By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
Did you know that Wisconsin produces more than a third of the cheese made in the United States? Or that a good share of the state’s cheese comes from small, family-owned-and-operated factories? We’ve cruised through information about many such factories to find 13 that keep the welcome mat out for visitors. Of the ones covered in this column, some offer tours; all have observation windows so visitors can see those hardworking souls slave over a hot vat of cheese in the making.
These cheese factories all have retail outlets where you can select from a variety of flavors. Where available, we’ve provided tour times and days, but it’s still a good idea to call in advance to arrange a tour, if it’s offered. Don’t forget to check the Internet for more factories as you travel. One helpful Web site is www.travelwisconsin.com.
1. Alto Dairy Cooperative, Black Creek. This cooperative churns out 550,000 pounds of cheese per day at two Wisconsin facilities, including this one, approximately 20 miles west of Green Bay. The company’s cheddar, Colby, brick, and Edam cheeses are popular, as are its cheese curds. What are cheese curds? They’re the natural form of young cheddar cheese before it is formed into blocks and aged. A visitors’ observation window is available at this factory. The store is open Monday through Friday; phone (800) 235-1613 or (920) 983-3331; www.altodairy.com.
2. Bass Lake Cheese Factory, Somerset. The milk used to make this company’s award-winning cheeses comes from cows, sheep, and goats. It certainly provides for many varieties. After you’ve seen the process through the observation window, watched a cheese-making video, and taken a self-guided tour, you can mosey on down to the retail shop and enjoy a picnic area. The factory is open year-round, Monday through Saturday. Somerset is eight miles north of Hudson, off of Interstate 94 near the Minnesota state line. Phone (800) 368-2437 or (715) 247-5586; www.blcheese.com.
3. Beechwood Cheese Factory, Adell. Cheese-making is done in the mornings here, so show up early. This factory is home of the “five ages of cheddar” and includes mild to “really sharp.” It was established more than a century ago and still is family-owned. It produces 30 kinds of cheese, including most of the commonly eaten varieties. The more whimsical cheeses include those with chives, bacon bits, dried vegetables, caraway, and jalapeno peppers. The factory is located at the eastern edge of the state southwest of Sheboygan, not far from Interstate 43. Phone (877) 224-3373 or (920) 994-9306; www.beechwoodcheese.com.
4. Cady Cheese Factory Inc., Wilson. This manufacturer of Colby, cheddar, and Monterey Jack cheese goes wild on the Jack, with “Gold’n Jack,” “Hot Pepper Jack,” “Veg’y Jack,” and more. This factory is in western Wisconsin, just west of Menomonie. From I-94, take exit 28, and head 3-1/2 miles south toward Spring Valley. Phone (715) 772-4218; www.cadycheese.com.
5. Crystal Lake Cheese Factory, Comstock. In addition to the widely marketed cheeses, such as Monterey Jack, cheddar, and muenster, this factory makes specially flavored cheeses with mushrooms, cranberries, sweet basil, and even apples (not all in the same batch). The retail outlet and observation windows are open daily, and a video presentation is available for viewing. From I-94 in western Wisconsin, take the exit for U.S. 53 north. The factory is five miles southwest of Cumberland and five miles north of Turtle Lake. Phone (715) 822-2437.
6. Eau Galle Cheese Factory, Durand. The Buhlman family has owned and operated this facility since 1945. Today it produces more than 9 million pounds of Parmesan and Romano cheese each year. You would think the owners must be Italian, but the founder lived and trained in Switzerland. Visitors can watch cheese being processed daily, and between Memorial Day and Labor Day tours are offered on Saturdays at 11:00 a.m. The factory is 20 minutes south of Menomonie, in the western part of the state; phone (715) 283-4276; www.eaugallecheese.com.
7. Gibbsville Cheese Company, Sheboygan Falls. This company has been family-owned for more than 65 years and manufactures cheddar, Colby, Monterey Jack, two-tone cheeses, cheese curds, and more. At a viewing window, visitors can watch as cheese is made and packaged. The retail store is open Monday through Saturday. The factory is a few miles south of Sheboygan Falls, not far from I-43; phone (920) 564-3242 or visit www.gibbsvillecheese.com.
8. Henning’s Cheese, Kiel. This factory, also family-owned, is located approximately 20 miles northwest of Sheboygan. Cheddar, Colby, Monterey Jack, string cheese, and lower-fat cheeses are made there, among others. Fresh cheese curds are offered Monday through Friday after 10:30 a.m. The retail store is open Monday through Saturday and is located off State Route 67; phone (920) 894-3032.
9. Mullins Cheese Inc., Mosinee. Through the observation window you may see milk turn into cheddar, Colby, Monterey Jack, or another of 50 varieties “” including fresh cheese curds. In the retail outlet, which is open daily, you can sample and buy your choice. The factory is off of Interstate 39 in the north-central part of the state, a couple of miles south of Mosinee. Phone (715) 693-3205.
10. Nasonville Dairy Inc., Marshfield. Here they make cheddar, Colby, Monterey Jack, Marble Jack, Feta, and cheese curds, as well as specialty cheeses. You can take a tour of the factory by appointment; phone ahead: (715) 676-2177. The retail store is open Monday through Saturday. The factory is in the central part of Wisconsin on U.S. 10, seven miles west of Marshfield.
11. Simon’s Specialty Cheese, Little Chute. In 1988 Simon’s was the maker of the world’s largest cheese, named the Belle of Wisconsin. It weighed 40,000 pounds. The factory store offers more than 100 different cheese varieties today. You can visit six days a week (and on Sundays between Thanksgiving and Christmas) and see a cheese-making video. The shop also includes gifts and other foods. Little Chute is just east of Appleton in eastern Wisconsin. Phone (800) 444-0374 or (920) 788-6311; www.simonscheese.com.
12. Springside Cheese Corporation, Oconto Falls. With three observation windows to choose from, you’ll have a great view of the cheese-making process. You also can call ahead for a guided tour. They might be cooking up any of their 25-plus cheese varieties. The retail store is open daily. Phone (920) 829-6395. The factory is eight miles north of Oconto Falls and approximately 30 miles north of Green Bay.
13. Wisconsin Dairy State Cheese Company, Rudolph. A video on cheese-making, an observation window, and a (pre-arranged) guided tour introduce you to this cheese factory. It offers fresh cheese curds in addition to the usual cheese varieties. The factory is open daily and located in the center of the state, seven miles north of Wisconsin Rapids on State Route 34. Phone (715) 435-3144.