Editor’s Note: “The Cheese Artist,” which originally appeared in the September 2012 issue ofMpls.St.Paul Magazine, was nominated for a James Beard Distinguished Writing award and will be included in the book Best Food Writing 2012. Excerpt:
“To this day, I’ve never had a cheese culinary experience like the day I met Mary,” she remembers. “I was at L’Etoile, and she brought in all these little samples. I don’t want to say it was life-changing, but I was absolutely speechless at every sample of cheese. The word ‘genius’ is the first thing that came to my mind, and it’s the word that has stayed.”As the chief cheese buyer for her restaurants, and a former American Cheese Society judge, Lax has tasted as many Wisconsin cheeses as anyone. “Mary’s easily one of the top three cheesemakers in Wisconsin, there is no doubt in my mind,” she says. “The originality of what she does—each of her cheeses has such a unique flavor profile. Such depth, such texture—her cheese is always a mind-blowing experience for me, even years later.”Steven Jenkins, another fan, wrote the book on cheese, literally. His 1996 book, Steven Jenkins Cheese Primer, is the definitive reference for Americans who want to understand cheese. “Mary is the most talented, drop-dead cheesemaker of my career,” he proclaims. “Her Trade Lake Cedar is an American treasure. What she does to get her sheep’s milk—my God. Her sheepdogs have to protect that flock from eagles, bears, wolves—it’s a wild wonderland. That she’s not a superstar and as rich as some bogus so-called ‘celebrity’ chef is criminal.”
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