It’s spring, so time for me to start a new organization. Shockingly, it’s all about cheese.

After talking with dozens of small and artisan Wisconsin cheesemakers looking for opportunities to get together and learn more about their craft, today marks the debut of the Wisconsin Artisan Cheesemaker Guild. Similar to other state cheese guilds, it’s a member-based organization offering networking and educational opportunities for beginning and current artisan and farmstead cheesemakers.

Already at 28 members strong, the guild is intended to be a sister organization to Wisconsin Cheese Originals, a 200-strong membership organization catering to cheese education for consumers. Together, both organizations celebrate Wisconsin artisan and farmstead cheesemakers.

Here’s how it works: currently, the guild is open only to beginning or current artisan or farmstead cheesemakers (future associate memberships for retailers may be added – stay tuned). Guild members pay an annual fee of $150 per company. All employees of member companies are invited to attend or participate in all activities. Some activities, such as specific educational workshops or tours, have additional fees to help cover expenses. All events are listed at

In support of the guild, the Wisconsin Specialty Cheese Institute (WSCI) is helping sponsor us for our first two years. All guild members become WSCI members and gain access to WSCI programming and benefits. Current WSCI members who are also artisan or farmstead cheesemakers are encouraged to join the guild to be invited to all events. Only new guild members who are not already WSCI members need pay the $150 guild membership fee.

So, bascially, the guild is an opportunity for smaller cheese companies to gain access to more information about cheese aging, new cheesemaking styles, and to visit other cheesemakers in Wisconsin and abroad to expand their knowledge. I plan to organize at least two educational workshops and two membership meetings per year.

Upcoming events scheduled so far in 2013 include:

June 17: Affinage for Artisan Cheesemakers
The guild welcomes Michael Kalish for a half-day workshop in Madison. Trained by Hervé Mons, Luigi Guffanti, and cheese makers across France, Switzerland, and Italy, Kalish will discuss the art and practice of aging cheese. Attendees will learn the variables that affect affinage, as well as rind development, identifying defects, and developing a wash. As the former operations manager at Artisanal Premium Cheese in New York, Kalish apprenticed three years with European cheesemakers and affineurs, including 10 months managing the “tunnel de la collonge” at Herve Mons Fromager-Affineur in France. Cost for guild members to attend is $45, which includes lunch.

September 17: Know Your Mold
The guild hosts Dr. Benjamin Wolfe, microbiologist at Harvard University, for a half-day workshop. Dr. Wolfe is currently working on several cheese microbiology projects, including the ecology and genomics of staphylococci isolated from cheese rinds, DNA sequencing methods for measuring fungal biodiversity in cheese rinds, and comparative genomics of the fungus Geotrichum candidum. Attendees are encouraged to bring in their cheese rinds so Dr. Wolfe can help identify molds and provide other insights. Cost for guild members to attend is $55, which includes lunch.

In addition, the first Guild Membership meeting is in the works for late May. Artisan cheesemaker and guild member Brenda Jensen of Hidden Springs Creamery near Westby, will host a tour of her dairy sheep farm and farmstead cheese operation. Guest speaker Dr. Mark Johnson, senior scientist at the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, will update cheesemakers with information on the Center’s current cheese research projects, as well as plans for the new Babcock Hall as it relates to artisan cheese making. Attendance is free to guild members, but attendees must register in advance. Stay tuned for more details.

I look forward to hanging out with Wisconsin guild members in the coming months. Remember, if you are thinking about becoming a cheesemaker, or are a current farmstead or artisan cheesemaker, you are welcome to join us. Learn more here.