Spring is here and we all get to begin spending more time outside of our winter shelters. Although none of us like all the elements of winter, it does allow many of us a chance to get out and do things we can’t do during our busy summer season.
For me, it means that I get to go hang out with some of the cheesemakers we know and to go meet some new ones. For some cheesemakers, winter is time that they dial it back a notch, for others there is no time of year when they are not making cheese at least five days a week.
This winter I was able to visit with Chris Roelli of Roelli Cheese Haus in Shullsburg, Bruce Workman of Edelweiss Creamery in Monticello, Kerry Henning of Henning’s Cheese in Kiel, and Marieke Penterman of Holland’s Family Cheese in Thorp, just to name a few.
I also went to visit a cheese plant I had never been to before, Springside Cheese in Oconto Falls. The Hintz family has been making cheese for more than 60 years and we discovered a few gems during our visit, including Krakow, an original recipe semi-soft cheese that is almost spreadable when it warms up a bit.
Part of my time this winter was to work with Master Cheesemaker Chris Roelli on a cheese exclusive to Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese. The cheese is a semi-soft, Jack-style cheese with a rich buttery taste and a slightly sweet finish. Chris was very patient with me as we tried to find the right combination on this new cheese. We named it Sky Brook, and will begin selling it this spring.
I have also been working with Marieke Penterman of Holland’s Family Cheese on a new raw milk Gouda that will be exclusive to our company. Marieke is the queen of Goudas made in North America. She has won nearly every competition she has entered her cheeses in, including the six- to nine-month Gouda that won the U.S. Cheese Championship in 2013.
She and her husband, Rolf, have a dairy farm and cheese plant in Thorp, located between Wausau and Eau Claire. Her award-winning cheeses are all raw milk and are considered farmstead because the cheese is made on the same farm, using their own milk. In other words, the milk used to make their cheese is pumped directly from the milking barn into the cheese vat, never seeing a milk truck or silo.
I just returned from spending two days with Marieke and her family, not only to work on the new exclusive cheese she is making for us, but to hang out with their family, including five children. What Marieke and Rolf have been able to accomplish in the very short time they have been in this country is truly amazing. They emigrated from Holland 12 years ago and have built an impressive resume in the cheese world. Every major cheese shop in the United States carries their award-winning cheeses and they are even selling some overseas.
I returned from their farm and cheese plant with two very unique items: four wheels of some extra-aged Gouda (four years old) that they have been aging for me in their affinage rooms, and two 12-week-old kittens. The kitties, Dean and Fenne, are named after two of Marieke’s children and are most entertaining. The extra-aged Gouda will be the featured cheese in our shop throughout the summer.
We look forward to another interesting year in the world of cheese and hope that all of you step out a bit and try some of the great new cheeses that are being introduced here in Wisconsin.
You will be glad you did.
Michael Thomas co-owns Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese with his wife, Janice, in Egg Harbor.