Dream Cheeses from Four Chefs and a Writer

Photo by Anna Thomas Bates

Wisconsin produces more cheese than any other state. Six hundred varieties are crafted here, double that of runner-up California. Ninety percent of the state’s milk is turned into cheese, and not only has Wisconsin won more cheese awards than any other state, but it has won more cheese awards than any other country.

It’s not surprising that chefs have strong opinions about the cheeses they eat and serve their customers. Here are the dream cheese boards of four chefs and a writer who specializes in cheese.

Maggie Roovers is the general manager at Fresco and was previously the head chef at Forequarter. Maggie’s dream cheese board? “I prefer softer cheeses for a cheese board. I like things that I can spread on a cracker with some sweet stuff. One of my favorite pairings that I’ve done in the past was Petit Nuage (Landmark Creamery) with rhubarb jam.

“At Forequarter, Mel Trudeau encouraged me to make dishes that highlighted cheeses in ways that didn’t always fit the traditional cheese board format. This made me think about the seasonality of cheeses themselves. I associate fresh sheep- and goat-milk cheeses with spring, so I love to pair them with things like asparagus, spring onions, basically anything green.

“Ricotta and any form of mozzarella are my summer cheeses. My most popular cheese dish at Forequarter had to be the marinated summer squash with stracciatella. We served it with the most delicious sourdough from Origin Breads. The way that the cream and the sunflower oil from the squash marinade combined made for the best bread dipping. I don’t know if I’ll ever beat that dish. Alpine cheeses are my go-to for fall, and I love them with all of the winter squash. Bleu cheese is my choice for winter. Working a creamy bleu into a root vegetable puree (especially rutabaga) takes it to another level!”

Jon Rosnow is the chef and owner of Common Pasta and formerly of Heritage Tavern. Jon’s dream cheese board? “Mine has more cheeses on it than I could certainly eat in one sitting. I would have a bit of each though: Landmark Creamery Rebel Miel, Emmi Roth Surchoix, Dreamfarm Roseblossom, Uplands Cheese’s Rush Creek Reserve, Milton Creamery Prairie Breeze, Délice de Bourgogne (France), and Bleu d’Auvergne (France).

“I thoroughly enjoy jams and marmalades with my cheese. I make my own jam, and some of my favorites are strawberry-tarragon-black-pepper and spiced tomato plum. I also like to snack on candied almonds with my cheese. Lastly, I enjoy some lightly dressed bitter greens, like frisée, to counter all the dairy.”

Daniel Bonanno is chef/partner at A Pig in a Fur Coat and a partner at Alimentari. What’s Dan’s dream cheese board? “I love harder, aged cheeses on an evening cheese board: 10-plus-year cheddars, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and bleu cheese served with rich preserves, bread, crackers, and dark honey. For my morning board, I love soft/fresh cheeses, like Brie, fresh mozzarella, goat cheese, burrata, and Alpine cheeses served with fresh tomatoes, melons, toast, and light jams.”

Patrick DePula is CEO/chef at Salvatore’s Tomato Pies. Salvatore’s recently launched a frozen pizza line. What’s Patrick’s dream cheese board? “Oh boy—this is tough. I’ll start with my current cheese crush: Hook’s Hurdy Gurdy. It’s a goat-milk Alpine-style cheese that’s super rich with protein crystals that crunch a little when you bite it. I’d include that on my dream board paired with grilled Batch Bakehouse Scali bread and chilled, grilled peaches drizzled with spicy honey and a touch of salt. I’d add Driftless Provisions outstanding soppressata, Nutkrack, Landmark Creamery Pecora Nocciola, landjäger from Wisconsin River Meats, Sartori SarVecchio, Wisconsin apricots, currants, Uplands Rush Creek Reserve, Door County cherries, Roelli Red Rock, Farmer Johns’ cheese curds, and imported Locatelli Pecorino Romano (Italy).”

Jane Burns is a freelance writer who frequently writes about cheese. What’s Jane’s dream cheese board? “When I do a cheese board, I like to make it a mix of things I want people to try and things that won’t intimidate them. Even a dream cheese board doesn’t make me want to budge from that.

“I’d go with Big Sky Grana from Bleu Mont Dairy for the way it’s so easy to nibble to the point where you even want the crumbs; Prairie Breeze from Milton Creamery, a tasty accessible cheddar from Iowa; Hook’s 20-Year Cheddar because we are dreaming, after all; and while we’re dreaming, and because you can’t have too many cheddars, I’d want to throw on some English Wookey Hole Cave Aged Cheddar just so I could say Wookey Hole Cave Aged Cheddar; for a little sweet and color, I’d opt for some Dreamfarm Apricot Honey Lavender chèvre; Marieke Foenegreek Gouda, which is magical in so many ways; Hook’s Blue Paradise, which always lives up to its name; BellaVitano Raspberry, so beloved by every member of my extended family that we just call it The Family Cheese.”

Not surprisingly, many cheeses on these cheese boards are made in Wisconsin, even though no one was limited to cheeses made in their home state.

Anna Thomas Bates moved to Wisconsin 21 years ago, and after shopping at the Dane County Farmers’ Market and wandering through the Driftless Area, she hasn’t looked back. Co-owner of Landmark Creamery in Paoli, if she isn’t tasting/selling cheese, you’ll find her writing about food, reading a good book, swimming, or hiking with her two boys.

To read more cheese Q&As, go to MadisonEssentials.com


227 State Street
Madison, WI 53703
(608) 663-7374

Common Pasta

1 E. Main Street
Madison, WI 53703

A Pig in a Fur Coat

940 Williamson Street
Madison, WI 53703
(608) 316-3300

Salvatore’s Tomato Pies

5507 Monona Drive
Monona, WI 53716
(608) 305-8611