On Thursday, one hairnet-wearing Superhero Master Cheesemaker (well, technically, he wasn't actually wearing a hairnet at the time) helped launched Wisconsin's first inner-city cheese factory. Yes, that's right. Clock Shadow Creamery - named for the nearby Allen-Bradley Clock Tower - is scheduled to be up and running in the historic Walker's Point area of Milwaukee next March.
Cheesemaker Bob Wills, who in his spare time, serves on the American Cheese Society Board of Directors, works on the USDA's Dairy Industry Advisory Committee, and oh, by the way, produces award-winning cheese at a little factory called Cedar Grove Cheese that he owns in Plain, Wis., spoke to a cheering crowd of 200 people on Thursday, along with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and a host of local leaders. All were there to celebrate the groundbreaking of a new, $7 million, four-story new development led by local do-good legend Juli Kaufmann.
Wills plans to lease the first floor of Kaufmann's new development (the top three floors will host medical clinics and community organizations) and build a working cheese factory that will feature public viewing areas and produce primarily fresh cheeses, including fresh mozzarella, quark and cheese curds – the types of cheeses not readily available to urban dwellers.
More importantly, the creamery will serve as an incubator for future cheesemakers. Wills plans to offer a cheesemaking apprenticeship program, where ideally, the next generation of cheesemakers will be launched, perhaps many from the inner city.
Incubators and apprenticeship is a little something Wills know a lot about. Ten years ago, he took a risk and opened his cheese plant in Plain, Wis., to up-and-coming cheesemakers looking to rent a cheese vat to launch new cheeses. Because of stiff competition, strict environmental standards and confidentially issues, very few cheese plants across the nation open their facilities to other cheesemakers. In fact, Wills is still one of only a handful of cheese plant owners who rents out space to other cheesemakers.
And now, he's taking that mentality to the big city.
“The goal is help set up future cheesemakers for their own careers,” Wills says. “Ideally, I’ll find a young cheesemaker to run the Clock Shadow Creamery and it will be his or her factory in five years.”
If the Clock Shadow Creamery model is successful, he says he may replicate it in other places.
“It seems like a good way to help young people interesting in building a career in the dairy industry that don’t come from a third or fourth generation cheesemaking family. We’ve got to find a way to connect those kids to cheesemaking,” he says.
Based on the response from Thursday's jubilant crowd, which later retired to a rockin' party at the Milwaukee Brewing Company across the street, Wills' inner city cheesemaking venture will be successful. Kinds of makes one wonder if perhaps he doesn't have a pair of tights and superhero cape in his closet after all.