Cheese is the most important staple in our house, next to orange juice. Forget the milk and bread, we have an entire refrigerator drawer dedicated to our cheese supply. When the opportunity to interview Sartori’s Master Cheesemaker Pam Hodgson, presented itself, I couldn’t resist. From the first nibble of their MontAmoré® Cheddar I was hooked.
It’s a Small Cheese World
To be frank, Sartori cheese was a brand I was unfamiliar with. Along the way, I shared my appreciation for their product with friends and family and discovered how notable they are. There was a Sunday brunch I was attending and I gifted our lovely hostess Linda, a block of Sartori’s MontAmoré® and a bottle of Vie Vite Côtes de Provence Rosé 2017. She knew the Sartori product straightaway. As it turns out, her neighbor was on holiday with the owners of Sartori, that very weekend! What a small world it is. Linda enjoyed the cheese and Rosé the following weekend and said the pairing was delicious!
My Personal Cheese Tasting Experience
The folks at Sartori have been a pleasure to work with. A family experience through and through. They gifted me a gorgeous basket of their newest cheese, MontAmoré® in a rugged metal ice bucket along with a hefty cheese board and knife, cocktail napkins and skewers. A lovely handwritten note from owner Maria Sartori was included, extending the invitation for our entire Luxe Beat team to enjoy their “mind-blowing cheddar.” She was right. The cheese was marvelous. My boyfriend Brad helped me kick-off the initial tasting. His desire for a daily dose of cheese is equal to mine and he too loved it. Our charcuterie board included prosciutto, salami and capicola, sprinkled with cranberries, peppercinis, and Granny Smith apple slices. This cheddar-parmesan style cheese was the star of the show. It has a crumbly texture like parmesan, but with a strong cheddar bite. The MontAmoré® pairs nicely with an oaky chardonnay or glass or two of Prosecco. It also melts well. A little goes a long way when heated. It’s a magnificent find.
Since 1939, the Plymouth, Wisconsin-based Sartori family has been crafting award-winning artisan cheese. Now in their fourth generation of ownership, they’re still committed to crafting some of the best cheese in the world. Value, Community and Mission are the foundation of their success.
Everything at Sartori is rooted in six values: family, commitment, authenticity, ingenuity, integrity and humility. these values shape their corporate culture, to inspire Team Members on a daily basis and influence our strategic thinking.
As community leaders, “We feel it is our duty to express our gratitude to the people and places who have helped us grow. Our story and successes are interwoven to the communities around us and we recognize our good fortune by giving back — whether it’s through the Sartori Foundation or our charitable partners, such as Make-A-Wish.”
It is the family’s mission “to craft the best cheese in the world.” They have won more than 350 national and international awards and “are on the constant pursuit of perfection.” Their team members and Master Cheesemakers are encouraged to “bring an entrepreneurial and innovative approach to not only to cheesemaking, but to every element of our business.”
Master Cheesemaker Pam Hodgson
Sartori’s Pam Hodgson took time out to speak with me about the life as a Master Cheesemaker. She’s passionate about her craft and has been with Sartori since 2013. She is only the second woman in the country to hold the title of Master Cheesemaker and Pam is a pioneer in both the industry and at Sartori.
Wisconsin is the only state one can achieve the title of Master Cheesemaker. The Center for Dairy Research requires a 10 year commitment in the industry and just shy of three years of coursework and testing. Pam hsa dedicated more than a decade to her craft before being called a master in Fontina and Open Hard Cheese. Her innovative approach to cheesemaking has led to Sartori original creations, such as Limited Edition Extra-Aged Goat and MontAmoré®.
Her passion for the art and science behind developing the perfect cheese is infectious. She shares the inspiration behind the creation of Sartori’s Limited Edition Extra-Aged Goat and she has something to say about what her “favorite cheese” is. Here is my interview with Pam Hodgson, a Luxe Beat Magazine exclusive:
Where does your passion for cheese come from?
For me cheesemaking is a life’s work – forever challenging, humbling and fulfilling. Cheesemakers often talk about the “art and science” of the craft. This is true as our major ingredient, milk, changes with the seasons. While our cheeses are made with only four ingredients (milk, starter culture, enzymes and salt), there are endless ways to combine them and many cheesemaking methods. No wonder there are so many cheese varieties and new cheeses yet to be created!
How did you end up with a career in cheese?
While my maternal grandfather was an award-winning cheesemaker, growing up that wasn’t my goal. I wanted to be a dairy farmer like my parents, which took me to the University of Wisconsin where I earned a Dairy Science degree. My first job was for a Cooperative working in their Ag Service department. It was a good job – I could use my education to help dairy farm families become more efficient and sustainable. The downside was that it required travel, so when my husband and I were expecting our first child I pursued a Quality position in a cheese plant also owned by the Cooperative.
