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How a Fourth-Technology-Owned Household Cheese Enterprise Constructed Its Legacy, Brick by Brick

We’ve teamed up with Wisconsin Cheese for an interview mini-series known as Meet the Makers, that includes a sampling of the state’s best cheesemakers and their award-winning creations.

If you develop up in a household that owns a enterprise, there are usually two outcomes relating to your future: you both run so far as you’ll be able to within the different route and by no means look again, otherwise you fall in line with the generations that got here earlier than you and ultimately take the reins. In fact, each paths have advantage, particularly when there’s scrumptious meals concerned.

Joey Widmer is one such household businessman. He adopted in his father Joe Widmer’s footsteps, and that’s a very good factor—that’s as a result of his household enterprise, Widmer’s Cheese Cellars, entails making Wisconsin’s best Brick and Colby cheeses. As a fourth-generation cheesemaker, Joey is not any stranger to early mornings and guide labor, however it wasn’t at all times clear that cheese can be his path. I sat down with him to study extra about his household’s dairy-filled historical past and the way he landed in the identical place his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather occupied earlier than him.

This interview has been edited and condensed for readability.

MADISON TRAPKIN: Are you able to inform me who you might be and what you do?

JOEY WIDMER: I’m Joey Widmer and I am a fourth-generation cheesemaker. I have been making cheese since I used to be about 12 years previous right here at Widmer’s, born and raised above the cheese manufacturing facility.

That’s a number of generations of cheesemaking! What does Wisconsin’s cheesemaking group imply to you?

The Wisconsin cheese making group means lots to me—the persons are so pleasant and accommodating. It isn’t like we’re actually aggressive towards one another. All of us have totally different merchandise that we provide and convey to {the marketplace}, and you may talk lots with the opposite cheesemakers and bounce concepts off of them.

Widmer’s provides a number of cheeses as of late, however it began with Brick. How did that cheese come to be?

Brick cheese was invented in 1877 by a Swiss immigrant named John Jossi and the explanation they name it brick cheese is as a result of they really use a brick to press the curds right into a block.

Photograph by Dusan Harminc

I wager lots of people assume it’s named for the form of the cheese fairly than the cheesemaking course of.

It’s a good way to make cheese. When my great-grandfather—he is additionally a Swiss immigrant immigrant—came visiting, he purchased our manufacturing facility in 1922. He began making nice cheese in our plant and [brick] was the primary cheese that he made. He used the identical strategies that John Jossi used with the bricks, and he began with washed-rind brick cheese…[that’s] a European-style cheese [with] a stronger taste and aroma. For that cheese, we put it in a room and we wash it day by day with the tradition micro organism that provides it the floor rind. He realized that not all people likes a robust, smelly fashion of cheese, so then he got here up with a gentle brick, [which is] the identical cheese however it has annatto coloring and we do not add the tradition micro organism and wash it so it does not get that sturdy, smelly taste or aroma.

So how precisely do the bricks come into play?

You truly use a brick to press the curd collectively and [into] roughly a five-pound block.

Very cool. What number of bricks does Widmer’s have?

We’ve got about 450 bricks right here on premises, and people are the unique bricks that my grandfather used. Some have been taken out of circulation resulting from put on and tear, however most of them are the unique kind of baker’s bricks derived from a plant out of Ohio. There’s a number of cleansing that has to enter sustaining the bricks, so it’s totally labor intensive to make it that manner. We’re the one ones that I do know of which can be truly utilizing a brick for urgent.

Do you retain utilizing them to stay to custom or is there one more reason?

Sure, we’re making an attempt to stay to our conventional strategies of cheesemaking as a lot as doable. All people else is sort of going automated and breaking away from that custom, however we really feel that our area of interest is to stay to conventional strategies as a lot as doable and protect the historical past.

Photograph by Dusan Harminc

You’re a fourth-generation cheesemaker—did you at all times know your path would result in cheese?

I did not at all times know that I needed to make cheese. I noticed among the struggles that my dad went via and in a way [that] sort of scared me, however on the similar time, he took a number of pleasure in what he did and I spotted that something worthwhile in life goes to be difficult.

In some ways you’ve stayed true to custom by holding the household enterprise alive and sticking to sure manufacturing strategies, however you’ve additionally innovated alongside the way in which—are you able to inform me about this evolution at Widmer’s?

My grandpa did begin with the washed-rind cheese, however a method that he adopted the palate of different clients is he got here up with the delicate brick cheese that was simply the delicate, creamy model of the unique kind of brick cheese. Now we additionally provide totally different taste varieties [of Brick] like Jalapeno Pepper and Caraway Seed. My great-grandfather additionally began making cheddar as a result of cheddar was so universally recognized all through Wisconsin. As we noticed increasingly cheeses being developed with totally different cultures and taste components, we determined so as to add to our Wisconsin Originals. Within the late 2000, I imagine 2019, my dad and I got here up with Matterhorn Alpine Cheddar, which is our unique cheddar recipe, however then we added alpine cultures to that. It ended up being a very good cheese and it truly gained a primary place finest of sophistication in the US cheese contest final 12 months within the cheddar class, aged six months to a 12 months.

Simply this previous 12 months, we began making a Butterkäse, [which] sort of performs upon my household’s heritage of being from Switzerland. It is a cheese that was invented on the German-Swiss border within the 1870s, and it has an analogous course of to our brick course of, however simply totally different cultures. So these are among the ways in which we have innovated simply, you realize, sticking to custom, but in addition arising with different cheeses just like the Butterkäse and Matterhorn.

What does the long run appear like for Widmer’s?

I do not know what the long run seems to be like precisely for Widmer’s, however I do know that we wish to keep true to what we’re doing at present—producing conventional cheeses in a standard method and utilizing conventional recipes that had been handed down for 100 years [across] 4 generations. I really feel like after I rise up, I am enthusiastic about going to work and beginning my day and attending to create an excellent cheese product and understanding that in Wisconsin there is a group of dairy farmers and cheesemakers which can be additionally beginning their day at 3 or 4 a.m. Understanding you are not the one one getting up that early and being part of that tough working group of people, I feel that is vital and it makes you wish to rise up day by day and do your job to the perfect of your means with enjoyment.

What’s your favourite taste of Widmer’s Cheese? Inform us within the feedback beneath!

Our associates at Wisconsin Cheese are dedicated to showcasing all of the superb cheeses the state has to supply—and there is a number of them. Wisconsin has extra flavors, varieties, and types of cheese than wherever else on the earth. From Italian classics like Parmesan and ricotta to Wisconsin Originals like Colby and Brick, this cheese-obsessed state has a bit of one thing for everybody. Discover out extra about Wisconsin Cheese by visiting their web site.

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