Going blue in Iowa

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On a short visit to Iowa last week (20-degree temps, Huckabee and Hillary and Obama bumper stickers, horizontal universe) I took a detour off I-80 to tiny Newton, home of the Maytag Dairy Farms. If you look (very) closely at the picture on the right, you can see a gray hillock behind the farm; underneath it are the cheese caves the dairy built in 1941 to make its famed blue cheese.

The dairy was started in 1919 by E.H. Maytag, son of the appliance company founder -- the appliance company and the dairy have always been separately owned and operated -- who owned a herd of prize-winning Holstein-Friesian cows. After Iowa State University in Ames began experimenting with making blue cheese with homogenized cow’s milk (instead of sheep’s milk), Maytag decided to build a plant to make blue cheese at his dairy. (Midwesterners take a very pragmatic approach to their hobbies.)

The cheese is made the same way now as it was then: handmade in small batches, the wheels salted and punched with little holes so the distinctive mold can grow, then aged for six months in the caves. After aging, the wheels are trimmed and cut using the same wedge-cutter the dairy’s used for the last 65 years. (A local engineer made the cutter; he came back a few years ago and had his picture taken with it.) Though the cows were sold in 1991, the dairy (which is still owned by the Maytag family) uses locally produced milk for its blue cheese, the only cheese now made by the company. (It once made Cheddar and Edam too.) Dense and creamy, mellow yet intense, it made a terrific snack with a few water crackers. And with the Iowa caucuses only a month away, it seemed as though it might even be an omen of more blue to come.

Maytag blue cheese, Maytag Dairy Farms, P.O. Box 806, Newton, Iowa, (800) 247-2458.


-- Amy Scattergood

Photos by Amy Scattergood