CHEESE PLEASE: Carr Valley produces about 80 different types of cheese, some of which are shown; Cook aims to create American cheeses that are on the same level as European mainstays.


If anyone was primed to create a disturbance in the cheese-industry force, it’s Cook. Since the 1880s, his great-grand-father, grandfather, and father, Sam Cook, all made their living “herdin’ curds,” as Cook puts it. As a boy, he recalls riding a pedal-tractor around the metal mixing vats in the family’s plant and doing odd jobs.


SID COOK says that asking him to select his favorite cheeses is akin to asking him to pick a favorite child. But when pressed, the master cheesemaker opts for the following five:

Combo of goat, sheep, and cow milk produces complex flavor with a nutty finish. Try it on toast or pasta; pair with a pinot noir.

A decadent, spreadable cow-milk blue cheese; bold and fruity. Eat
with pear slices; serve with brandy or port wine.

Sweet and salty, with a browned, crusty top. Grill it and use as croutons in a salad, or top with jam, honey, or maple syrup; serve with a chardonnay or beer.

Triple-cream cow-milk cheese with a buttery texture. Team it with fresh berries or stuff it inside a pitted date, then wrap it in bacon and heat; pair with merlot or sweeter reds.

A big and fruity taste and a “wooly,” or earthy, finish. Enjoy with fig or fruit paste; pair with a cabernet or ice wine.

“Cheese’s been my whole life,” he says. “I literally grew up in a cheese factory. All my relatives ever talked about was cheese.”

As such, cheesemaking lore and knowledge must have permeated Cook’s cerebrum the way native molds penetrate daisy wheels of cheese, imbuing them with earthy flavors. And whatever he didn’t learn from family, he picked up from the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison — a rigorous, 15-year program that he completed in 2002.

After becoming the owner of Carr Valley following ownership of Irish Valley Cheese Factory, Cook started buying small cheese factories in central Wisconsin. The company currently owns four plants that produce different kinds of cheese. He and fellow master cheesemaker Tom Jenny use milk trucked from 55 local dairy farmers, some of them suppliers for 30 years or more.

Their fresh-as-can-be product is helping Cook achieve a lofty goal: to change the vocabulary of American cheeses from run-of-the-mill cheddars and Colbys to something more exotic and sensual — cheeses that stand as equals with European stalwarts.

“Why shouldn’t we have our own great cheeses that are truly American?” Cook muses. “We needed someone to invent some. There’s a whole world of cultures and milks out there to work with.”

But he also brings a wicked sense of humor to a high-minded goal. Take the aforementioned Cave-Aged Marisa. “She was really ticked off,” he says of his daughter’s reaction to becoming part of the Carr Valley lexicon.
Or consider Mobay, his whimsical take on Morbier, the world-famous French cheese; this sublimely delicious Cook original features two layers of cheese, one made from goat milk and one from sheep milk, separated by a dark streak of grapevine ash.

“Each milk adds a substantial amount of complexity to the cheese,” he notes. “To put it in musical terms, it’s more of a melody as opposed to one flat note.”