Once in the plant, I thrived. I didn’t know that I would like cheesemaking but I quickly fell in love with the art and science, the challenges, and the folks who I was working with.
How does one become a Master Cheesemaker?
First one needs to become a Licensed Cheesemaker which involves doing a cheesemaking apprenticeship and passing an exam. Then one needs to be a Licensed Cheesemaker for 10 years before one can apply to the Master Cheesemaker program. For those fortunate enough to be accepted, there is a second apprenticeship of three more years. During this time, there is a thorough plant inspection, classwork and every year Graders come to the plant to evaluate the cheeses to determine if they are of Master’s quality.
What is it about Fontina and Open Hard Cheeses that is of interest to you?
I have a special connection to both Fontina and MontAmoré® which I used for the Open Hard Certification. When I started working at Sartori, they were making a very good Fontina however, based on how our customers wanted to use it, one of my first tasks was to recreate it with different attributes. Likewise at that time MontAmoré® was just an infant – we knew that we had something special but we didn’t know exactly what. The cheese defies categories. So one of my first assignments was to understand the cheese – what makes it tick, what makes it so special.
How are you innovative in your approach to cheesemaking?
For me, cheesemaking is holistic. I want to understand every nuance, every angle. My approach to innovation reflects this. I read some pretty technical stuff, sample a lot different kinds of cheese, think and dream, and I play, usually at first on a really small scale (think stovetop).
What is the story behind developing Sartori’s Limited Edition Extra-Aged Goat and MontAmoré® Cheddar?
Extra-Aged Goat was developed as a tribute to my parents. After they retired from dairy farming, they moved to the farm where my father grew up. It had a steep embankment and my dad joked that he was going to get a couple of goats to trim the grass. Pretty soon he had two goats and they a full herd. He is an animal guy and no doubt missed having cows. When my kids became old enough to join 4-H, they showed his goats at the County Fair and at the Wisconsin State Fair. The goats became this special thing that my parents and my kids shared. I wanted to honor this by creating something different and very special. Extra-Aged Goat is different than most goat milk cheeses available. It is hard cheese made in the Sartori tradition. It is approachable and delightful.
How does one set-out to create a new cheese from scratch?
Cheese has been made a long time, so one might think that there is nothing new to be created. However that is not the case. For me, I am always listening to the process, always learning, using what cheesemaking has taught me and trying to apply it in new, creative ways.
Have you participated in the World Cheese Cup? Any awards?
Sartori consistently competes — and has success — at the international and national level. Just last year our Black Pepper BellaVitano® was named Grand Champion at the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest and we had two cheeses place in the World Top 20 at the 2018 World Championship Cheese Contest.
What is the best way to store cheese?
In a temperature similar to where you buy it, so your refrigerator covered in plastic wrap. When preparing it though, it’s best to let it come to just above room temperature. Not only will it make it easier to cut, but will also bring out the best flavors of the cheese.
Do different types of cheese require different storage?
Yes, when you get into fresh or soft-ripened cheese, but ours can be treated similarly.
What is the public’s biggest misconception about cheese?
That it’s an easy process to create it.
Do you spend time doing food and wine pairings with the cheeses you’re developing?
We have some (recommendations) for pairings when we’re finalizing the cheese, and we work with some of the culinary experts on our team to expand and test those.
What pairings would you recommend for Sartori’s Limited Edition Extra-Aged Goat and MontAmoré® Cheddar?
We actually have a pairing guide on our website – http://www.sartoricheese.com/pairing-guide.html. You can select a cheese and see what pairs OR select a food or drink and see what cheese goes best with it. (Recipes are included.)
Do you research the competition?
We’re always trying new cheeses that are out.
What is your favorite cheese?
Can you pick a favorite child? When you create them, it’s nearly impossible to have a favorite.
What is your favorite cheese pairing?
We’ve had fun playing with MontAmoré® Cheddar lately — combining it with really good dark chocolate and Mission figs or roasted almonds and dried cherries.
Are you still only the second female in the country to become a Master Cheesemaker?
While there are only two female Master Cheesemaker right now there are a lot of women who are making some fantastic cheeses. It is only a matter of time before we have more female Master Cheesemakers. I can’t wait!
Pam was a delight and I enjoyed exploring the behind the scenes of the fine-art of cheesemaking, from one of the best Master Cheesemakers in the United States. To learn more about Sartori products or find recipes go to sartoricheese.com.