Another year in the cheese department will soon come to a close, and we’re happy to say it’s been a good year. We’ve seen quite a few new faces exploring our shelves in search of cheese treasures, as well as many veteran Co-op Owners just beginning to discover our case’s riches. As a result, we’ve managed to blow past all of our previous record sales. Each and every one of you cheese lovers has helped to make this growth possible, and we’d like to thank all of you for your continuing support and suggestions.

Of course, the really big news of the year is the opening of Willy West. Two of our able cheese staff have been duly promoted to new positions within the westside Deli—Ty Clough and Michelle Schinker. Both are certain to bring a high level of professionalism to their new responsibilities, and they will be sorely missed at Willy East. Michelle is now the westside’s cheese buyer. Those of you who plan to frequent the new store can rely upon Michelle’s knowledge of cheese and her commitment to quality. We will stock the same high quality products in her department that you’ve come to expect every day. So whichever side of town is more convenient to your shopping needs, we will continue to provide you with the same rigorous standards you’ve come to expect from us.

At Willy East, we’ve been fortunate enough to gain two enthusiastic and extraordinarily helpful new cheese clerks: Shell Jackson and Julia Gengenbach. Each one brings their own special personality and energy to our department. We’re looking forward to seeing how they will improve and refine our case with their talents. Any questions or concerns you might have about the cheese case will be eagerly addressed by our skilled new staff.

There have been a few changes to our case over the year in order to provide you with greater quality and service. Our focus and commitment to local products remains as strong as ever. We have added nine wonderful new local cheeses to our case: five varieties of Gouda from Hollands Family Farms, three new cheeses from Roth Kase USA, and a new goat Brie from Montchevre. We have continued to search for and add to our case cheeses that are rBGH-free. We have simplified and updated our labeling information for your convenience. We have updated our sell-by dates to assure that the products you buy from us are at their peak of quality. And we have added the new sampler bin to give you each an opportunity to try some of our very finest cheeses while being a little gentler on your wallets. With your helpful suggestions and enthusiasm for our products we continue to improve our service to you.

We’d like to share with you at this time of year in the spirit of celebration, some of the incredible gifts Wisconsin has to offer. These are the carefully hand-crafted cheeses of the many local masters featured in our case. When you are seeking those special, unique gifts for your loved ones, or for your holiday feasts and parties, please remember the bounty we have available in the cheese department.

Cedar Grove
The Co-op has had a long and fruitful relationship with Cedar Grove Cheese for many years now. They form the essential anchor in our cheese case, providing us with virtually all of our basic workaday cheeses: everything from cheddars to jacks to colbys. We currently carry 20 different cheeses from Cedar Grove, including five varieties of organic cheese. Located in the lovely rolling hills near Plain, Wisconsin, Cedar Grove has been a family-operated company since 1878. Owner Bob Wills has made a commitment to sustainable agriculture and manufacturing. In 1993 he began to use only rBGH-free milk, and actively encourages the practice among other cheese producers. Sustainability is a guiding principle for Bob, and his manufacturing facility uses a closed system of waste management that is unique in the state. He has also generously reached out to fellow cheesemakers to lend his facility to support, assist and in many cases offer basic and necessary training. One of our very best cheddars, the Prairie Premium Extra Sharp, a five-year aged cheddar made from the milk of only grass-fed cows, proudly carries the name of Cedar Grove. Our Co-op and many thriving artisan cheesemakers in Wisconsin would be impoverished indeed without the efforts of Cedar Grove.

Bleu Mont
Willi Lehner’s father was a master cheesemaker in Switzerland, and he carries on this tradition here at Bleu Mont Cheese. Located in the countryside near Blue Mounds, Wisconsin, Willi has built from the ground up one of the most exciting experimental cheese facilities in the state. He buys his milk from small family farms, including Uplands, to insure that cheeses are made with the highest quality milk. Bob Wills is one of several local cheesemakers who lend their equipment and production lines to help Willi craft his unique specialties. He then takes the freshly made cheeses back to hand-built aging rooms at Bleu Mont to allow his wheels to develop their marvelous flavors. Bleu Mont Bandaged Wrapped Cheddar has been in our case for over a year now, and we are extremely proud to continue carrying it. This cheddar closely resembles in flavor, and texture, an authentic English farmhouse cheddar with its special earthy nuttiness. Truly one of the finest cheeses produced in Wisconsin.

Otter Creek
The Zimmer and Zabel families of Otter Creek Organic Dairy are committed to the philosophy and practice of sustainable agricultural techniques and humane animal husbandry. This assures that their milk, from grazed dairy herds, is of the healthiest, highest quality. Cedar Grove lends their facilities for the creation of five wonderful organic cheddars. These are some of our very favorites in the case. Four different seasonal varieties reflect in their rich, multi-faceted flavors the ever-changing flowers and grasses of Otter Creek’s pastures; and the fifth, their Pesto Cheddar, is seasoned deliciously with basil-infused oil from artisan Mark Olson’s Renaissance Farms.

