Say cheese

If you live in central Indiana and you’re all about cheese — and come on, who isn’t? – you’re probably already familiar with Tulip Tree Creamery, owned and operated by local dairy king Fons Smits.


You can find Fons’ fresh mozzarella, funky Foxglove, herby Nettle, creamy fromage frais, dreamy cultured butter and more at Indy-area farmers markets, on restaurant menus and at select gourmet retail outlets all over town. What you may not know is that Fons and company are generously sharing their knowledge through cheesemaking classes held here in Indy at the Tulip Tree production facility.

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I attended one of these sessions last winter, and was thrilled with the whole experience. Class sizes are kept small — around 12 to 15 — to allow everyone a chance to participate.

Here’s how it all went down. Upon arrival, we were greeted with a festive array of Tulip Tree cheeses and accompaniments like crackers, cherry bomb peppers, baguette slices, dates, nuts and other yummy goodies. Besides TT’s greatest hits, we got the chance to sample the new Tiger Lily tomme offering, an earthy soft cheese with a gorgeous salmon-pink rind. So, so happy to dig in and meet my fellow students while noshing on all the cheese we could eat.


For me, the whole spread easily stood in for dinner. If you were to order a much smaller cheese platter/plate of this caliber at a local mid-to-upscale restaurant, you’d be shelling out at least $15 or $20 easily.

After filling up, we took our seats to learn about the art and science of cheesemaking. Fons himself greeted us, and then we received a short primer before donning our aprons and hairnets to give it a shot ourselves.

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Cheesemaking is not easy. There’s so much nuance and mad science in the whole process — making sure you achieve the right temperatures, stirring fast or slow enough, monitoring the curds, and a whole bunch of other technical steps along the way.


Thank goodness our two small groups had excellent coaching, and working as teams, we were able to turn out a tasty queso blanco and stretchy balls of fresh mozzarella. And, everyone got generous samples of both to take home – bonus!!! More than I could eat within a few days, I had to give some away to the neighbors.

A few notes to keep in mind. Classes are BYOB; I brought along a nice Malbec and found my fellow students happily willing to share pours from their bottles as well. The price to attend is $50. At first blush, this may sound a little steep, but when you factor in the amount and quality of cheese you receive and the awesome hands-on experience, it’s well worth the price tag. Also, classes fill up quickly. If you want to attend one, check the web site and sign up as early as you can.

All in all, a super fun — and tasty — way to spend a few hours. I couldn’t help but think this would make a great teambuilding activity, or even an interesting, educational thing to do with kids. I’m excited to see a parent-and-child mozzarella making class on the schedule roster for later in August. My kiddo would LOVE this.

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Say cheese

I believe I mentioned in a post awhile back my penchant for pretty platters laden with cheese, bread, crackers, fruit, nuts, what have you… Hubby and I recently found ourselves amid a veritable jackpot of newly launched Ludwig Farmstead Creamery artisan cheeses and were all too happy to assemble a dinnertime cheese board to sample the wares, rounding out our spread with a baguette, hard salami, kalamata olives and some sliced cucumbers. An ideal summertime meal when it’s scorching hot outside and you don’t feel like firing up the stove.

Ludwig Farmstead Creamery cheeses

Under the capable direction of Zionsville-based cheesemaster Fons Smits (formerly of Traders Point Creamery and an international dairy consultant), Ludwig is turning out some damn fine specimens.

Now, let me preface this review by saying that I am not by any means a cheese expert, nor have I ever played one on TV. I just know what I like when I taste it. So without further ado, let me bring you along on a little virtual Ludwig cheesetasting tour:

Feather Ridge is the company’s bestseller, inspired by hearty European cheeses like Fontina, Vacherin and Mobier. This firm number eats smooth with a little tweak of sharpness on the finish. I couldn’t help but think it would taste fantastic grated over some pasta or maybe on a pizza.

Feather Ridge

The Jake’s Wheel havarti has a mild, mellow nature that lends itself to experimentation, but its semi-soft texture and buttery flavor is plenty delicious on its own merits. Perfect sliced on a crunchy little cracker with perhaps a smear of mustard underneath.

The talented Mr. Smits is having fun infusing this cheese with ingredients as the mood strikes him to produce variations that include, say, bits of Moody Meats bacon (a guaranteed hit with most Midwesterners); fenugreek, a love-it-or-hate-it herb/spice that vaguely calls to mind Indian cuisine; spicy habanero peppers (Fons says this cheese has a small but very enthusiastic fan base); Dutch garden herbs; Italian herbs; and Asian spices. I like the Dutch garden herb with its bright, pretty blend of mixed green herbs. It looks gorgeous, and tastes delicious – do I detect a little bit of dill here? I love dill.

Jake’s Wheel, Dutch garden variety

The Kickapoo, named in honor of a state park near the Indiana-Illinois border not far from where the Ludwig Farm is located, is creamy in texture with a fresh flavor and a tiny hint of sweetness. My three-year-old loved this cheese, gobbling up each bite I gave him and asking for more. I plan to try to melt some on toast or use it for a grilled cheese and see how it goes over.


Blue cheese fans, sit up and take notice. Fons is toying around with a Kickapoo that includes a stripe of blue cheese culture running through the middle. If you like an extra-bold blue cheese that really brings the funk, this probably won’t pack enough pungent punch for you. However, if you’re looking for just a subtle hint of flavor that won’t overpower — a good starter blue cheese, if you will — this baby should be right up your alley.

Kickapoo blue

Traditional Dutch Farmstead Gouda is perhaps closest to Fons’ own heart, being a native Dutchman and all. A good, solid all-around cheese for sandwiches, salads, whatever.

You can currently find the lovely Ludwig cheeses for sale (and free sampling!) at the Zionsville Farmers Market on Saturday mornings; check the web site for updated product news and a list of other retail outlets. The cheeses are also available to order online.

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