An Old Fashioned-inspired cheese tower

December cover features a stylish tower
An Old Fashioned-inspired cheese tower
Patrick Stutz

Creating a Tower

Liz Dueland calls them “cheesescapes.” She creates intricate cheese displays that are as beautiful as still life paintings and completely edible.

“I feel so strongly about the ways you cut cheese, the ways you present charcuterie,” Dueland says. “There’s a way to do it that really gives homage to the product.”

Dueland, who used to head Metro Market’s cheese shop and goes by @madisoncheesemonger on social media, is the marketing director of Yahara Bay Distillers and co-owner of Culture, a cheese catering firm.

She’s made several cheese towers for weddings and other events, each one an impressive display of cheese in its original wheel form. Dueland agonizes over small details in her creations, which are often inspired by nature. “How you cut it, how you display it, there is a ritual that should go with it,” she says.

For the cheese tower Dueland conjured for the cover of Madison Magazine’s December issue, she wanted to make something that was undeniably Wisconsin. Inspired by the state’s supper club tradition, she incorporated Old Fashioned cocktail elements into the piece. “I want it to be elevated and elegant like a Madisonian,” Dueland said during planning. “But reminiscent of the Northwoods with things that are from gentler times, slower times.”

The final creation (assembled with help from photographer Patrick Stutz, Yahara Bay Distillers’ chef Josh Pleasnick and Madison Magazine’s art director Tim Burton and managing editor Andrea Behling) took shape in the event space at Yahara Bay Distillers. Dried pineapple and orange slices transformed into brittle autumn leaves. A sprig of rosemary became an evergreen tree branch waiting for winter’s first snow. An elegant cocktail next to the tower could convince any Wisconsinite to go racing to the nearest supper club for a brandy Old Fashioned, maybe with a cheese plate appetizer.

In the details, Dueland’s idea came to life.

The Cheese
Dueland chose some of the state’s highest-profile cheese varieties to build the tower. At the very top is Uplands Cheese’s Rush Creek Reserve, a soft cow’s milk cheese that is only available starting in early November. The Rush Creek wheel is sitting atop a cross-section of Moody Blue Cheese by Emmi Roth USA. This creamy, semi-soft cow’s milk cheese has a subtle smoky flavor. The small white wheel next to Moody Blue is Martone by LaClare Farms. Made of goat’s and cow’s milk, it’s a mild, buttery and spreadable cheese. The Martone and Moody Blue cheeses above are on top of a wheel of Landmark Creamery’s Tallgrass Reserve, which is a creamy, cave-aged variety that’s rubbed with olive oil and smoked paprika during the aging process. Anchoring the tower is a wheel of Little Mountain Cheese by Roelli Cheese Haus. A traditional washed-rind Alpine cheese, Little Mountain has a smooth and nutty flavor.

The Details
When Dueland creates a cheeseboard or a tower, she approaches it like a work of art. Which is why every Luxardo cherry stem and sprig of rosemary was carefully positioned. Dried orange and pineapple slices, blackberries, cranberries and a pomegranate wedge give the tower pops of color. You might also notice the dripping cube of honeycomb on the Little Mountain wheel. That honeycomb comes from Gentle Breeze Honey in Mount Horeb, while many of the other accoutrements came from Metcalfe’s Market. You’ll also spot Yahara Bay’s ready-to-drink 3rd Gear Brandy Old Fashioned – to the side of the tower. Another homage to the Old Fashioned is a glaze reduction dripping from the top of the tower. Yahara Bay chef Josh Pleasnick created the glaze using the same 3rd Gear Brandy Old Fashioned spirit.