Mike and Carol Gingrich and Dan and Jeanne Patenaude decided to combine their family dairy farms in 1994 to have greater control of the quality of the outstanding milk they produce from only grass-fed cows. They subsequently decided to try a hand at artisan cheesemaking. Mike apprenticed with Bob Wills at Cedar Grove, and in 2004 the families built a cheese plant on their property. The result is a Wisconsin masterpiece, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, a cheese crafted in the traditional style of French Beaufort or Swiss Gruyère, but with the subtle nuances of the upland region’s terroir and a meticulous craftsmanship that create an American original. Pleasant Ridge Reserve is one of the very finest cheeses produced in this country.

Diana and James Murphy own a beautiful little farm in the hilly countryside just west of Madison between Black Earth and Cross Plains. Several years back they decided to buy some dairy goats, and soon found they had plenty of milk to start making cheese. Diana did an apprenticeship at Cedar Grove and obtained her cheesemaking license in 2004. While the Murphy’s creamery was being constructed, Diana worked with Anne Topham at Fantome Farm. Diana and James produce one of the most deliciously creamy soft goat cheeses in the state, as well as an amazing feta. We now carry five varieties of chevre, as well as both their pasteurized and unpasteurized fetas. Since their herd of twenty goats is grazed, and their cheeses are very fresh, they provide us with outstanding product only seasonally, so make sure to buy it while it’s available.

Farmer John’s
We continue to sell the popular cheeses produced from the milk of John Dougherty, a third generation dairy farmer in Southwestern Wisconsin near Governor Dodge State Park. John’s family has been milking cows since the early 1900s. In 1989, the family decided to begin marketing the cheeses made from their milk through the Scenic Central Cooperative. Farmer John has been a fixture at the Eastside Farmers’ Market for many years now, and we’re delighted to carry his terrific Italian-style cheeses. We carry his Asiago, his Parmesan, and a unique cheese, Provonella, a cheese made combining the techniques used in crafting Mozzarella and Provolone.

Carr Valley
Sid Cook began working with his father making cheese before he was a teenager. He earned his cheesemaking license when he was just sixteen. Cheesemaking is a tradition on both his mother’s and his father’s sides of the family. Sid bought Carr Valley Cheese Company located in La Valle, Wisconsin in 1986, and started producing original, hand-crafted cheeses. He has experimented with many different techniques and different milks to create a huge variety of specialty cheeses. We currently carry ten styles of some of his finest, award-winning creations, including the interestingly complex mixed-milk Benedictine, a rich, deep-flavored washed rind cheese and one of our favorites.

A fixture at the Dane County Farmers’ Market, Felix Thalhammer has been making and selling delicious quality goat cheeses for several years now. Residents of the small community of Blue River, Wisconsin, he and his wife Catherine decided to go into the business of dairy farming back in the nineties. Felix did his apprenticeship, got his license and then built his creamery in 2001. Initially he used milk from his own goats, but with increasing demand he has had to expand and uses goat milk from several local family farms. We carry five different varieties of Capri cheeses; and we’re especially fond of his bright, full flavored Greek-style feta.

Hidden Springs
In the driftless region of Wisconsin just Southeast of La Crosse, Wisconsin, lies the pastureland of Brenda and Dean Jensen’s dairy sheep farm. Brenda had long had a dream of starting a dairy farm, and left a corporate career to pursue her passion. The Jensens are committed to using traditional farming and cheesemaking techniques with a respect for their land and their animals. Hidden Springs Creamery produces some of the tastiest sheep cheeses in the state, and has already won several awards and positive media recognition for their high quality. Hidden Springs Sheep Milk Feta was chosen as one of the top five Wisconsin cheeses on the blog Cheese Underground just this last year. It is a smooth and creamy delight, with a wonderful tart flavor. We carry ten different varieties of Hidden Springs cheese, including her delicious new Bohemian Blue.

Tony and Julie Hook have been in the cheesemaking business since 1976. Their factory, located in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, produces a wide selection of fine crafted cheeses, but their specialties are robust blues and long-aged full flavored cheddars. We carry five different varieties of Hook’s cheese, including their unctuously rich double cream Blue Paradise, and the oldest cheddar currently on our shelves, Hook’s Seven Year, a bracingly sharp masterpiece. With luck, we will again see the extraordinary Fifteen Year Cheddar grace our shelves this year. Keep yours eyes open for this treasure when it arrives.

