Superhero Cheesemaker

Edible Culture Summer 2011 Issue

Superhero Cheesemaker

By Jeanne Carpenter | Photo By Jim Klousia 0

Despite what you see in the movies, modern superheroes don’t always wear tights and a cape. Sometimes they wear hairnets.

Ask just about any up-and-coming cheesemaker or dairy producer looking to add value to their farm and they’ll tell you about a superhero who changed their lives. It won’t be Superman or Batman or the Green Lantern. It will be a cheesemaker named Bob Wills who runs a little cheese factory in Plain called Cedar Grove Cheese.

During the past decade, Wills has helped at least a dozen beginning cheesemakers and dairy farmers launch their own cheese brands, including arguably the most famous cheese to ever come from Wisconsin: Pleasant Ridge Reserve of Uplands Cheese. Founder Mike Gingrich produced his award-winning Beaufort-style cheese the first four years at Cedar Grove before building his ownfarmstead cheese plant near Dodgeville in 2004.

However, Pleasant Ridge Reserve isn’t the only award-winner to come out of Cedar Grove. Sure, it may have won an unprecedented Triple Best in Show at the 2010 American Cheese Society competition in Seattle, but of the 98 awards captured by Wisconsin cheesemakers at the prestigious competition, seven were won by cheesemakers mentored by Wills, or by cheeses currently made at Cedar Grove.

Wills, a Master Cheesemaker in his own right (Wisconsin is the only state to both license its cheesemakers and offer an advance certification program), decided 11 years ago to open his specialty cheese plant to farmers interested in having a custom product made from their milk and to up-and-coming cheesemakers looking to rent a cheese vat to experiment with new recipes. The move was a risky and unprecedented one. Because of stiff competition, strict environmental standards and confidentially issues, very few cheese plants across the nation open their facilities to other cheesemakers. In Wisconsin, Wills is one of a handful of cheese plants that rents out space to other cheesemakers.

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