The Foster Cheese Haus -- a 20-year landmark along I-94 between Osseo and Eau Claire -- is getting an extreme makeover, courtesy of Wayne Kostka, Nathan Berg, and their partners. An extensive remodeling job commenced January 1, when the cheese house changed ownership, and the new and improved version will open in about three weeks.
"We're still in the 'stuff could go wrong era', so the June 1 date could change, but that's what we're shooting for," General Manager Nathan Berg told me this morning. Nathan is a long-time area chef and most recently ran Native Bay Restaurant near Chippewa Falls. The Foster Cheese Haus is his newest project and from his description of the new place, should keep him busy for a while.
The cheese house is located off the "Foster exit of I-94" -- that's Exit 81 for you non-locals -- and looks nothing like the original. Wayne Kostka -- co-owner of Castle Rock Organic Dairy, a farmstead milk bottling, cheese plant and ice cream manufacturer just up the road -- is in the midst of his magical stone masonry work, creating a stone tower, stone arches and wine & cheese cave where a dingy roadside cheese shop stood just six months ago.
Foster Cheese Haus will feature Wisconsin artisan cheeses exclusively at its opening, and will have a 10-foot cut-to-order cheese cooler featuring "the best of the best cheeses of Wisconsin." Two more coffin coolers will hold pre-packaged cheeses, and customers will be invited to sit and enjoy their cheese in a big sitting room that seats 30. The focal point will be a huge stone fireplace built by the Kostkas.
The shop will also feature Wisconsin foods, including frozen organic and grass-fed meats from local farms, and of course, bottled milk, cheese and ice cream made at the Castle Rock plant. A 15 x 15 sq. ft. wine, cheese and beer cave will also be open to the public. And an on-site artisan bakery crafting artisan breads and crackers will be run by Royce Roberts, Nathan's former sous chef at Native Bay. Customers will also be invited to purchase soups and sandwiches, homemade pizza and deli items made on site with fresh Wisconsin products.
"It's a multi-faceted operation, but the Wisconsin connection really ties it all together," Nathan says. "You could think of it as a renaissance of the highway cheese shop -- we'll still have cheese curds, but they will be fresh and still warm from the Castle Rock vat on Tuesdays & Fridays. We'll still have cheeses, but they will be artisan cut-to-order. The whole building is being remodeled in a 'green' fashion - using recycled barn lumber, local stone, and local products."
"We're taking the highway cheese shop to a whole new level," Nathan says. "It's going to be amazing."
Whoo-hoo! Can't wait to see it. I feel a road trip to Osseo coming on about June 1 ....