Patterned after New Zealand Cheddar, cave-aged Chandoka by LaClare Farms is the result of a successful collaboration between Pipe, WI-based cheesemaker LaClare Farms, which makes the cheese, and Chicago-area retailer Standard Market, which ages it. This award-winning 70/30 blend of cow’s and goat’s milk is the creation of Katie Fuhrmann, daughter of LaClare’s owners Larry and Clara Hedrich.
Standard Market Cave-Aged Chandoka is prepared differently than its predecessor, the widely distributed Chandoka, in a regular block format. To produce the aged version, the ingredients are cooked up to 101 degrees F., inoculated with cultures and, once coagulated, cut into curds and stirred for 30 minutes. The whey is then drained, cut into slabs and, rather than stacked like English-style cheese, flipped during cheddaring. This rotates the fat downwards and presses it under the weight of the slab, which adds moisture and sweetness to the cheese. After being milled into curds and pressed overnight, the cheese is shipped to Standard Market via refrigerated truck.
“We get the cheese a couple of days after it leaves LaClare’s press,” says David Rogers, Standard Market’s maître fromager affineur. “We lard and muslin bandage each wheel, then put it on a cedar board to age a minimum of six months, but preferably between eight and 10 months.”
Chandoka debuted in 2012 as a result of the Hedrich family’s experimentation with blended milk Cheddar and after success with its 10-year-old Evalon, a goat milk Gouda. The collaboration with Standard Market to bandage-wrap and cave-age Chandoka, which began a year later, transformed what is normally sold as a young block Cheddar into a completely new and complex product.
Similar to Evalon, time serves to further develop Cave-Aged Chandoka’s complexity, and the complex flavor constantly changes throughout its lifecycle. Though the mixed milk sets it apart, it’s the flavor that is the standout.
“The goat’s milk adds tangy, citric and lemony characteristics, like a sweet pineapple flavor, combined with upfront buttery, macadamia nut characteristics from the cow’s milk that ends with a lemony, grassy finish,” explains Rogers, touting the cheese’s unique qualities. “Cave-Aged Chandoka is moister than most bandage wraps, which limits how long the cheese can be aged, and this creates a creamier texture.”
Recommended pairings for Cave-Aged Chandoka are similar to those with classic Cheddar, such as Italian red wines or cabernets that are not too tannic, crisper pilsner-style ales, floral IPAs and ciders. Uses range from a sandwich and salad topper to a mac and cheese ingredient.
“This is a Cheddar with an amazing breadth in what it can be used for,” says Rogers. “It’s super approachable, yet complex and with more depth than other cheeses of this type.”
The industry has taken notice. Cave-Aged Chandoka’s accolades include a first place win in its category and second place Best in Show at the American Cheese Society’s 2015 conference.
“What makes it interesting for me is that this is such a partnership between Standard Market and LaClare Farms, and there’s not a lot of that around,” says Rogers. “I think a growing number of cheesemakers will take the aging component off of their hands so they can make more cheese, and our arrangement highlights where artisan cheese is going in the next 10 to 15 years.”