CHICAGO (WLS) --The state of Illinois doesn't have that many small cheese producers, but the most recent certified dairy isn't way out in the country - it's right downtown in a Gold Coast hotel.
Greg Biggers has plenty of responsibility as the Executive Chef at the massive Sofitel hotel in the Gold Coast. But he decided to take things a few steps further, and become a cheesemaker.
"You see a lot of chefs making charcuterie and canning and those things but I didn't see a lot of chefs making cheese, so we delved into it, we got certified by the state," says Biggers. "So we have the same certification as Kraft or Dean's or any of these big dairy."
He checks in with his equipment, making sure milk is legally pasteurized, but not boiled to the point of killing every flavor-enhancing enzyme. It's combined with rennet until it sets, then he cuts the resulting curds by hand, with a special tool. The team then pours the curds and liquidy whey into plastic molds, outfitted with small drainage holes. Weights placed on top push most of the extra whey out. Then it's into his cave or temperature-and-humidity-controlled cooler, where his five types of cheese are aged; Two to three months for the fresh goat cheese; nine to 12 months for the cheddar, which is coated in wax to protect it from the other bacteria floating around, due to the nearby salumi and charcuterie. Under the name "Chestnut Provisions," he sells them all throughout the hotel.
"So we have a Chestnut Provisions tasting in every menu that we have in the hotel. It features a rotating selection of charcuterie, cheese, pickles and jams," he said.
As for that byproduct, whey, Biggers manages to find uses for that as well.
"We've done everything from whey caramel to whey ricotta, but here, this dish we're putting on for the fall is a whey-braised pork belly," he said.
Now if you don't have time to come to the restaurant and don't want to sit down here at the Sofitel, you could always pick up a basket to go from Chestnut Provisions - all made in-house of course - the jams, the pickles, charcuterie and cheese; and you will be the star of your next party.
Sofitel Chicago Water Tower
20 E. Chestnut St.