Top Chef Finalist Dan Jacobs Shares His Favorite Cheeses to Cook With | culture: the word on cheese
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Top Chef Finalist Dan Jacobs Shares His Favorite Cheeses to Cook With

Photo by Galdones Photography

Fresh off filming, and two weeks before the premiere of Top Chef, Season 21 in Wisconsin, contestant Dan Jacobs is on vacation in Michigan. But once he starts talking about Wisconsin cheese, he can’t stop.

“We’ve been playing around with a grilled cheese sandwich using Roelli Cheese Haus Red Rock,” says Jacobs about the orange-hued cheddar with a striking blue vein. “We’ve thought about French toast with Uplands Cheese Company Pleasant Ridge Reserve, or stuffing Pleasant Ridge into a doughnut. Most recently, we did a tartare and grated Hook’s Cheese 10-Year Cheddar on top. It adds salinity and umami once it’s aged that long. It adds a tangy sharpness, and you’re compounding flavor upon flavor.”

Jacobs, alongside Dan Van Rite, co-owns Milwaukee-based DanDan, an American-Chinese fusion restaurant, and EsterEv, which offers a seasonally rotating prix-fixe menu. Jacobs’ recipe tinkering was mostly in preparation for EsterEv’s move to a larger space in April. The restaurant’s now open four nights a week—an upgrade from weekend-only dining in a private space within DanDan.

Tartares are ripe for experimenting with cheese. “We were doing a very Latin-leaning tartare, and we shaved Sin de Ancho, a seasonal Mexican-style sheep’s cheese sold in Wisconsin [on top],” says Jacobs.

While EsterEv weaves more cheese into the menu than DanDan, DanDan isn’t immune. “The usual crab Rangoon doesn’t have any crab whatsoever, or less than half of its percentage,” says Jacobs. “We use a quality cream cheese from Wisconsin and we also use real crab.” Playing around with house-made cottage cheese is another passion of Jacobs’. At EsterEv, it’s served in the summer with marinated and grilled eggplant and peppers, similar to a Sicilian-style sweet- and-sour eggplant caponata.

Jacobs, a Chicago native who moved to Wisconsin 13 years ago, has cooked at Green Zebra, Tru, and NAHA in the Windy City. When asked about his dream cheese plate, he doesn’t skip a beat. It would feature Carr Valley Cheese Caso Bolo Mellage (made with sheep, cow, and goat’s milk), Landmark Creamery Anabasque (Basque-style sheep’s milk cheese), Marieke Gouda Foenegreek (a raw cow’s milk gouda), and Hidden Springs Creamery Farmstead Feta (a less salty variant of sheep’s milk feta). “I like variety in where the cheese and the animal comes from, and a variety of hard and soft,” says Jacobs. “I like to have a Gruyère and a bloomy-rind cow’s cheese. And I’m always a fan of Hook’s Cheddar.”

At home, his fridge is filled with Wisconsin cheese. “There’s always Organic Valley. There’s no better cheese to put on a cheeseburger or make scrambled eggs with, and I still feel like I’m doing something good with my cheese,” he says, adding that their shredded mozzarella is great for lasagna. “You’ve got to have [Sartori Cheese] SarVecchio Parmesan. It’s the best bang for your buck outside of Parmigiano Reggiano from Italy.”

Brussels Sprout Salad with Raisins, Homemade Cottage Cheese, and Mushroom and Charred Onion Vinaigrette

Cottage cheese is a versatile topper for salads, desserts, and dips; however, it’s also just as acceptable to garnish it with salt and pepper or a swirl of sweet compote for an indulgent, simple snack. Here, Top Chef contestant Dan Jacobs shows us how to make this creamy, fresh cheese. For easy assembly, prepare the cottage cheese, raisins, and vinaigrette in advance.
Servings 4 people


