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Door County Dreamin’ at Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese Shop

In the summer, California may have, well, California, but in Wisconsin, we have Door County. No bugs, no McDonalds, and no high-rise hotels. Just mom-‘n-pop restaurants with goats on the roof, cute shops and old-fashioned, 24-room motels snuggled into wooded hillsides. And this month, I got to visit this magical little place for the first time.

So I’m not sure how this happened, but it seems that I’ve been to 36 of the 50 states and six different countries on three continents, but I’ve never been to Door County. I’ve come to the conclusion that’s because they never had a cheese shop for me to visit.

Until now.

Entrepreneurs extraordinaire Michael and Janice Thomas opened The Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese Shop in Egg Harbor, Door County (located on the “left-hand thumb” of Wisconsin) on May 25. A cut-to-order store selling ONLY Wisconsin artisan cheeses, the shop is an amazing spotlight for Wisconsin cheesemakers.

In addition to the usual rock star cheeses such as Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Bleu Mont Bandaged Cheddar, the Thomases have managed to talk several up-and-comers into selling cheese nearly exclusively at their store. An example is Union Star’s St. Jeanne, crafted by young Jon Metzig, who named the cheese after his grandmother, and fashioned it after an Irish cheese that he studied two years ago on a 6-week cheesemaking trek across Europe that became the “So You Want to be a Cheesemaker” blog.

The Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese Shop also makes to order and sells a handful of artisan sandwiches on fresh, crusty bread (I’d highly recommend the sandwich pictured here, the “Wisconsin’s Best” – Nueske’s applewood smoked ham, Emmi Roth Grand Cru Gruyere, mayo, fig and citrus chutney and crisp romaine) and is one of the only retail outlets that I know of selling Kelley Country Creamery ice cream.

With eight employees, including shop manager Kathy McCarthy (the daughter and granddaughter of Wisconsin cheesemakers), Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese Shop is the latest brainchild of an energetic couple who have called Door County home since 2004, when they opened the Savory Spoon Cooking School in their renovated, 1847 farm house that was once the historic Olson Dairy.

The couple ran the cooking school out of their home (pictured at left) the first two years as an experiment to see if people would be willing to pay to learn how to cook. “We figured if it worked, we’d outgrow the space. If not, we’d end up with the coolest kitchen in Door County,” says Michael. The school hit a home run, and two years later, moved into Ellison Bay’s renovated school house/old post office, where it’s been ever since.

Every June through October, Janice opens up the The Savory Spoon Cooking School – a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals – for nightly classes on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. However, on select Tuesdays throughout the summer, the pair host a series of “Artisan Cheese Tastings” where a Wisconsin cheesemaker is a guest of honor. On July 12, Andy Hatch from Uplands Cheese will lead a class, with Sid Cook of Carr Valley following on July 19.

Other cheesemakers, including Katie Hedrich of LaClare Farm; Felix Thalhammer, Capri Cheesery; Chris Roelli, Roelli Cheese; Marieke Penterman, Holland’s Family Cheese; Diana Murphy, Dreamfar; Bob Wills, Cedar Grove Cheese; Bruce Workman, Edelweiss Creamery; and Affineur Jenifer Brozak will round out the summer schedule — for a complete listing of all classes, click here.

Both the cooking school and the artisan cheese shop provide a unique exposure opportunity for Wisconsin artisan cheeses, as most attendees and shoppers are visitors from Chicago and the Twin Cities. “People discover amazing Wisconsin artisan cheeses here, and then remember them and seek them out when they get home,” Michael says (pictured above). “We have a unique opportunity to spotlight Wisconsin cheese to a growing market.”

Thanks to Michael and Janice Thomas, Wisconsin artisan cheeses will continue to reach an ever-growing audience. I can’t wait to see what they dream up next.

Photo credits to Uriah Carpenter.

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