A Wisconsin cheese factory which sat dormant for 10 years is today up and running, with a fourth generation cheesemaker and his father once again crafting Cheddars and Swiss cheese in a custom-made micro-cheese vat in which they plan to use to develop future artisan cheeses.
Roelli Cheese, on State Hwy 11 between Shullsburg and Darlington, has long been known as one of southwest Wisconsin's best retail cheese stores, offering almost every cheese produced in Green County. Today, the store not only offers quality area cheeses, but is also beginning to stock its coolers with its own creations.
Chris Roelli and his dad, Dave Roelli, began renovating their family's mothballed cheese factory four months ago. Cheesemaking is in their blood - Dave had a successful run making 40-pound cheddar cheese blocks decades ago, but got out of the industry when the cheddar block market was no longer profitable. Today, son Chris is leading the family cheese renaissance and is determined to make Roelli Cheese known for more than its retail store.
The Roellis are starting with what they know best - cheddar. Chris and Dave make fresh cheddar curd four days a week and promptly sell out as soon as they make it. At $5.59 a pound for curd, Dave says they're making a better profit on this one venture today then when he made making 40-pound cheddar blocks in the late 80s.
"I got tired of working seven days a week only to make pennies on block cheddar," Dave told me yesterday during a visit to the plant. "This is fun again - we're working with a small vat, making cheese together and making some money. We're starting with what we know, but looking forward to developing some more varieties."
Those varieties will include a cellar-aged special reserve Swiss cheese, for which they are currently developing labels. A prototype has their cheese named after their family's hometown in Lucerne, Switzerland with wording that reads like an award-winning label: "This cellar aged special reserve Swiss style cheese has been handcrafted in small batches by the Roelli family who have been making cheese for 100 years."
Chris recently also made a batch of Emmentaler, which is aging in the back room. He's looking forward to working with cheese recipe development experts to create a signature artisan cheese that will be a perfect fit for his family's history.
The Roellis will celebrate a grand opening at their new cheese plant and retail cheese store on Saturday, Oct. 6. The event coincides with the Shullsburg Cheese Fest, and Chris plans to have buses shuttling visitors between his new plant and the festival. He'll start making cheese at 5 a.m., and the viewing area will be open all day. Be sure to arrive between 8-10 a.m. to see cheesemaking in full swing.