  • Kitchen scale
  • Large stock pot
  • Cooking thermometer
  • Cheesecloth



  • 1 gallon whole milk
  • 0.8 grams Aroma B Mesophilic starter culture
  • 0.8 grams liquid calcium chloride mixed with 16 grams water
  • 0.8 grams liquid rennet mixed with
  • 16 grams water
  • 2 tablespoons crème fraîche
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


  • 20 Brussels sprouts
  • 3 cups sunflower oil
  • Kosher salt to taste


  • 1 1/4 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
  • 3 sheets dried kombu
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 gallon cold water


  • 1/2 cup mushroom stock
  • 1 cup onion sliced into rounds and chargrilled
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2/3 cup sunflower oil
  • Kosher salt to taste


  • 1 1/3 cups red grapes
  • 1/4 cup grape vinegar
  • 3/4 tablespoon olive oil


  • 1 medium onion sliced Kosher salt, to taste
  • 2 cups diced rye bread
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup minced garlic
  • 3/4 cup finely diced anchovies



  • Warm milk to 80°F in a stock pot over medium- low heat. Sprinkle Aroma B starter culture on top but do not stir.
  • After 5 minutes, whisk in calcium chloride mixture. Stir for 30 seconds.
  • Add rennet mixture. Using an up-and-down chopping motion, stir for 45 seconds.
  • Remove from heat and cover with cling wrap.
  • Rest in a warm, dry place for 6 hours, or until a large, soft curd forms.
  • Once curd is formed, remove cling wrap and return to heat. Warm on medium-low until temperature reaches 130°F. Remove from heat.
  • Break up the mixture with a wooden spoon. Curds should be springy.
  • Spoon curds into a cheesecloth-lined colander and drain for 12 hours.
  • Combine 2 cups of curds with crème fraîche. (If using more than 2 cups of curds for the salad, add 1 tablespoon of crème fraîche for every cup of additional curds.) Season with salt and pepper.


  • Cut off Brussels sprout ends and remove outer leaves. Keep the outer and inner leaves separate, reserving inner leaves for the salad.
  • Add sunflower oil to a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Fry outer leaves until crispy.
  • Season with salt.


  • Bring all ingredients to a rolling boil in a large pot over high heat.
  • Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Strain and set aside to cool, reserving 1⁄2 cup of stock for the vinaigrette. Store remaining stock in an airtight container for up to 7 days in the refrigerator or 6 months in the freezer.


  • Emulsify all ingredients in a blender.


  • Prick grapes with a fork.
  • Add all ingredients to a gallon bag, removing excess air, then marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Once marinated, dehydrate grapes in a 200°F oven for 2 hours, or until they resemble slightly plump raisins. Check every 30 minutes to avoid overcooking.


  • On a grill outside, char onion slices.
  • Preheat oven to 200°F. Dehydrate onions in oven for 2 hours, or until fully dry.
  • Blend onions in a food processor with salt until texture resembles a fine powder. Remove from food processor and set aside.
  • Increase oven temperature to 250°F.
  • Toast rye bread for 20 minutes, or until dry.
  • Blend bread in a food processer until texture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Add garlic and olive oil to a medium skillet over medium heat. When the garlic starts to sizzle, add anchovies.
  • Add breadcrumbs and toast until fragrant. Add onion dust and salt to taste.


  • Combine grapes and raw and fried Brussels sprout leaves n a small mixing bowl. Add a few tablespoons of vinaigrette to coat the leaves, plus salt to taste. Toss well. Check seasoning and vinaigrette levels and adjust to taste.
  • Dollop 1⁄2 cup of cottage cheese in a small, shallow bowl. Spoon 1⁄2 cup Brussels sprout salad atop cottage cheese.
  • Dust with onion and rye crumble and serve.

Kristine Hansen

Based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Kristine Hansen is author of Wisconsin Cheese Cookbook: Creamy, Cheesy, Sweet, and Savory Recipes from the State's Best Creameries (Globe Pequot Press, 2019) and covers food and travel for outlets that include Milwaukee Magazine and the websites for Architectural Digest and Travel + Leisure.

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