Red Willow cheese by
Master Cheesemaker Jon Metzig

Growing up over Union Star cheese factory near Fremont, Wisconsin, Jon Metzig started helping out in the family cheese plant at seven years old. During his senior year of high school, he missed a week of classes to take a cheese making course at the University of Wisconsin, went on to take the state cheesemaker license test, passed, and became one of the youngest licensed cheesemakers in Wisconsin.

But he honestly never thought he’d be a career cheesemaker.

“I was more interested in agriculture – the dairy farm side,” Jon says. “But in the spring semester of my freshman year at UW-River Falls, I took Food Science 101 and learned there was a lot more to cheesemaking than bagging curds. The microbiology and chemistry of it all intrigued me.”

Fast forward to today, and 32-year-old Master Cheesemaker Jon Metzig is one of the state’s emerging artisan cheese makers. He just debuted Red Willow, a stinky washed-rind, small-format wheel made in the style of a Trappist Cheese. Made in 1/2-pound to 3/4-pound rounds, Red Willow is aged 20-25 days and washed in salt and brevibacterium linens to give it a lovely pinkish red color (and its signature odor), mixed with a Scottish Ale from Fox River Brewing Company in Appleton, which gives it a yeasty finish. The cheese is pleasantly savory and meaty, but not overly strong. I’d call it a gateway stinky cheese – the kind that wins people over who might think washed rind cheeses aren’t for them.

The cheese gets its name from its red color, plus the fact Jon is making it at the family’s second cheese factory, Willow Creek Creamery, near Berlin, Wisconsin. This is the second washed-rind cheese to Jon’s name – the first being St. Jeanne, named after his grandmother. That cheese is firmer, made in larger, six-pound wheels, and not washed in beer.

“I’ve been making both cheeses off and on for two or three years, and finally decided the key to consistency was making it in a smaller format,” Jon said. “It also helped that cheesemaker Bill Anderson made cheese at Willow Creek for awhile, and I was able to bounce ideas off him.” Jon says he also asked cheesemakers Chris Roelli and Andy Hatch for advice on aging, and both were open and helpful with getting him started.

Over the years, Jon has gained experience in making several different types of cheese. He still spends about half his time at the Union Star plant, making small-batch Cheddar, Colby, Muenster, String Cheese, Monterey Jack and Feta. After graduating college with a degree in Agriculture Business, he worked almost three years as a mozzarella cheesemaker at Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese near Waterloo, Wisconsin. He also spent six weeks making Gubbeen with Tom and Giana Ferguson near West Cork, Ireland. While overseas, he also toured several cheese factories in Europe.

Today, Jon is a certified master cheesemaker in Cheddar and Colby, while his father, Dave, is a certified master cheesemaker in Cheddar. The pair are just two of 59 active master cheesemakers in Wisconsin. The father and son are currently in the midst of a succession plan, with Dave retiring in five years, although Jon expects him to still come in every day. “I don’t know if he will ever fully retire,” Jon says with a smile.

Red Willow Cheese by Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker Jon Metzig

3 thoughts on “Willow Creek Creamery Debuts Red Willow

  1. Congratulations, John. Having watched and tasted this cheese in its development, I can attest to its wonderful aroma, flavor and creamy texture. This cheese is representative with what finding something unique in the Wisconsin Heartland is all about. It's the favorite of all the cheeses I've shared with my fellow writers at Mid-State Poetry Towers in Wisconsin Rapids. The old graybeard poets love it. It pairs well with the Guinness Stout and chocolate cookies there too.~Really. Thank you for sharing your craft.

    Mango VanRasp

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