As the largest city in “America’s Dairyland,” Milwaukee definitely knows its cheese. Wisconsin makes more than 1,000 different types of cheese. If it were a country, it would be the fifth largest cheese producing country in the world. And every year, it beats the pants off every other state and province in the American Cheese Society’s annual competition.
Most creameries are in the central or southwestern portions of Wisconsin. But just a few blocks from downtown in the near South Side Walker’s Point neighbourhood, you can sample cheese curds so fresh they squeak in your mouth at Clock Shadow Creamery. Opened just last year by Wisconsin master cheesemaker Bob Wills, this creamery focuses on fresh cheeses like quark and mozzarella, but the store also sells a bevy of award-winning cheeses.
A 45-minute drive northwest to Theresa, WI takes you to Widmer Cheese Cellars, where Joe Widmer’s grandfather first started making cheese nearly 100 years ago. Joe uses the same Cream City bricks his grandfather used to make his award-winning brick cheese. He also makes some mean aged cheddars and sweet colbies.
Kerry Henning is another third-generation master cheesemaker at Henning’s Cheese in Kiel, WI. Kerry’s award-winning cheddars are worth a trip in themselves, but he is also known for making mammoth wheels, which start at 75 pounds and grow as big as 54,000 pounds.
At barely 27-years-old, Katie Hedrich has a way to go before she can be licensed as a master cheesemaker in the state. But in 2011, this goat’s milk maestro at Chilton’s LaClare Farms, became only the second woman ever to win the U.S. Cheese Championship with her aged Evalon cheese. Besides Evalon, she makes a delightful bloomy rind mixed milk (goat and cow’s milks) Mahone, a blue mixed milk called Ziegge Zack, as well as a cumin-scented version of Evalon.
Want to taste Evalon, Widmer’s brick or Henning’s cheddars closer to the city? Then head to Larry’s Market. Owner Steve Ehlers is a past president of the American Cheese Society, and he and his sister Patty Peterson regularly judge national and international cheese competitions. Overseeing one of the best cheese stores in the nation, they are the first – and often, the only - ones in town to get their hands on hard-to-come-by Wisconsin cheeses such as Hook’s 15-year-old cheddar, as well as a wide array of intriguing imports. Best of all, you can sample any cheese before you buy.
Another good cheese store is West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe, at the Milwaukee Public Market. The Wisconsin Cheese Mart, is also a good cheese store, and its Uber Tap Room pairs 175 Wisconsin cheeses with 36 beers and several wines.
Like Evalon, many Wisconsin cheeses are noted nationally and internationally. Other cheeses to taste include: Uplands’ Pleasant Ridge Reserve, which won the ACS Best of Show title three times; Carr Valley’s Snow White Goat Cheddar and Gran Canaria, both ACS Best of Show winners, and Hollands Family Farm’s Marieke Gouda, which won this year’s U.S. Cheese Championship.
Several restaurants in town serve up these and other inventive cheeses. Downtown, try: Bacchus, Kil@wat and Millioke, but further south, try Blue Jacket Bar, Industri Café, or Wine Maniacs on the River.
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Have you been to Milwaukee recently? Did you visit any of these renowned cheese shops while you were in town? Share your tips in the comments below.
Written by Jeanette Hurt
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About the author: JeanetteJeanette Hurt
Award-winning author Jeanette Hurt writes about food, wine and travel for a variety of publications, including AAA Living, Wine Enthusiast and The Four Seasons, and she's also a food and beverage correspondent for Milwaukee NPR affiliate WUWM's Lake Effect show. When she's not writing about food, wine or travel, she can be found enjoying Milwaukee's lakefront bike and with her husband, their son and their dog.