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Brick Cheese Info

An American Classic

Unfortunately, like the Colby cheese, this cheese is not always produced as it was originally intended. Therefore it meant another 'cheese quest' for me to find a cheese making procedure similar to the Brick cheese that was developed in the late 1800's by John Jossi.

Brick cheese is a cheese developed in and primarily produced in Wisconsin today. It is made in a brick-shaped form as well as being pressed only under the weight of 1 regular building brick. The color ranges from pale yellow to white, and the cheese has a sweet and mild flavor when young, and matures into a strong ripe cheese with age. It is medium-soft, crumbles easily and is somewhat sticky to the knife. Brick cheese is well-suited to slicing for sandwiches, specifically grilled cheese sandwiches, or appetizers and also melts well.

Wisconsin Brick Cheese

When I first decided to make this cheese as the monthly recipe for April, I felt that it would be a rather straight forward, easy, and early aging cheese (the magic combo!) for our cheese makers.

Well, this proved to be wrong. As I began to dig back into the literature from many sources I found procedures going back to the early 1900's but very few similarities between the various methods. I think the reason for this could be that the cheese was developed in the small scale dairies of the late 1800's and then soon moved to production in the larger cheese factories. I am sure that changing customer expectations had something to do with this as well, as consumer taste moved toward the milder flavors.

When I first decided to make this cheese as the monthly recipe for April, I felt that it would be a rather straight forward, easy, and early aging cheese (the magic combo!) for our cheese makers.

Well, this proved to be wrong. As I began to dig back into the literature from many sources I found procedures going back to the early 1900's but very few similarities between the various methods. I think the reason for this could be that the cheese was developed in the small scale dairies of the late 1800's and then soon moved to production in the larger cheese factories. I am sure that changing customer expectations had something to do with this as well, as consumer taste moved toward the milder flavors.

Fortunately, I remembered back to my visit with Widmer Cheese in Wisconsin several years ago. Joe Widmer is the 3rd generation cheese maker in a business that his grandfather started in 1922. Joe's grandfather came to Wisconsin from Switzerland (as you can see by the flags above the entrance to their plant).

Joe is still making cheese in the original building his grandfather started making cheese in as well. This was a common split level construction for the cheese makers of the time with the family living upstairs, the cheese aging downstairs and the cheese making room set off a half level from each. When I visited Joe, his family was still living there but not the cheese making.

Joe has maintained the traditional process for Brick Cheese that was handed down to him. He even presses his cheese with the same bricks used by his grandfather for weights. Now that's a true legacy!


What is Brick Cheese

Brick Cheese is an American original that is intended to be a drier and milder version of the traditional Limburger cheese.

It was developed in 1877, by John Jossi, a Swiss-born American cheese maker. Jossi came to America in 1857, from Switzerland with his parents and the family. They settled first in upstate New York, but two years later Jossi was managing a small cheese plant in southwest Wisconsin. He soon married the daughter of a local cheese maker and moved back to New York where he spent a few years working in a larger Limburger plant.


A Bit of History

It was during that time that Jossi came up with his idea for what was to become Brick cheese. He developed a cheese that was milder but firmer than Limburger. He also wanted a lower level of the red molds that grew on the outer rind and developed the flavor of the cheese. Part of his plan was the idea of using bricks to press the cheese as well as forming into a brick shape.

In 1877, Jossi came back to Wisconsin to manage a newly built cheese plant where he set out to produce Brick cheese. His plan was quite successful and quickly led to the spread of the Brick recipe. Over the years he taught the recipe for Brick to a dozen other Wisconsin dairies. In 1883, he gave the cheese factory to his brother, who later sold it to Kraft (the story of dozens of small Wisconsin dairies).


Variations in Style

Much of the Brick produced today is of a more commercial nature and milder than the original Brick was intended to be.

Joe Widmer's solution to accommodate the milder flavor desired by some of today's customers, was to make the same cheese but allow it to go through two different aging programs:

The traditional cheese undergoes a warmer aging after brining. It also receives the traditional salt and water wash to encourage the bacteria growth that produces the stronger flavor and tan/red color of the surface. This creates enzymes that allows the cheese body to soften a bit more during ripening.

His milder version, after brining, is dried off in a short time, wrapped, and moved to a cooler room to develop a much milder flavor.

So, there is the same cheese production, with 2 different aging programs, yielding 2 very different cheeses. Thus, he has something to please many tastes. One of my favorite sayings is "Same .. Same .. but Different" and I think that applies here.

Here is a note I recently received from Joe:

"At one time the surface ripened brick was the only one we made. Then in the late 1950s and early 60s other cheese makers started to make brick cheeses that were not surface ripened and people started to ask if we had this type of brick. The other cheese makers were able to make this mild cheese and call it brick, because by legal definition all they had to do is have the right fat and moisture and there was no requirement to surface ripen the product. Well, we had to also start making the mild variety to stay up with these fake brick competitors. At first the surface ripened outsold the milder version by 3 to 1. In recent years more and more people started turning back to the original product. I think this is due to people being more well traveled and adventurous with funky foods as well as the increasing interest in specialty cheeses."


The Process

Now lets look at the basics of making a Brick cheese:

  • The cheese begins as a semisoft cheese. It was at one time made with natural dairy bacteria from the herd, but today the cheese receives a lab-prepared culture that is mostly of the aromatic Mesophilic type (although several earlier processes show varying Thermophilic additions) and is ripened at a moderate temperature.
  • The final cheese is intended to be a relatively sweet cheese with higher moisture. This is accomplished by using:
  • Low culture additions
    • Short pre-rennet ripening times
    • Early whey (lactose) removal to slow acid development
    • The addition back of cooler water to increase the moisture in the curd body
  • The cheese is molded in a traditional brick form, usually 5"x10" with a very light weight of about 5 lbs (that of a single brick).
  • Traditionally, the natural red rind was developed from ambient yeast and bacteria encouraged by ongoing light salt brine washes. These washes also discouraged the growth of other bacteria and molds.