A former political aide is making cheese history with his environmentally friendly cheese and Milwaukee's first urban creamery.
Wisconsin is famous for cheese — home of the Cheeseheads even — so one might think that the largest city of America's Dairyland, Milwaukee, would be bursting with creameries, right? Wrong. While the city is home to Foamation, Inc. — the manufacturer of the foam-wedge cheeseheads — Milwaukee has never had an actual cheese factory. Until now.
Clock Shadow Creamery, Milwaukee's very first creamery, opened its doors in April. Named for the nearby Allen Bradley clock tower in the Walker's Point neighborhood, it's the latest eco-friendly dairy venture of Wisconsin native and Master Cheesemaker Bob Wills, 57. A master cheesemaker is a specially earned title in Wisconsin — there are only 50, and earning it means the honoree has not only been making cheese for over a decade but has also passed a rigorous certification system.
The creamery is located in developer Juli Kaufman's new $7.2 million mixed-use eco building, the Clock Shadow Building, which uses net-zero energy and has carbon neutral design. The building is also constructed mostly from recycled materials and boasts a geothermal heating system, a rooftop garden, and a water recovery system that reuses rainwater and wind-powered electricity.
Wills is a seasoned vet when it comes to environmentally sensitive dairying. He was one of the country's first organic cheesemakers and the first American cheesemaker to make cheese free of bovine growth hormones. His Cedar Grove Creamery in Plain, WI, was the first — and remains the only — cheese plant in the country to use a special filtration system to clean wastewater from the cheesemaking process. And now, in opening Milwaukee's first creamery, Wills joins only a handful of other urban cheesemakers across the country.
Many dairy experts simply don't understand why a cheesemaker would choose to put his plants in a city instead of near the farms that supply them. But Will's reasoning is simple: He wants to provide Milwaukeeans with the freshest cheese around.
Using only cream from nearby farms, Clock Shadow's lineup features fresh fromage like quark, cheddar, jack, mozzarella, ricotta and queso blanco, as well as so-fresh-they-squeak-in-your-mouth cheese curds. These types of fresh cheeses are best immediately after they're crafted, and, as they don't need to be aged, they use less energy. "Our advantage is that we can get people these cheeses fresher than anyone else — you can't truck in these products from overseas or even just across the state and have the kind of quality we provide," Wills says.
"Bob is one of the most innovative cheesemakers in the country," says Jeanne Carpenter, founder and executive director of Wisconsin Cheese Originals (an organization that shares information about new artisan cheese and cheesemakers). "He's one of those visionary guys who is capable of seeing the future, but he's also capable of making it happen. When Bob was planning this new creamery, a lot of people in the state's dairy industry thought he was nuts. Once again, he's going to prove them wrong."
In the creamery's little retail store, Wills sells cheeses from Cedar Grove, along with some made by other Wisconsin cheesemakers who he's mentored — Wills is also known as the go-to guy to help novices, and has groomed several famous Wisconsin cheesemakers. Mike Gingrich, of Uplands Cheese, first made his award-winning Pleasant Ridge Reserve (an aged, raw milk Beaufort-style of cheese) at Cedar Grove, and, more recently, Katie Hedric of LaClare Farms began making fresh chevre there. Pleasant Ridge Reserve is the only cheese ever to win best of show three times at the American Cheese Society, and Hedric 's Evalon became only the second goat cheese ever to win the U.S. Cheese Championship last year. "Bob was a big help," Gingrich says. "We didn't have any way of making our cheese. I talked to a couple of cheesemakers, but they didn't want anything to do with us. Bob not only let us use his equipment and facility, but he also helped us figure out our procedure and our recipe for making cheese."
Hedric is equally appreciative of Wills. "Bob's given me the ability to expand my line," Hedric says. "He is very open to let people come in and do what they want to do, and he helps you along the way. Bob and his cheesemakers are just awesome. The knowledge they have, it's not something you can read in a textbook."
Wills, who worked in politics before starting Cedar Grove, says he enjoys mentoring cheesemakers and plans to make Clock Shadow an incubator for young up-and-comers. "I am aware that there are only a certain number of years that I'm going to be doing what I'm doing, but the dairy industry is going to be an important part of Wisconsin's economy long after that," Wills says. "Young cheesemakers are just really exciting people to work with. They've chosen this as a profession, not because it was in their family, but because it's what they believe in. They have an enthusiasm and desire for knowledge, and that's exciting."
While Clock Shadow will be run by Wills, the day-to-day operations will be managed by another young cheesemaker, Ron Henningfeld. Wills also has plans to set up a cheesemaking apprenticeship program. "He's nurturing the master cheesemakers of the future," Carpenter says. "These people are going to be the rock stars of the cheese world, and Bob deserves all the kudos."
For those wanting to taste this life-changingly fresh cheese for themselves a visit to the creamery is a must. Clock Shadow shares space with local ice cream maker, Purple Door, and in the summer, tables line the sidewalk, where people munch on fresh curds and sweet sundaes. Visitors can even watch the cheese and ice cream being made.
Wills has innovated once again: simultaneously rebuilding a once-struggling inner city area, helping create jobs and providing a sustainable model for local businesses, making him a true dairy king.
A MATCH MADE IN MILWAUKEE
Wine and cheese go together like peanut butter and jelly. While Wisconsin may be best known for its dairy, fine wines can also be found. Jessica Bell, founder of the Milwaukee Wine School and mywineschool.com, shares some of her favorite curd and vine match-ups.
Clock Shadow Quark with Stone's Throw Angel-ique sparkling wine.
The almond nuances of the wine match the tangy mild-mannerec cheese. "This should be a new Wis-consin brunch staple," she says of quark pancakes.
Hook's Aged Cheddar (five to 15-year) and Stone's Throw Zinfandel
"This wine has dark fruit with an intense nose," Bell states. "It has a fuller body, which is needed to match the salty flavors of the cheese. "
LoveTree Farmstead "Fishbait" (unaged, raw sheep's milk cheese) with Cedar Creek Cranberry Wine
Delicate and crisp cranberry notes mesh beautifully with the apple-hinted cheese.
LaClare Farms Evalon and Wollersheim Prairie Fume
"The gritty, full-flavored aged goat cheese goes with the wine's floral, fruity and honey notes," Bell explains.
Carr Valley Gran Canaria and Parallel 44
Frozen Tundra This cheese's white apricot and honey notes fit perfectly with the wine's well-balanced floral and honey ones.
Sartori Bellavitano with Wollersheim Domaine du Sac
This parmesan-like cheese is wholly addictive and balances out the light-bodied wine.
Upland's Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Stone's Throw Pinot Noir
"The wine's ripe cherries and sweet spice balance out the deep intensity of the cheese," Bell says.
Roelli Cheese Dunbar-ton Blue and Parallel 44 Glacier Red
"The fresh ripe berries of this medium intensity wine go very well with this bandage-wrapped blue cheese. Serve wine chilled."