The Centennial State has become famous for skiing, craft brews, cannabis and, recently, CU Buffs football, but in certain circles Colorado is revered as a state of cheese. Most folks don’t know it, but almost every pizza they order from a national chain is topped with Colorado mozzarella.
“While we don’t have very many cheese companies, I think Colorado cheese is highly regarded on two levels,” says Robert Poland, co-founder of MouCo Cheese Company in Fort Collins.
The world’s largest mozzarella cheese maker, Leprino Foods, is located in Colorado. “Leprino is doing cheese at a level that is unfathomable,” Poland says. “They have all the mozzarella contracts, including Domino’s Pizza.”
Meanwhile, the state’s smaller artisan cheesemakers are well-known because they keep winning national and international awards. MouCo is the largest operation, crafting 600,000 to 700,000 individual soft-ripened cheeses annually, Poland says.
Competing against global cheesemakers, MouCo’s Camembert recently took second place at the International Cheese and Dairy Awards in England. At the 2023 American Cheese Society competition, the Oscars of the U.S. cheese world, MouCo earned medals for its soft-ripened Ashley and ColoRouge cheeses.
However, the huge surprise was a prize for MouCo’s new cheddar cheese curds, a category typically dominated by Wisconsin cheesemakers.
The majority of cheese curds are simply cheddar (although it’s possible to make them from other cheeses, like Muenster and Colby) before they are pressed into a wheel or block. Curds are a popular snack and the obligatory poutine topping on fries with gravy.
“After we won, I imagine there were meetings going on at the big Wisconsin cheesemakers,” Poland says. “They must be saying: ‘This is our category. This is our cheese. We can’t have somebody from Colorado winning it.’”
The maker of a treat found on innumerable charcuterie boards got into the curd business almost haphazardly.
“There was a cheesemaker who specialized in curds nearby who was selling their equipment,” Poland says. “Our background was fermentation, and soft-ripened cheeses are fermentation-based, but we decided to try making cheese curds on the side. They were an immediate hit.”
If you’ve never tasted them, fresh cheese curds have a distinctive appeal. “[People] want them salty and squeaky,” Poland says.
He attributes all those competition medals to MouCo’s secret weapon: fresh milk from Rockyview Farm, just a 20-minute drive away from the facility. The dairy also supplies milk to make Noosa Yogurt, another notable Colorado dairy product, he says.
“If we’re buying milk that starts off amazing, as long as we don’t get in the way of it, then it stays amazing,” Poland says. “We choose not to dumb down the ingredients. We make a product that people put in their mouth and say, ‘Wow!’”
Poland doesn’t claim his cheeses are better than those made in France, but, “We have a 4,000-mile freshness advantage,” he says. “The same is true about cheese curds where freshness is everything. They should be eaten, ideally, within a week so they have all the squeak everybody’s looking for.” MouCo also uses cheddar curds to make batches of beer cheese for local breweries, including Weldworks in Greeley.
MouCo doesn’t have a retail store, and tours and tastings are available by appointment only. About once a month the company sends an alert to local curdheads offering fresh-from-the-vat, super-squeaky curds at its facility in Fort Collins. Follow MouCo’s social media sites to be on curd alert, or text “Curds” to 970-999-1619.
Finding Colorado’s artisan cheeses
For the past few decades, the first name in Colorado artisan cheesemaking was Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy, the Longmont-based company whose artisan cheese products are no longer being made.
“Colorado was a leader in artisan cheesemaking but during the pandemic we lost some of our small producers, including Haystack,” says Arenia White of Longmont’s Cheese Importer’s Warehouse. “There are a few new creameries starting to produce, so I’m hoping to see Colorado cheese rise again.”
White, granddaughter of the cheese supplier’s founders, says that most visitors to the store’s giant walk-in cheese room are surprised at the large number of Colorado cheeses they have available.
Look for the following Colorado cheese companies at supermarkets, cheese shops and the Boulder and Longmont farmers’ markets:
Colorado Farmhouse Cheese Company: Loveland-based creamery producing artisan cheddar, Gouda and asiago from cow, sheep and goat milk.
James Ranch Artisan Cheese: Durango-based maker of raw, farmstead cheeses including creamy, mild Young Belford and 3-year-old Reserve Belford.
Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy: Buena Vista creamery making goat milk feta, cheddar and raclette cheese.
Laz Ewe 2 Bar Goat Dairy: Producing goat and cow milk cheeses, including chevre, in Del Norte.
Moon Hill Dairy: The small Steamboat Springs goat milk creamery produces chevre.
Queso Campesino: This Denver-based creamery makes Mexican-style cheeses including asadero and cotija.
Rocking W Cheese: An Olathe-based company making dozens of cheeses including Asiago, garlic chive Jack and horseradish cheddar.
Sawatch Artisan Cheese: Making European-style butter, cheese curds, aged Gouda, cheddar and Monterey Jack in Colorado Springs.
Westcliffe Cheese Co.: Producing goats’ milk feta, raw milk bleu cheese, and chevre in six flavors.
The State of Colorado Wine is Fine
Other winners from the judged competition of 286 wines from 48 wineries that use Colorado fruit include: Alfred Eames Cellars 2019 Carmena, Sauvage Spectrum 2022 Teroldego, The Storm Cellar Gewürztraminer and Snowy Peaks 2022 Muscat Blanc. The wines can be sampled Nov. 3 at Colorado Uncorked at the History Colorado Center in Denver. Learn more at coloradowine.com.
Local Food News: Louisville Gets Empanadas
Spam musubi is on the menu at L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, now open at 2323 30th St., Boulder.
The Argentos Empanadas has opened at 1030 E. South Boulder Road in Louisville, just east of the railroad tracks.
Coming soon: Jets Pizza, 2609 Pearl St., Boulder; Lyons’ Diner Bar — known for chef-y comfort foods and adult milkshakes — will open a second location in Nederland in the former Ned’s restaurant, 121 N. Jefferson St., Nederland.
Longmont Public House has closed at 111 Francis St.
Nibbles Index: The King of Sushi
Sushi has now achieved spaghetti-like status, so ubiquitous it’s no longer considered “foreign.” Consider the fact that Kroger — owner of supermarkets including King Soopers — is the top sushi seller in the U.S., according to the Wall Street Journal. Consumers buy more than 40 million pieces of sushi from the grocer during an average year.
“The fact that I was once teased for eating ‘gross’ sushi, to today, when kids eat sushi a couple of times a week from the supermarket, is pretty phenomenal,” says Gil Asakawa, the Denver-based author of Tabemasho! Let’s Eat! The Tasty History of Japanese Food in America (Stone Bridge Press). “It shows the absolute acceptance of Japanese food as part of mainstream American culture. I’ll leave it to the food critics to wax poetic about the quality of supermarket sushi.”