Of Cloth and Cave: Bleu Mont Dairy Bandaged Cheddar

Drive about an hour west of Madison and you’ll find yourself in the scenic rolling hills of the Wisconsin Mounds.  It is here that second generation cheesemaker Willi Lehner and his partner Qu’itas chose to create Bleu Mont Dairy.  Willi began his operation with a small cheese aging room.  But when the cold winters and hot summers caused too much temperature fluctuation, he decided to try an alternate approach.  In 2008, inspired by the art of European Alpine cheesemaking, and supplemented by the abundance of the Mound’s natural limestone rock, Willi bulldozed into the hill next to his home – and created for himself a beautiful cave for aging his hand-made cheeses.

The cave was designed and contracted by Willi, and built with the help of friends.  Bleu Mont Dairy has two caves, one for the delicate soft ripened cheeses, and the other for his Bandaged Cheddars and tommes.  Willi and Qu’itas are environmental advocates, and every part of how they designed Bleu Mont dairy is a nod to sustainability and conservation.  Outside of the cave, wind turbines and solar panels create enough energy to make their operation completely self-reliant, and produce enough excess energy to feed back into the grid.

Willi has chosen to define himself as a cheese-maker and affineur, rather than as a dairy farmer who makes cheese.  Willi does not own any of his own cows.  Instead, he maintains close relationships with local dairy farmers, who allow him to hand select batches of milk for his cheese.  The milk he uses is from the summer months while the cows are at pasture, eating happily grazing on grass – never silage or fermented feed.  Much of his inspiration is drawn from Swiss cheesemaker and affinuer Willi Schmid, who, from tasting a fresh batch of milk, can decide the best type of cheese to create with it.

Cheddar makes up the majority of cheese produced in Wisconsin.  Most of it comes in uninspiring 40 pound blocks aged in plastic bags.  Willi grew up making these block cheeses with his father.  Though today, the cheese he is most known for is his Bandaged Cheddar, a cheese modeled after the legendary cloth-bound cheddars of England’s Somerset County.  English farmhouse cheddars are different from their sharp American counterparts.  The cloth-binding yields a cheese that can’t age out quite as long – but is full of rich nuanced flavors of the cave and the land, that you just can’t get in a block-cheddar.  At any given time, Willi’s cave holds several hundred wheels of his bandaged cheddar, each being nurtured into their peak of maturity.  The wheels he sends us have been aged to around 17 months.  When you taste them, you’ll wonder why anyone would want a cheese that had been aged for ten years in a plastic bag, when the taste of hand-crafted cheese aged in cloth and cave for a little more than a year can be so profound.Bleu Mont Bandaged Cheddar tastes of caramel,  toasted walnuts, mustard greens and earthy mushrooms.    The texture is dense with no holes, and plenty of the crunchy tyrosine crystals we love in a well-aged cheese.  A wheel weighs close to eleven pounds, and the beautifully mottled cloth that protects the cheese should be peeled off prior to serving.

We are very proud to sell Willi’s cheese.  Give us a call us for pricing, or to place an order at (612)521-8725.  We love talking about cheese.

Happy Eating!

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