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In-depth cheese tour leaves lasting impression in Nicolet grad, instructor

Oct. 9, 2017

While there may not be an actual thing as a cheese heaven, Nicolet College Culinary Arts graduate Dan Resch and Instructor Vicki Mendham came as close to finding it as possible during a four-day cheese tour prize package they won in a recent culinary contest.

In all, the two toured seven commercial artisan cheese-making operations in southern Wisconsin, getting a first-hand look - and taste - at how dozens upon dozens of different cheeses are made.

Dan Making Cheese“These are recipes that go back three, four, even five generations,” said Resch, who graduated from Nicolet in May with his associate’s degree in Culinary Arts. “It was simply an amazing experience. I had no clue of all of the different nuances and subtleties that go into cheese making and how each creates the distinct characteristics of any given variety.”

The two won the all-expense-paid trip through a recipe contest sponsored by Emmi Roth USA and the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. Their winning recipe was Duck Duck Pork meatballs stuffed with Emmi Roth 3-Chili Pepper gouda cheese.

Of the hundreds of entries from across the country, they were one of only three teams selected nationally for the specialty cheese immersion tour. The other winning teams came from California and Arkansas.

“It really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially for someone who loves cheese as much as I do,” said Mendham, who has taught Culinary Arts at Nicolet for more than 20 years and is herself a second-generation instructor, following in the footsteps of her father, Dick Mendham, who helped create the Culinary Arts program at Nicolet.

“While I had a pretty good idea of how cheese was made, it was fascinating to see the process in person. The milk separation process, the pasteurization, how and when the cultures are added, the brining process, and the many ways cheese is aged, including in an actual cave. It was fascinating, to say the least.”

Resch and Mendham also took part in cheese pairing events, where they learned the art of selecting specific cheeses to go with certain foods and – it being Wisconsin – which cheeses go best with various types of beer.

Mendham said the experience added depth to her knowledge of cheese, something she plans to pass along to her students in the classroom and kitchen.

“A lot of it is in the detail of the types of cheese and all of the different flavors,” she said. “It definitely elevated my game with cheese. I think students will find it interesting and valuable.”

Resch said the immersion tour also gave him new ideas about how to use different cheeses at the new restaurant that he and his partners will open in Rhinelander in October.

In all, he estimated he tasted hundreds of cheese samples over the four days.

“Honestly, thinking back on it, I never thought I could eat so much cheese,” he said.

In the photo aboveNicolet Culinary Arts graduate Dan Resch received first-hand experience making cheese during his recent cheese immersion tour. Here, he flips tins of curd that will eventually become Swiss Lace cheese at the Emmi Roth facility.