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My First Cheese Curd

The man who made the very first fresh cheese curd I ever ate will be honored next week as a Life Member of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association.

Cheesemaker Mike Moran runs Wisconsin Dairy State Cheese factory in tiny Rudolph, Wis. He began his career alongside his father in 1962, when the family bought the plant. Since then, Mike has grown the business into one of Wisconsin’s most innovative manufacturing plants and probably the busiest retail cheese store you’ll ever visit in a town of 423 people.

I first visited Mike’s plant back in 1993, when I was dating the man who would eventually become my husband. On a weekend trip to meet his parents in Wisconsin Rapids, we made what I would discover was the obligatory Saturday morning jaunt to the nearby Rudolph cheese factory. The Morans are known for not only making some of the best cheddar, jack and co-jack in the state, but for making fresh cheese curds six or seven days a week.

Along with the giant pile of cheese we bought, my husband threw in a bag of fresh cheese curds – still warm from the vat, and we ate them in his car on the way home. Believe it or not – at the age of 21, it was the very first fresh cheese curd I had ever eaten. Warm, squeaky, clean, salty – I ate so many that I later threw up in his mother’s bathroom (great way to make a first impression on the future in-laws, by the way).

Today, my in-laws run Ricky’s Bar & Bowl in Rudolph just down the street from the Wisconsin Dairy State Cheese Factory, so needless to say, whenever we visit, we stop at the cheese factory first. Mike is almost always there, greeting customers, working the counter, scooping ice cream or managing the floor.

On a recent trip, my daughter and I were standing in front of the huge looking glass windows between the retail store and the cheese plant, and I was attempting to explain the cheese make process to my less-than-thrilled teenager. Mike must have seen me pointing and talking to Avery, trying to engage her in the process, so he promptly came out of the make room to greet us and say hello. He wanted to know if we had any questions.

My daughter explained to him that her lame mom was trying to tell her how cheese was made, but that he could probably do it better. So for the next 15 minutes, one of the busiest people at Wisconsin Dairy State Cheese explained to a 13-year-old how fresh milk is made into a cheese curd. And he did it with passion – like it was the first time he had ever told the story to anyone. We bought a lot of cheese that day, and my respect for Mr. Mike Moran grew to a new level.

Today, Mike is joined in the family business by his brother Dave, his son, John, and his daughter, Jill. Known for his modesty, Mike is known and respected across the Wisconsin dairy industry. In fact, in response to this award, his family penned this statement: “Mike is very passionate about his commitment to the dairy industry and strongly believes in continuing a tradition of excellence in the cheesemaking process.”

Well said. Congrats to the Morans and Wisconsin Dairy State Cheese.
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