Roth Kase
The Roth family has been making fine cheeses in Switzerland since 1863. In 1991, Roth family descendants Fermo Jaekle and his cousins Felix and Ulrich Roth saw a business opportunity in the similar terroir and culture of Green County, Wisconsin. An existing cheese plant in Monroe was acquired and re-fitted to accommodate the crafting of high quality European style cheeses that Americans have increasingly sought after. They started producing Gruyere, which hadn’t been made in the States for many years. Roth Kase set up an apprenticeship program in which American and Swiss cheese makers spend time mastering techniques in both countries. We now have available the stellar Surchoix extra-aged Grand Cru Gruyere, perhaps Roth Kase’s very finest cheese, as well as their also magnificent younger Grand Cru Gruyere, and four other varieties of Roth Kase cheese specialties.

Also out of Green County come Edelweiss Creamery cheeses. In a plant located in Monticello, Wisconsin, resident Master Cheesemaker Bruce Workman fashions a big-wheel Emmenthaler using a traditional copper kettle technique. Its breathtaking bite and grassy aroma stand up to any imported variety. Workman has partnered with three local family farms to create the Edelweiss Graziers Cooperative. We carry outstanding examples of grazier cheddar and gouda as well as the superb Emmenthaler from Edelweiss.

Chalet Cheese Cooperative
One more great bastion of Monroe, Wisconsin, is Chalet Cheese Cooperative. The only crafter of the legendary Limburger in the United States, Chalet also produces stellar Swiss-style cheeses in keeping with the region’s dominant Swiss heritage. Cheesemaker Myron Olson received his license to produce limburger in 1972, and also hand-crafts the award-winning Deppeler line of Swiss cheeses. In addition to the Limburger, we carry the Deppeler Baby Swiss, and Chalet’s Smoked Baby Swiss.

Crave Brothers
Crave Brothers is another example of a small family dairy farming business that saw an opportunity and made good. In 2002, they built a creamery, brought in licensed cheesemakers and started making cheese. George Crave also apprenticed and became a licensed cheese maker himself. We currently carry four varieties of Crave Brothers cheese: their delicious naturally sweet Mascarpone, their ciliegine and ovaline sizes of fresh Mozzarella, and their wonderful abbey-style washed rind Les Freres. We’ve added the quaintly boxed Petit Freres to our case since last year; it is the same delicious washed rind cheese, but in a smaller size. A wheel of Petit Freres is a perfect gift for the holidays, and a great addition to a banquet table.

Three generations of Joe Widmer’s family have been fine-crafting cheeses at their small plant in Theresa, Wisconsin. Joe’s grandfather John is the man who created that Wisconsin original, Brick cheese; and at the factory they still use the original bricks to press this unique creation. Joe Widmer’s amazing aged Cheddars, as well as his Brick cheeses, have been anchoring stalwarts in our case for many years now. The Six Year Cheddar is one of Wisconsin’s very finest with it’s magnificent deep complex sharpness, and classic crumbly texture.

Saxon Homestead Creamery
Saxon Creamery cheeses are stellar full-flavored original creations produced from the delicious graziered cow’s milk of the Klessig family in Cleveland, Wisconsin near the shores of Lake Michigan. As with several of our other small family dairies, the Klessig family is committed to using sustainable agricultural and manufacturing techniques and humane animal husbandry. We offer three varieties of the Klessig’s wonderful cheeses: Big Ed’s, a full-flavored favorite, Green Fields, and LeClare Farms Evalon goat milk cheese. All the cheeses that we sell from Saxon Homestead Creamery, besides being some of the most wonderful Wisconsin cheeses we have to offer are unpasteurized, and made from the milk of grass-fed animals.

Holland’s Family Farms
Rolf and Marieke Penterman are first generation dairy farmers who moved from the Netherlands in 2002. They own a cheese making facility in Thorp, Wisconsin, that uses their own cow’s milk to craft some of the tastiest goudas we have ever had the fortune to sample. Marieke produced their first cheeses in 2006, and she has been going strong ever since. All of their goudas are produced using only their finest unpasteurized milk. We currently carry five different varieties: a 2-4 month young gouda, a fenugreek-flavored, a cumin-flavored, a smoked, and an unforgettably delicious 9-12 month aged gouda. These are some of our very favorite Wisconsin cheeses.

So take some extra time the next opportunity you have to visit our cheese case, and explore the magnificent products we carry for you. Every holiday party and banquet can be made that much better with the addition of some fine, handcrafted Wisconsin cheese, and we have some of the very best. Also, please don’t miss out on our annual Cheese Sampling at the beginning of the month. Many of the cheeses you’ve just read about will be there for you to sample, and many of the craftsmen and women will be on hand for you to meet. Thank you again for making this year one of our best yet; and we look forward to the coming year with your enthusiastic support.