UW-Madison: University experts help Roelli create champion cheese


Chris Roelli- (608) 965-3779, roellicheese@hotmail.com

John Jaeggi- (608) 262-2264, jaeggi@cdr.wisc.edu

MADISON – If you walk into Roelli Cheese Haus near Shullsburg in southwest Wisconsin, you’ll see plenty of succulent Wisconsin cheeses – but not Little Mountain, the company’s champion cheese. It lives behind the counter, with nary a sign.

Little Mountain, described by its maker as a “classic upland style from Switzerland,” is not contraband, but Roelli is practically running on empty after a “Best of Show” at the American Cheese Society contest in July. “We feel pretty honored,” says company owner Chris Roelli, noting that Little Mountain bested 1,842 other cheeses in the competition.

Although Roelli is a fourth-generation cheesemaker, in creating the recipe and honing the details of microbiology, timing and equipment, he got assistance from the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “For us as a small business, tapping the experience at CDR was invaluable,” he says. “It accelerated our path to bring this cheese to the market, literally by years.”

Little Mountain requires at least seven months of careful aging to achieve its characteristic flavor, texture and rind. Aging occurs in an above-ground “cellar,” with cooling pipes along the walls. Forced air would waft microbes, threatening the cheese with spoilage.

Roelli’s great-grandfather, Adolph Roelli, immigrated from Altburon, Switzerland to Green County in the early 1900s. “He was a cheesemaker’s apprentice in different areas of the Swiss Alps,” says Roelli. “He settled here as a farmer and sold milk to a co-op, which offered him a job as head cheesemaker, based on his experience in Switzerland.”

The CDR is the world’s mecca for dairy product research. Operated at UW-Madison with funds from dairy farmers and food processors, its experts boast hundreds of years of combined experience in industry and academia. Those experts have something else in common: Many grew up in the same milieu as the cheesemakers they work with.

“Although artisan cheesemakers are pretty open in general, when it comes to world-class cheese, there are still secrets out there,” Roelli says. Holding secrets is a point of pride at CDR. “To be able to draw from the knowledge base at CDR was invaluable,” says Roelli. “There is nowhere else you could get that. If John Jaeggi or Mark Johnson (a CDR cheese scientist) asks for help from someone in Europe, they will help. They don’t know me, but they know them.”

Read the full story: http://news.wisc.edu/university-experts-help-roelli-create-champion-cheese/