Five years ago, a dairy farm couple and their children in Augusta, Wis., took a leap of faith and began making cheese from the milk of their own 50-cow Jersey herd. They started by crafting cheese curds, a few flavored jacks and cheddar. Today, they’re producing more than 80 kinds of cheese and are winning awards in national competitions.
In short, Gingerbread Jersey is all grown up.
I first blogged about this farmhouse dairy back in 2006, and I regret to say that I haven’t done an update in four years. I ran into owners Virgil and Carolyn Schunk last weekend at the Isthmus Beer & Cheese Fest, and bless their hearts, they still remembered me from when I attended their grand opening on behalf of the Dairy Business Innovation Center in June, 2005. This is why I love cheese people.
At that time, the Schunks were the first dairy plant in the state to make cheese with Darlington Dairy Supply’s Cheese on Wheels, a mobile, state-of-the-art cheesemaking plant housed in a 53-foot semi-trailer. Five years later, they’re still making cheese in the mobile unit, only it’s not quite so mobile anymore. They’ve built a viewing area adjacent to the trailer, so visitors can watch Virgil make cheese, which he does several days a week, including making fresh curds every Friday. Click here for a short slide show on the Schunk’s farm & cheese plant operation.
One of their newest cheeses is Taste of Sicily, a Monterey Jack with sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and garlic, which won a gold medal at the 2009 North American Jersey Cheese Awards. In fact, the Schunks won three awards at that conference, out of 77 entries from 29 different producers representing 15 states and Quebec. Not bad for a mom & pop operation making cheese out of a semi-trailer, eh?
In addition to Taste of Sicily, the Schunks are also expanding their cheesemaking repertoire and are making Asiago, Parmesan-style and Romano cheeses. Although Gingerbread Jersey is best-known for its cheddars and flavored jacks, its expanded line of cheeses are very high-quality and reasonably priced. Yum.
So, if you’re ever in the Eau Claire area — more specifically, right off Highway 12 eighteen miles east of Eau Claire (click here for a map), be sure and visit Gingerbread Jersey and say hi to the Schunks. They’re good people making good cheese.