American Cheese Month!!
May is American Cheese month, and we’re not talking about those golden yellow deli slices (not knocking ‘em either!). American Cheese month is a time to celebrate and promote all the amazing dairy farmers and cheese makers in America who create delicious artisanal cheeses. Before last year our passion was bringing great American cheeses into NYC’s restaurants and now we get to do that plus bring them into your home! The American cheese landscape is vast and diverse and we’d like to share a little bit about why this industry deserves some extra love.
America’s cheese story begins with the arrival of European immigrants. The English, Dutch, German, and Swiss who settled in the North Eastern region of the country brought their dairy practices with them and made traditional cheeses as well as innovating new American styles like Colby and Brick cheese. With its sprawling open land with lush grasses, Wisconsin attracted farmers from all over and by the early 1900s the state was the leading dairy producer, earning the nickname “America's Dairyland”. Wisconsin continues to be home to a multitude of award winning cheese producers and it has the only Master Cheesemaker program in the country.
Today, incredible cheeses are made all over the country in a variety of styles, both following traditional European recipes as well as truly unique American ones. You may wonder why some American cheeses differ in name than their European counterparts and that’s because of European name protection guidelines; the classic example being American Parmesan versus Italian Parmigiano. American cheese producers have gleaned a great amount of knowledge from European producers and have translated centuries old practices to work for the American landscape.
The artisanal cheese movement really took off in the late 1970s largely thanks to Laura Chenel who started making farmstead goat’s milk cheeses in California following French methods she learned. Ms. Chenel introduced American consumers to what high quality, small scale cheese could be and the benefits it had on the land and the community. Judy Schad, the founder of Capriole Dairy is another pioneer of the industry and we’ve been lucky enough to work with her since we started the business. Many producers make farmstead cheeses, meaning cheese is being made on the same land that the animals being milked graze on. And if it’s not farmstead then the cheesemakers are working with and supporting other local dairy farmers in the community. It’s important to support all of these farmers and cheesemakers because so often they are giving back to the communities they exist in. Whether it’s cows, sheep, or goats, small scale producers care about the animals they’re milking and the land those animals roam and feed off. Making cheese is a labor of love and like the production of many specialty foods it’s not necessarily a lucrative business to be in. When you support small and local producers you’re giving back not just to them, but the whole supply chain and ecosystem.
While American dairy may be a big industry, American artisanal cheese is still small and largely unrecognized compared to the world of cheese as a whole. We’re proud to work with many small, artisanal producers from all over the country and we consider all of them to be examples of what it means to create a quality product that is beautiful and delicious. The goal of American Cheese month is to educate the public on the incredible work these makers do and to familiarize them with producers and product names so that they can be appreciated by as many people as possible. We hope you’ll seek out some American artisanal cheeses the next time you order from us or go to your local shop!