Fromagination isn’t your typical Wisconsin cheese store with nondescript cheeses of questionable age and origin surrounded with all kinds of junk aimed at attracting tourists looking for a bag of curds or some cheddar in the shape of the State of Wisconsin. No, you won’t find any of this nonsense at Fromagination. What you will find when you enter is what is definitely one of the best cheese stores in the state. Their website describes them as a specialty cheese market celebrating Wisconsin Artisan Cheesemakers. These people are serious about serving high quality cheeses from not only from Wisconsin but from other American artisans and specialty cheese from around the World. The best part is that they will give you samples of anything, which makes it much easier to purchase cheeses costing upwards of 40 dollars a pound.
After a whirlwind tasting tour, guided by one of their very friendly and knowledgeable employees I was able to settle on four cheeses to purchase.
I purchased this Ader Kase Reserve, which is a German style mild blue cheese made up in Seymour, Wisconsin, which is also one of a handful of Cities laying claim to being the birthplace of the hamburger, The employee assisting me said that I was one of his favorite Wisconsin blues. It is now one of mine too. Its creamy and not too overpowering. I have used it to make a pear & blue cheese sandwich, on top of a grilled burger, and mixed into a salad of greens, fava beans, tomatoes, and walnuts with a pear balsamic vinaigrette. Ader Kase was recently included in Wine Spectator’s list of “100 Great Cheeses.” Also check out this review of Ader Kase from the San Francisco Chronicle.
Another cheese I sampled, and immediately decided to purchase was Constant Bliss, which is produced by Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont. Constant Bliss is a raw milk cheese with an interesting blend of texture contrasts. When you slice it you will notice that the core of the cheese has ripened a bit more than the outer portions so you get a more dense center surrounded by a creamy outer core (see photo above). When you eat it you get the somewhat bitter taste of the edible rind, the creamy texture of the outer core, and the almost crumbly inner core. The flavor is spectacular, its smooth and buttery with a slightly tangy flavor. If you are a creamy raw milk cheeses like Brie or Camembert, this cheese will really impress you. Probably one of the best cheeses I have ever tasted. Here’s the review from the San Francisco Chronicle for this cheese.
In need of some Parmesan cheese I tried a sample of SarVecchio Parmesan, which is produced by Sartori Foods in Plymouth, Wisconsin. This is an excellent version of the iconic Italian Cheese that has all of the elements of a good Parmesan; its nutty, salty and a tad crunchy from the crystals that form during the almost 2 year aging process. The American Cheese society is also a fan, awarding it with a first place finish in the hard-grating cheese category in 2007. Here is the Chronicle review.
The final cheese was a Marieke Gouda from Holland’s Family Farm in Thorp, Wisconsin. They sell a wide variety of Goudas and Fromagination carries quite a few, if not all, of their Goudas. The one I purchased was an aged variety which had an excellent, complex flavor. What I like about their Gouda is that you can purchase it at various stages of the aging process from as young as 2-4 months for a creamy, more subtle texture and flavor to over a year old which becomes more complex and firm, almost crumbly. This allows you to see how one cheese can taste so different as you age it. Also, if you have never tried their Foenegreek Gouda, ask the folks at Fromagination for a sample. It is a very unique taste, very nutty with a hint of sweetness from the seeds, which many people think have an almost maple flavor. Those in the Milwaukee area can pick up Holland’s Family Farm Goudas at Brennan’s in Brookfield too.
After all of this tasting, I was still hungry so I picked out one of their grab and go sandwiches. They use artisan bread and cheese and pair them with other top-notch ingredients. I had a Camembert and smoked turkey sandwich with cranberry relish, red leaf lettuce and Dijon mayonnaise. The sandwich was great and makes you wonder why people settle for Subway sandwiches when stuff this good is out there.
Fromagination also holds classes and seminars which often times feature the cheesemakers featured in the store. In addition to selling cheese and sandwiches they have all kinds of other stuff from cured meats and pate to DVDs about Wisconsin Cheese. Check out their website for more information, or better yet stop by the next time you are in Madison. Fromagination is located at 12 S. Carroll Street on the Capitol Square.