As I described in a previous article, the artisan cheese movement is driven by two types of cheesemakers: the cheesemaker who has deep family roots in the industry, and the “new generation” of younger people who have no family ties to the dairy industry or cheese making. Here, we are going to meet one of the new breed of young artisan cheesemakers – Katie Hedrich of LaClare Farms.
My wife, Janice, and I first met Hedrich in the fall of 2009. She was working with Saxon Homestead Creamery in Cleveland, Wisconsin, helping to market the cheese they produce. Saxon makes some wonderful raw cow milk cheeses and, at that time, was also making a Gouda style goat milk cheese utilizing the goat milk from Hedrich’s family farm in Chilton. Larry Hedrich, Katie’s father, has a milk hauling business, and her mother is a teacher in the De Pere school system. In their spare time they were milking over 300 goats and selling the milk to cheesemakers and other processors throughout the state.
After graduating from Northern Michigan University with a degree in marketing, Katie’s parents took her to the Netherlands to visit goat farms and cheesemakers that were making goat cheese. When Hedrich returned from that trip she “begged” her way into a job at Saxon, working with Jerry Heimerl, the head cheesemaker. Hedrich could work alongside a licensed cheesmaker, but she would need a license to be able to make cheese herself.
In 2010 she received a scholarship to begin her journey in obtaining her cheesemaker license. She did her course work at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. After the required apprentice hours and obtaining her license, she was now free to begin making “her” own cheese…and make it she did.
In March of 2011 Hedrich entered her own batch of Evalon, a raw milk goat cheese, in the United States Cheese Championship, a very prestigious contest held bi-annually. Cheesemakers from all over the United States enter their cheeses hoping to win some sort of ribbon, which helps them gain recognition in the industry, and in selling their cheeses. The majority of the cheeses entered in these types of contests are “artisan,” not the larger, commodity cheeses.
Hedrich not only won a blue ribbon for “Best in it’s Class” (hard goat cheese), but the cheese won “Best of Show,” meaning it was judged as the best cheese in the entire competition, beating out over 1,600 other cheeses that were entered. Winning this award is like a rookie baseball player hitting a grand slam home run in the 7th game to win the World Series, or like a like a rookie quarterback throwing a touchdown pass to win the Super Bowl.
The impact to a cheesemaker by winning this type of award is huge. It means that the cheese buyers throughout the country now want her cheese, and the demand goes sky high.
We feel very fortunate to be working with young people like Hedrich, cheesemakers that are making a difference in the food we all eat.
Michael C. Thomas is co-owner of Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese with his wife Janice. With locations in Ellison Bay and Egg Harbor, they aim to bring the best of Wisconsin artisan cheeses to Door County, and with “The Cheese Insider” Michael hopes to bring all things cheese to readers of the Pulse.