CHEESEMAKER EXTRAORDINAIRE: Sid Cook, owner of Carr Valley Cheese Company in La Valle, Wisconsin, displays his award-winning cheese. In fact, he's won more than 500 awards at various competitions.
Courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

Artisanal-cheese-movement leader SID COOK invites you to try world-class American varieties that are whey better than cheddar.

YEARS AGO, the words fine American cheese were oxymoronic — enough to send your average bon vivant on a laughing jag normally reserved for talking-animal videos on YouTube. Want some Velveeta or a nice commodity cheddar paired with that 2009 Château Margaux? Bon appétit!

But there’s less laughing these days, thanks in part to affable everyman Sid Cook, a fourth-generation cheesemaker who’s making magic with milk in the bucolic heart of America’s Dairyland, otherwise known as Wisconsin. In the last 10 years, the owner of Carr Valley Cheese Company, based in tiny La Valle, has become the most decorated cheesemaker in North America.

Cook has racked up more than 500 awards at national and international competitions. In fact, in 2008, he pulled off a feat of Brobdingnagian proportions, bagging two of the top three awards in the American Cheese Society’s prestigious annual competition — the Super Bowl of the whey-and-culture set.

Cook’s Snow White Goat Cheddar received the best of show award, and his Cave-Aged Marisa — named after his daughter because he says it’s complex, sweet, and gets better with age — placed third overall. That’s like Tiger Woods cloning himself and finishing first and third at the Masters Golf Tournament.

“It kind of makes you a legend, even though you’re not dead,” Cook, age 61, quips about his success.

Sara Hill, culinary manager of cheese education at the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and a 30-year cheese-industry veteran, says Cook’s prowess spurred the creation of the American Originals category in the American Cheese Society competition.

“So many American cheeses are inspired by traditional European cheeses, but he takes them one step farther and makes them his own,” she says. “Sid was mixing cow, goat, and sheep milk before anyone else.”