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Baked Cheese Is The Scandi Snack You’ve Been Missing

For a cheese company that’s been around less than a year, the Big Moo is certainly making some big waves in the industry. Since launching in January, the Big Moo baked cheese has won multiple Gold medals at the 2022 World Championship Cheese Contest (WCCC) and is now in cheese cases in over 5,000 stores nationwide. This summer, founders Mike Harris and Josh Ptaszynski partnered with a new, larger co-packer to continue expanding their baked cheese empire.

Neither Harris nor Ptaszynski ever expected to end up working in the cheese business. Until recently, Harris worked at a probiotics company and Ptaszynski ran his own hardwood flooring company. They became friends through their children and immediately knew they would work well together. It was at a farmers’ market in Madison, Wisconsin, that Ptaszynski first tried baked cheese. He thought to himself, “If I’ve never seen this cheese, living in cheese country, then I bet the rest of the country’s never seen it either.” He asked Mike to partner with him and the two set out to bring their baked cheese to the masses.

Baked cheese, also known as bread cheese, is the American interpretation of juustoleipä, a traditional Scandinavian cheese originally made in Finland with reindeer milk. The Big Moo makes their version by starting with fresh cheese curds, pressing them into blocks, and then baking them until the outside of the cheese caramelizes, which gives it its signature crusty bread look. The cheese has a mild, buttery flavor and a texture like a squeaky curd when cold; when heated it holds its shape and becomes smooth and silky. Ptaszynski likens it to an American-style halloumi.

The Big Moo baked cheese comes in five flavors: Original, Jalapeño, Bacon (try it for breakfast), Garlic, and Pizza. Ohh So Original is the best-selling flavor, but Ptaszynski says he and Harris are most proud of the Hoppin’ Jalapeño. They mixed organic peppers into the curd to achieve a real jalapeño flavor and then did a lot of taste-testing to achieve the right heat level. “We built the cheese around our tastebuds,” he says. “If I don’t like it, it’s not right.” Clearly they got it right— Hoppin’ Jalapeno took home first place in the Peppered Flavored Cheese, Medium Heat category at the WCCC earlier this year. “We were so shocked to win. Peppered cheeses are on the rise so there’s a lot of competition in that category,” he says. “We were pinching ourselves. Did we really do this?”

But it’s not all about the awards. The thing Ptaszynski loves most about their cheese is that it brings people together. He says his favorite way to eat bread cheese is “in place of a marshmallow, toasted over the fire, dipped in jam and surrounded by my friends and family.” It’s all about the ambiance, he says. “There’s nothing better than pulling cheese off the grill and watching it disappear instantly as the kids run over to score a piece.”

Josie Krogh

Josie Krogh is culture's Digital Strategy Lead. She earned her master's degree in Agricultural and Applied Economics from The University of Georgia. Josie developed a love of food while working at farmstands in the D.C. area as a young adult, and discovered her love of cheese while living and working on a dairy farm on Martha's Vineyard. She is passionate about the food supply chain, fresh stone fruit, and dogs. Josie currently lives in Catskill, NY.

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