Anyone who knows me knows that I love cheese (I have a cheeseboard tattooed on my leg).
Although I grew up enjoying the Midwestern staple, a large part of my knowledge and a deeper appreciation for the dairy delight came through working for Janice and Michael Thomas at Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese. Under the tutelage of Michael and my more experienced coworker, John Witteborg, I learned how to make the perfect cheeseboard and the best way to cut cheese (no laughing).
Although Schoolhouse is now closed, I was excited to hear that Janice and Michael were doing a series of dinners with cheesemakers at their Savory Spoon Cooking School in Ellison Bay.
If you’ve never been to the Savory Spoon, walking into the former schoolhouse feels like you’re stepping into someone’s kitchen, where a large island acts as the focal point of the room. The aroma of our forthcoming dinner was wafting through the air, and the usual work tables for classes had been removed and were replaced by two long, picnic-style tables. The floral tablecloths and bright room created the feeling of a picnic on a sunny day indoors.
That dinner – the 1,627th class at the school – featured Bruce Workman of Edelweiss Creamery in Monticello, Wisconsin. Prior to the dinner, Michael said that Workman was the hardest-working cheesemaker he knew. He had formed that opinion because once, Michael had joined Workman to see what his day was like. It started at 3 am and ended after 5 pm.
Workman has been a cheesemaker since 1971 and has 12 certifications as a Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker – in Wisconsin, he currently holds the title for having the most certifications from this rigorous program.
The dinner started with Workman walking the guests through a sampling of cheeses from his creamery: a soft and rich Butterkäse; a mild and acidic Havarti; an aged, raw-milk Gouda; and Edelweiss’ popular Emmentaler Swiss. Workman is one of very few cheesemakers in the United States who makes Swiss in the traditional style – in a large copper vat that results in 180-pound wheels of cheese.
Each course incorporated a cheese made at Workman’s creamery. The Emmentaler appeared in the first course in the form of a cheese crisp atop a bed of greens with a light vinaigrette and kohlrabi from Mighty Wind Farms in Sister Bay. A dill Havarti acted as the base layer for dinosaur kale and seared squash in course two. The main course featured a marinated skirt steak with homemade focaccia and risotto made with Butterkäse. The dinner ended with a bright and refreshing lemon ice cream, served with blueberries and buttery shortbread.
Between courses, those gathered around the tables were chatting and getting to know each other. The intimate, cozy space was filled with the sound of laughter, clinking silverware and sounds of delight as each person tried the night’s offerings.
As the evening wore down and wine glasses and plates were emptied, Michael closed with a few words. He announced that this would be the last season for the Savory Spoon Cooking School. He and Janice have been running the school for the past 17 years, and although they have accomplished a lot in the space, they’re excited about what might come next.
Savory Spoon Cooking School is offering a robust schedule of classes and pop-up events through October. Learn more and snag your spot in the final classes at savoryspoon.com.