Thursday, August 07, 2008

Incubator Cheesemaker Bob Wills

Now that the Green Bay Packers Former Quarterback and Future Hall of Famer Brett Favre drama has FINALLY ended (thank you, God), hopefully we Wisconsites can go back to focusing on what really matters: cheese.

And I know just the cheesemaker to make us refocus on this delightful subject: Cedar Grove Cheese's Bob Wills.

Not only is Bob always coming up with new cheeses -- just wait until I tell you about his new "layer cheeses" - he is also notorious for quietly launching many a champion cheese for many a cheesemaker. I was talking with him after the American Cheese Society competition in Chicago and found out that nine cheeses made at his plant won ACS awards this year. However, only four of them carry his own Cedar Grove Cheese brand.

Why? Because Bob is a Master Cheesemaker who graciously opens his plant to about a half dozen other Wisconsin cheesemakers who use it during downtime to make their own award-winning cheeses, and he also crafts cheeses for several cooperatives and farmsteads.

In fact, Bob is renowned in the Wisconsin cheesemaker world for mentoring dozens of up and comers, and has launched many an award-winner. Here's a partial list of some of the cheesemakers Bob has worked with over the years:

  • Uplands Cheese -- Pleasant Ridge Reserve won ACS Best of Show in 2001 & 2005. Cheesemaker Mike Gingrich made this cheese at Bob's plant for the first three years.

  • Bleu Mont Dairy -- rock star cheesemaker Willi Lehner makes several of his award-winning cheeses at Bob's plant and won two awards this year at ACS.

  • Nordic Creamery -- Al Bekkum makes his cheeses at Bob's plant and won a blue ribbon in his first showing this year at ACS.

  • Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Cooperative -- Bob makes cheese for this cooperative, winning three awards this year at ACS.

  • Otter Creek Organic Farm -- Bob makes seasonal organic cheddars for this farmstead company, which won a ribbon in their first showing at last year's ACS.

  • Sugar River Cheeses - Bob makes cheeses for this company and won a second-place ribbon at the 2006 ACS.

  • Next Generation Dairy - Bob makes these organic, raw milk cheeses.
Bob also mentors many a cheesemaker who goes on to build or run their own operation. Diana Murphy, of Dreamfarm, won a second place for her cheese at this year's ACS. Bob mentored her at his plant three/four years ago. And sometimes, cheesemakers who started out with Bob take their talents around the nation. For example, Dane Huebner, who worked at Cedar Grove for several years, was hired last year as the Lead Cheesemaker at Flat Creek Lodge in Georgia and took home a blue ribbon this year at ACS for his work there (congrats Dane).

In short, Bob Wills is the epitome of how one cheesemaker -- a former lawyer, who married into the cheesemaking world, no less -- has opened his cheese plant to the Wisconsin community and created a vast array of award winning cheeses and mentored many a cheesemaker who has gone on to very good things.

He invents amazing cheeses, and once in awhile, even keeps them for himself. Case in point: Cedar Grove Cheese's new line of beautiful and very tasty "Layer Cheeses." Each cheese carries a layer of ingredients through the center of the wheel, surrounded on both sides by either organic cheddar or butterkase.

Included in this line is the amazing Cumin & Cloves in Organic Cheddar, which captured a blue ribbon at this year's ACS. Rounding it out is the Cracked Fennel in Organic Cheddar, Fenugreek in Butterkaese (extra creamy - yum), Rosemary in Organic Cheddar, and my all time favorite: Naturally Smoked Cheddar with Smoked Salmon & Dill (which took second at ACS this year).

Basically, I could go on and on about Bob, but frankly I don't have enough room to write about all the things he's doing, including his famous and unique way to treat wastewater through his Living Machine as well as his new affinage facility that uses energy from a nearby whey chilling unit. Big sigh. Bob does it all, and he does it well. Thanks, Bob! Wisconsin appreciates you.

1 comment:

Tom Aarons said...

Wow! What a cool concept you've got here. A blog about cheese. It's great!