Cesar’s Cheese earns its way in retail shops, contests
A cheesemaking avocation that started in Oaxaca, Mexico has taken root in Wisconsin with the limited production of five types of cheese, which are sold in upscale and specialty outlets in the greater Milwaukee metropolitan area.
Cesar’s Cheese, owned and operated by Cesar Luis and his wife Heydi, who are Random Lake residents, specializes in the hand making of cheese. He learned the technique as a young boy while working with his grandmother in Mexico.
Luis earned his Wisconsin cheesemaker’s license in 2008 following the required training. This included 250 hours at Beechwood Cheese in southwest Sheboygan County and a period of making cheese one day per cheese at Roelli Cheese at Shullsburg in Grant County.
In 2010, the Luises began making cheese by renting space at the Sassy Cow Creamery near Columbus in Columbia County.
They typically make 350 pounds of cheese per batch — three times per week. Storage is provided in a cheese factory cave near Blue Mounds west of Madison.
Sassy Cow Creamery, owned and operated by the James and Robert Baerwolf families, has a milk bottling business along with separate conventional and organic dairy herds.
Luis obtains the milk from the conventional herd, noting that he’d be required to obtain a special license in order to make organic cheese.
He also noted one must be a licensed cheesemaker for 10 years before being eligible for Wisconsin’s Master Cheesemaker training and certification.
The Luises’ premier cheese, named Queso Oaxaca, is crafted completely by hand to make a string cheese that very prominently displays strings in its final form for serving.
The hand work involves stretching it into 15-pound, 50-foot ropes, which are then cut into string cheese sticks or Mexican-style knots.
Luis explains that the secret to the process is stretching the rope in only one direction, contrary to the offsetting pulling typically involved with the mechanical production of string cheese.
It’s this string cheese that has brought Cesar’s Cheese a significant amount of recognition on the cheese contest circuit — first place in the World Dairy Expo dairy product contest in 2011 and in the American Cheese Society competition in 2010, second place in both the World Championship Cheese Contest and the World Dairy Expo contest in 2010, and third place in the World Championship Contest in 2012.
Other varieties in the Cesar’s Cheese lineup are mozzarella, Cheddar curds, Queso Fresco, and Queso Quesadilla (a smooth, soft, and mild variety popular for snacking and melting in Mexico).
For two years, Luis has also been trying to develop a variety that is similar to a popular one in Spain.
Cesar’s Cheese is sold at the Sendik’s Food Markets in Grafton and Germantown, Larry’s Market in Brown Deer, Glorioso Italian Market in Milwaukee, and The Outpost stores in Milwaukee.
Samples of the cheeses were provided to attendees at a program titled “Cheese Brings Smiles” at the Random Lake Area Historical Museum.
Responding to Questions
Following the featured presentation at that program by Edwin Fisher on the history of cheese factories in Sheboygan County, the discussion with the audience turned to how different varieties of cheese are made.
Luis was summoned to an impromptu session to handle the questions on that subject.
Luis explained that the various flavors are obtained by what starter cultures (bacteria) are chosen, the temperature to which the milk in vats is raised, how long certain temperatures are maintained, and the amount of time the cheese is aged.
The use of rennet (once obtained from the stomach of calves but now commercially produced) is a basic requirement in making cheese, he pointed out.
For Cheddar cheese, the preferred temperature is 90 degrees for 45 minutes before the rennet (an enzyme) is added. Then the temperature is raised to 102 degrees before the whey is drained.
String cheese is made in a similar fashion except for being put in a brine for 15 to 60 minutes, Luis added.
To make Swiss cheese, the milk is heated to 118 degrees, CO2 is injected in order to create the eyes that authenticate the variety, and aging for one to two years is required, Luis stated.
To a question about cheese mold, he replied that proper sealing, which keeps out oxygen, is an essential and that adding CO2 can delay the formation of mold.
The butterfat and protein percentages in milk also govern the choices for making cheeses and the quality that they will be, Luis told the attendees.
He pointed out that butterfat affects the eventual grade applied to cheese and that milk from Holstein cows can easily vary from 3.2 to 4.1 percent butterfat, depending largely on weather conditions and somewhat on the ration.
Another opportunity that Luis had was making Gouda cheese from goats’ milk at the Saxon Creamery in Cleveland.
He noted that calcium is added before the cheese is made. That milk came from the Hedrich family’s goat herd at Chilton. An entry of that cheese won the United States Cheese Championship in 2010.
Cesar’s Cheese can be reached by telephone at 414-520-5266 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.