa
- Glorioso's Italian Market's Human Torch sandwich
- Hot Head Fried Chicken's Nashville hot chicken
- Wisconsin Cheese Mart's spicy cheeses
- Huan Xi's hot pot
- All Things Jerky's Carolina Reaper beef jerky
- Guadalajara's Bistec en Chile de Arbol
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.