Last week, I had a lot of fun creating dishes with cheese we received from Landmark Creamery. The Creamery in Albany is owned and operated by Anna Landmark, who won last year’s Wisconsin Licensed Cheesemaker Scholarship from Wisconsin Cheese Originals. Here’s a little Q & A with Anna.
Driftless Appetite: When did you decide you wanted to be a cheesemaker?
Anna Landmark: Funny story, I made my first batch of “30-Minute Mozzarella” back in 2007 when I was on a make-everything-from-scratch kick. It was terrible. In fact it was so terrible, the texture so mushy, I couldn’t even swallow it, and it scared me off of making cheese again for another three years. But in the fall of 2009 my husband and I bought a small property in the country outside of Albany, Wisconsin, and soon after that started raising a small flock of sheep and some chickens. And the next year we purchased a family cow, a Milking Shorthorn named Freckles. She produced so much milk, around 5 gallons a day, that I had to quickly learn how to make cheese in order to free up some space in our refrigerator. And it actually started tasting really good! Cheesemaking quickly turned into a favorite hobby. We sold Freckles a year later and I purchased two milking goats, Gisele and Celeste, who produced a more reasonable gallon a day. But, I loved raising sheep and I really loved sheep milk cheeses. And because there are very few US-made sheep milk cheeses on the market, a seed took root in my brain that I could start a farmstead dairy and make sheep milk cheese. We ultimately decided that while I wanted to be a cheesemaker, we weren’t so sure about becoming dairy farmers. And the sheep dairies that were already in existence needed buyers for their milk. So I’m buying sheep milk and supporting family farms.
My first recollection of eating cheese is at my grandparent’s dairy farm. They always had a large block of Swiss cheese sitting under a glass dome on the kitchen table. It would be brought out for breakfast in the morning and generally left on the table until the end of the day when it was wrapped up and put into the refrigerator. Swiss cheese with breakfast, with dinner, and with supper. My grandfather was a stout Swiss dairyman. His grandfather was one of the original settlers of a small Swiss farming community here in Wisconsin in 1853. They came to farm and they brought their beloved Swiss cows and cheese recipes.
All growing up I never once imagined becoming a cheesemaker. Because of the terrible milk prices in the 1980’s and the pressure on farmers to pull cows off of pasture and milk more and more, my grandfather retired and discouraged his children and grandchildren from getting into farming. I got my degree in Political Science at the University of Wisconsin and from that point on, worked across the east coast and Midwest on various political campaigns and issues.
But my roots pulled me back to Wisconsin, and a noisy cow pushed me into cheesemaking. I fell in love with the tradition of cheesemaking, the craft of it, it’s the epitome of slow food and so grounded in the essence of what makes a place, the soil, the grasses, the livestock, and the cultures and tastes of the people who live there. I just hope my passion and a sense of that history comes through in my cheese.
Nuage Noir on Aaron Weaver Plate
Driftless Appetite: Where do you source your milk?
Anna Landmark: There are just two water buffalo dairy herds in the state of Wisconsin, and both are located near a small town called Plain, which is where Cedar Grove Cheese is located, which is the plant I’m currently making my cheese at. One of the requirements to attain a cheesemaker license in Wisconsin is to apprentice for 240 hours. Bob Wills, who is a Master Cheesemaker and the owner of Cedar Grove Cheese, agreed to take me on as an apprentice, and lets me, along with a few other “dairy plant-less” cheesemakers, make my cheese there. I started making water buffalo cheese for fun, simply because I had access to the milk. Once I started playing with it though, I really fell in love with it. I put a lot of thought into what styles of cheese would take advantage of the richness of it – it has twice as much fat as cow milk, and more protein and calcium, which gives it such an amazing texture.
Driftless Appetite: Where are you products available?
Anna Landmark: Right now, Crescenza di Bufala and Nuage Noir are available through my website, www.landmarkcreamery.com, and we’re just shipping in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois. Petit Nuage has been in a few stores and restaurants in the Madison area, though we’re now done for the season – no more sheep milk until March!
Crescenza di Bufala
Driftless Appetite: What are some of your favorite Wisconsin cheeses?
Anna Landmark: My very favorite cheese right now is Silver & Lewis’ day-old brick. It’s absolutely delicious. They have a really great Muenster too, that I could eat large quantities of. Deppler’s Baby Swiss is another perennial favorite. Then there’s Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Cesar’s Queso Oaxaca and Roelli Cheese’s Red Rock. Diana Murphy has the best chevre on the market right now in my opinion, Dream Farm Chevre. And Hidden Springs Creamery’s Ocooch Mountain is one of my favorite sheep milk cheeses. And Crème de la Coulee makes a really good sheep milk camembert.
Driftless Appetite: What do you love most about living in Wisconsin?
Anna Landmark: Our cheese, of course! I never realized how special our abundance of really great cheese is until I lived on the east coast where they have mostly terrible cheeses with a few ok ones from Vermont! Wisconsin is home to me. It’s where I grew up, where most of my family lives, and where I hope I can make a positive impact on promoting local, sustainable farmed food.
Thanks again to Anna for letting us sample her cheeses. If you’d like to learn more about one of the water buffalo herds, check out this article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and post by Jeanne Carpenter.
Pictured below is the nuage noir with Concord grapes, “Pizza Anna” (with Sun Gold tomatoes), chili relleno, and pears (poached in honey, grapes, and basil) with the sheep’s milk cheese. Recipes to come soon!
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