CHEESE AS AN ART: From a metal mixing vat to a plate, cheesemaking for Sid Cook is a creative process. Carr Valley will produce more than four million pounds of his high-end cheeses this year.

PROLIFIC CREATOR

While many artisanal cheesemakers specialize in a few varieties, Cook is prolific, churning out new creations the way tech-heads crank out smart-phone apps. Carr Valley now produces about 80 different cheeses, and inspiration for recipes often emerges from unlikely places.

Take Cocoa Cardona, a goat-milk cheese with a rind dusted with bittersweet cocoa powder and a hint of pepper to brighten the chocolate tones; it’s won numerous awards, including second runner-up out of 1,000 entries in the 2005 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest.

“Some days I’d forget to bring a sandwich for lunch, so I’d put a Hershey’s bar between two slices of Swiss cheese,” he says, explaining its unorthodox genesis. “Or two chocolate bars with one slice of cheese, just to change it up a bit. It made for a pretty damn good sandwich.”

Cocoa Cardona is just the kind of unique cheese that Cook wants American consumers to explore. Despite the national foodie craze, many people think Monterey Jack constitutes haute cuisine. But Cook sees progress, pointing to increased demand from grocery stores for high-end cheeses.

Carr Valley is doing its part: It will produce more than four million pounds of cheese this year and $20 million in sales, and its cheeses are featured at tony restaurants and upscale grocery stores nationwide.

“I’m treading ground my relatives never had a chance to explore — the artistic side of making cheese,” Cook notes. “Cheese was a commodity for them. But we’ve become more artisanal, creating new and different cheeses. I’m very lucky that I get to follow my passion.”

Guess it’s safe to uncork that bottle of Château Margaux, after all.