Next Generation Wisconsin Cheesemakers
By Jeanne Carpenter | Photo By Jim Klousia 0
For more than 100 years, the words “America’s Dairyland” have been Wisconsin’s claim to fame. It’s a title we Wisconsinites take seriously: We wear it on our license plates, t-shirts and even the official state quarter. And we do it by being home to more dairy farms, cheesemakers and gold medal cheeses than any other state in the nation.
But “America’s Dairyland” is no longer a title Wisconsin takes for granted. After 20 years of stagnation in the 80s and 90s, state and federal partners began creating new organizations to help reinvigorate Wisconsin dairy. The results are stunning. Since 2003, 43 new dairy plants have gone up and another 70 expanded. Dairy farmers and processors have re-invested $1.2 billion in their dairy farms and processing plants, and nearly 60 new varieties of cheeses are now on the market. Wisconsin now produces almost half of all specialty cheese in the United States.
Whew. If those numbers aren’t enough to make you shout “Whoohoo!” about living inWisconsin and eating award-winning cheese every day, then here’s one more gem: the number of young cheesemakers flocking to Wisconsin is on the rise.
Wisconsin is the only state in the nation to require cheesemakers to be licensed. The process is a time-intensive journey requiring hundreds of apprenticeship hours and five university courses. The state boasts 1,200 active cheesemakers, who craft more than 600 types, styles and varieties of cheese. But the faces of these cheesemakers are beginning to change. More young men and women are entering an industry formerly reserved for only the third and fourth generation sons of cheesemakers.
Here’s a look at three up-and-coming potential rock stars, each of whom has taken a different path to establishing their cheesemaking career in Wisconsin.
Andy Hatch, Uplands Cheese, Dodgeville
If what Andy says is true—that half the secret to making Pleasant Ridge Reserve is simply getting out of the way of the milk and letting its unique properties and flavor profile shine through—then I'd say the other half to the secret of this near-perfect cheese is Andy Hatch himself. Andy, 30, joined the Uplands team in 2007 and today, crafts nearly every wheel of Pleasant Ridge Reserve, giving owner and head cheesemaker Mike Gingrich a long overdue break from the make room.
Before joining Uplands, Andy graduated fromTrinity College in Hartford, Conn., worked at Neal's Yard Dairy in London, and spent time making cheese in Europe. Today, he’s working on crafting a new signature cheese called Rush Creek Reserve. Similar to Vacherin Mont d'Or, a soft, rich cow's milk cheese made in the Jura region of Switzerland and France, this new cheese is wrapped in bark and will be designed to be consumed right out of its package, perhaps warmed, and served with a spoon. Look for it in specialty cheese stores in November.
Katie Hedrich, LaClare Farm, Chilton
As the recipient of the first-ever $2,500 Wisconsin Licensed Cheesemaker Scholarship awarded by Wisconsin Cheese Originals this past April, Katie Hedrich, 25, is a fresh face forWisconsin farmstead dairy.
After graduating from college with degrees in accounting and marketing, she realized bringing a second generation into her family’s goat farm would be next to impossible unless they diversified. Thus, LaClare Farms Evalon, a raw milk goat cheese, was born. Today, Evalon is made at nearby Saxon Homestead Creamery, but after earning her cheesemaker license, Katie plans to rejoin her family and construct a farmstead cheese plant at the family farm near Chilton.
Ten years from now, her goal is to be the head cheesemaker and creamery manager at her family's homestead creamery, making a complete line of Wisconsin original goat milk cheeses. You go, girl.
Bob Koenig, Carr Valley Cheese, LaValle
At age 23, Bob Koenig has already been making cheese for nine years—that’s right, nine years. Bob started working at Carr Valley Cheese with a work permit when he was only 14, starting out in the packaging room and earning his cheesemaker’s license at age 16.
Bob just finished his four-year degree in business management from UW-Platteville and is back at Carr Valley working full-time. He recently bought a house in LaValle, divides his time between making cheese at different Carr Valley plants and has no plans to stop his cheesemaking education. In August, he’ll attend the 2010 American Cheese Society annual conference in Seattle and network with cheesemakers from around the country. He plans to someday run his own cheese factory.
Andy, Katie and Bob are just three examples of dozens of new cheesemaker faces in America’s Dairyland. The next time you eat a piece of specialty cheese made in Wisconsin, ask who made it because that piece of cheese may have been made by one of these next generation cheesemakers.