Tom Lechner needs his own theme music. As Wisconsin’s very own “Cheese Power” superhero, Tom’s been promoting Wisconsin cheese for years. When he’s not working eight hours a day at John Deere on the manufacturing floor, he’s coming up with new cheese products and marketing them to specialty retailer stores, one cheese buyer at a time.
His latest invention is “Cheezghetti.” Yes, you read that correctly. It is indeed cheese shaped like spaghetti. I can’t believe someone didn’t think of this sooner. Cheezghetti is actually 1/8-inch wide, 15-inch long strings of Provolone cheese, made at a Wisconsin cheese factory. It pulls apart, just like string cheese, but carries the flavor punch of a provolone.
Tom called me last week, asking if I’d like to meet him and try his new product. He was on his way from Fond du Lac to Milwaukee and was willing to go through Madison to meet me. So at 8:30 a.m., I trekked to the east side Perkins, ordered a cup of coffee, and steeled myself to take notes on a spaghetti cheese. What I got was a whole lot more than a cheesy product.
Mr. Lechner may be one of the nicest, give-the-shirt-right-off-his-back-to-a-stranger-type-of-guys I’ve ever met. I learned he’s been working in manufacturing jobs for the past 30 years. He lost his wife of 36 years to breast cancer last year. He’s always been interested in Wisconsin cheese, as a family member runs a cheese plant on the eastern side of the state.
He’s particularly devoted to getting kids to eat more cheese. “If I can get one kid interested in good eating habits by making a product they’ll like, then that’s my goal.” But Tom doesn’t stop at coming up with new cheese products. Three or four times a year, he suits up in his very own Cheese Power superhero costume, and talks up Wisconsin cheese at various events, high-fiving kids at Packer Games and posing for pictures at local parades.
“At a parade, my competition is a guy dressed up as Mickey Mouse. Kids don’t yell for Mickey Mouse, but they’ll yell for Cheese Power,” Tom says. “We need to keep our dairy industry on the forefront of Wisconsin. If I can help our dairy farmers sell more cheese, then that’s what I’m going to do.”
You go, Tom. If you’re interested in purchasing Mr. Lechner’s new Cheezghetti product, it’s available in Wisconsin at Woodman’s, Piggly Wiggly and coming soon to Festival Foods and Pick n’ Save. Look for it in the dairy section. And be sure to hum a superhero theme when you’re buying it. After all, you’re supporting the state’s dairy industry.