The Cheese Insider

As the first in a series of articles, “The Cheese Insider” will share some interesting facts about the world of cheese – especially cheese and dairy information from the state of Wisconsin, America’s Dairyland.

We all have stories about reactions we get from people we meet – no matter where we might be in the world – when we tell them we are from Wisconsin.

“Oh, so you are a cheese head?” they say.

Wisconsin is the largest producer of cheese in the United States, as well as the largest producer of specialty cheeses, the fastest growing segment in the industry. Specialty and “Artisan cheese” has become the big buzz in the world of food. People want to know more about their food and where it comes from than ever before. This has spurred on a whole new wave of young cheese makers throughout the country, especially here in Wisconsin.

Did you know that Wisconsin is the only state in the United States that requires its cheese makers to be licensed, an 18 month process that includes five university classes, 240 hours of apprenticeship under a licensed cheese maker, and a written exam from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture?

The Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin – Madison is the preeminent dairy research center in the United States, providing assistance in all aspects of the dairy industry, including cheese. Many of the great new artisan cheeses being made here in Wisconsin were developed with the help of the Center for Dairy Research. The resources available to dairy farmers, cheese makers, and specialty retailers here in Wisconsin is an important part of why this industry has grown the way it has over the past several years.

My wife Janice and I began our journey into the world of cheese over eight years ago, a bit by accident, and a bit because of our love of good food. Janice and I opened the Savory Spoon Cooking School in 2004. During the start-up process, Janice had to go to Madison to visit with our appliance partner, SubZero/Wolf.

In her car she had a map someone had given her of all the cheese makers here in the state, and while refueling her car north of Madison, she pulled the map out and noticed that she was very close to Craves Brothers, a dairy farm and cheese plant in Waterloo. She called the number listed and asked them if she could stop in for a short visit. After a three-hour visit with George and Debbie Crave, she fell in love with the world of artisan cheese. Janice invited them to come to Door County and teach a class in cheese making at the cooking school, and the rest is history.

Since that first chance visit with the Crave Brothers we have toured the entire state visiting cheese plants and getting to know a talented group of artisan cheese makers. Here we are eight years later with two cheese shops in Door County and a commitment to sell only artisan cheese from Wisconsin. We believe that we are playing a small part in the effort to be more sustainable and to reduce the carbon footprint we leave behind.

We invite you to come explore the fantastic cheeses made locally in Wisconsin at our shops and to continue reading this column to learn why the cheeses being produced by artisan cheese makers in our state are dominating the awards being presented on a national level.

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.