Last week I posted about my renewed commitment to pasture-raised meat, eggs, and dairy after attending the open house for the University of Wisconsin’s Dairy Cattle Center.
Coincidentally, just an hour before visiting the UW cows whose lives I didn’t envy, I discovered the delicious, wonderful cheeses of Saxon Homestead Creamery. At the Willy Street Co-op where I did our weekly grocery shopping, a young woman from the Klessig and Heimerl families of dairy farmers was offering samples of their award-winning cheeses, which are made exclusively from the milk produced by their pasture-focused dairy farm. As their website describes,
Rotational Grazing is the cornerstone of our farm, and it is what makes our cheeses so rich and flavorful. We at Saxon Homestead have reduced our reliance on fossil fuels, energy and chemicals, thus drastically lowering our carbon footprint.
Our cows graze on harvest grass in a patch of pasture called a paddock. They are moved every 12 hours to a fresh paddock to graze. We move the cows not only to ensure the health of the paddock, but also the health of the cows. We have developed over 1000 acres of improved pasture, organized into various paddocks ranging in size from 2 to 6 acres. This is truly a “Sea of Grass.”
The family has a long tradition of dairy farming and cheese production. As Bob Galivan writes,
Saxon was founded by Fredrick and Elizabeth Klessig, who emigrated from Germany in , and purchased 160 acres of farmland for $500.00 in 1850. Their initial crops were small grains, like many of the farms in the area, but poor soil management practices depleted the soil and forced many farmers to shift to dairying operations. That move resulted in excess milk, which necessitated more formalized cheese production.
More recently, the family ran a conventional dairy operation until the late 1980s. As described by Jeanne Carpenter (who blogs as the “Cheese Underground Lady”),
The Klessigs and Heimerls converted their conventional dairy to a rotational grazing operation in 1989. That experience became the family’s “a-ha moment” as they turned their herd of Holstein cows out of the barn onto pasture for the first time and said they witnessed “pure pleasure” on the faces of their cows.
After a long process of planning, a cheesemaking venture was established in 2008. As detailed [PDF] in The Cheese Reporter in April, 2008,
Wisconsin’s newest farmstead cheese company has developed two original raw milk, pasture-based specialty cheeses made with old-world character, yet not reminiscent of any cheese currently on the market. Saxon Homestead Creamery, headquartered [in Cleveland,Wisconsin], has been 20 years in the making. It was primarily established to add value to the milk of longtime dairy farmer and company partner Gerald Heimerl. We take considerable pride in our milk production, as most farmers do, Heimerl said. But it bothered him to see milk co-mingled, knowing that “your milk is only as good as the worst milk in the truck.”
For a wonderful recounting of a trip to the Saxon farm, check out dharmagirl’s blog post. As she describes at the end of her piece,
Jerry’s passion for pastured, grass-fed dairy is palpable, and his dedication to this particular farm and its bounty is deep. His message to us was to supprt farms such as his and to support our local communities. Education and knowledge about our food has the power to change all of our lives—producers and consumers.
I don’t feel virtuous or self-righteous as much as I feel committed to truly knowing this place where I now live. And I feel a deep gratitude to the farmers whose labor is invisible in the foods that grace my plate so many times each day. I want to really think about the lives that have contributed to my food—human and non-human alike—and to truly appreciate and support them through the power of my fork.
Amen to that!
So, how ’bout the cheese? As Rufina writes at My Saucy Life,
Saxon Homestead Creamery may be the next frontier for a unique understanding of the terroir of Wisconsin. The combination of location, geology of the soil, average humidity, rainfall, wind, and other climate conditions that can make a wine distinctive, also make the creamery’s namesake cheese, Saxony, distinctive.
“I never really believed it when people talked about the terroir of foods, or recognizing the region of origin of a cheese just by its taste, but now I know it’s true,” Jerry Heimerl admits.
Lyndsey Sharp at the Pastoral blog details just what that Wisconsin terroir tastes like:
Green Fields is the resident washed-rind cheese. Inspired by Trappist cheeses, Green Fields is a raw milk cheese made with cooked curds, and aged for at least 70 days. Green Fields is a solid choice for a full-bodied beer pairing, as it’s pungent aroma and grassy-earth flavor will add a superb but subtle contrast to a beer with deep tones of yeast or spice….
For a meatier choice, Pastures Bandaged-Aged Cheddar is a wonderful way to experience a cheddar. Wrapped in cloth and aged for upwards of 120 days, Pastures is an all-purpose cheddar; it grates well, holds its own as a cubed table cheese amongst toasted nuts, or—for a fantastic twist on an old standby—Pastures is amazing as the center of attention in a grilled cheese sandwich, especially once paired with a crisp and light cider….
Perhaps the most endearing of Saxon’s selection, Big Ed is a farm-style Gouda named after the patriarch of the fourth-generation of Klessig cheesemakers, Ed Klessig. Described as a cheese that “hugs you back,” just like its namesake, Big Ed presents notes of nuts and salt while maintaining a buttery sweetness. A raw milk cheese that is formed into pressed and cooked curds and aged 120 days, Big Ed is also a great companion for an evening spent with some fruity wines and your favorite movie.
If you were reading closely, you noticed that some of these cheeses are made with raw (unpasteurized) milk. But didn’t I just mention on Friday that raw milk sales are illegal in Wisconsin? Yes, but … there’s a loophole. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article I shared last week about raw milk legislation was accompanied by photos of none other than Saxon Creamery. As one photo’s caption explains,
Saxon Creamery in the village of Cleveland in Manitowoc County … makes artisan cheeses, including some from unpasteurized milk. The Food and Drug Administration permits the sale of such cheese if it has been aged at least 60 days.
The cheeses I sampled at the co-op were really lovely, and the family’s commitment to animal well-being, sustainable farming, and the craft of fine cheesemaking are to be admired, encouraged, and savored.