Landmark Creamery: Cheese With Heart

Headshot1 03.2012

Five years ago, Anna Landmark sent me a letter, applying for a $2,500 Beginning Cheesemaker Scholarship through my organization, Wisconsin Cheese Originals. Dated January 29, 2012, she thanked me for considering her application, which listed her current position as a policy research director for a non-profit advocacy organization, along with past jobs in communications consulting, political campaign management and community organization.

I thought to myself: why on earth does this woman want to be a cheesemaker?

And then I turned the page. It read:

“My first recollection of eating cheese is at my grandparent’s dairy farm in Mount Horeb. They always had a large block of Swiss cheese sitting under a glass dome on the kitchen table. It would be brought out for breakfast in the morning and generally left on the table until the end of the day when it was wrapped up and put into the refrigerator. My grandfather was a stout Swiss farmer, his grandfather one of the original settlers of New Glarus, and milk, cheese and butter were staples. Swiss cheese with breakfast, with dinner, and with supper. Sometimes aged and sharp as can be, sometimes Baby with a mild bit and perfect elasticity. I loved it all.”

Heart. The girl had heart. Her application would go on to say she had started taking cheesemaking courses at UW-Madison, that she and her husband had bought a small farm near Albany, and that her grandfather was enjoying watching her return to the cheese world. But the sentence that sealed the deal was: “My grandfather is still skeptical anyone on a small scale can really make a living doing it. But I want to find out: can I build a successful business making sheep milk cheeses?”

Needless to say, Anna Landmark won that year’s scholarship, went on to earn her cheesemaker’s license, and today owns and operates Landmark Creamery with business partner Anna Thomas Bates. She crafts seasonal sheep, cow and mixed milk cheeses, renting space at Cedar Grove in Plain and Thuli Family Creamery in Darlington. At both the 2017 and 2015 U.S. Championship Cheese Contests, her fresh sheep’s milk cheese, Petit Nuage, won a Gold Medal, and she continually wins awards for her cheeses each year at the American Cheese Society competition.

Today, readers of Cheese Underground, you have a chance to help the dynamic Anna duo complete their dreams. That’s because Landmark Creamery is nearing the end of a Kickstarter campaign, where it is seeking $25,000 in seed money to build a cheese aging space and to purchase more efficient equipment, allowing the Annas to create new cheeses and buy more milk from Wisconsin family farms. With just five days to go, they are only $4,000 short of their goal.

And, while the past five years have witnessed the birth and early success of Landmark Creamery, with your help, dear readers, it can go even further. Here is Anna’s statement from 2012, describing her business 10 years in the future:

“In 2022, I hope to have nine years of making and selling sheep milk cheeses under my belt, and to be anticipating enrolling in the UW’s Master Cheese Making program. My goal is to have my own cheese plant, growing to produce 100,000 pounds of cheese per year, with distribution regionally and to the elite markets on the coasts. I feel so inspired when making cheese. I hope my business will be a credit to the dairy industry in Wisconsin, and that my cheeses will be delicious and unique enough to become Wisconsin Originals.”

Mission accomplished, my dear. Now let’s help you write the next chapter. Your grandpa would be proud.

Donate here.

Modern Day Thelma & Louise: Landmark Creamery Lands in Green County Cheese Days Tent

Anna Thomas Bates (in blue) and Anna Landmark take a selfie with their
first winning ribbon at the 2016 American Cheese Society Competition. The
duo went on to win three awards for their cheeses at the prestigious event.
Photo by Uriah Carpenter

Watch out, world. For just the second time in the 100-year history of Green County Cheese Days, a woman cheesemaker will sample and sell her cheese inside the event’s iconic cheese tent on the downtown Monroe historic city square.

With more than a dozen cheese factories in Green County, the massive cheese tent at Cheese Days has been dominated by male cheesemakers for years. Only Julie Hook, co-owner of Hook’s Cheese in Mineral Point in Iowa County, has been able to break the glass vat in the past 20 years and sell cheese inside the Green County tent. And no wonder: America’s Dairyland is full of third and fourth generation cheesemakers, as fathers traditionally pass down their craft to sons.

But starting Friday, Wisconsin cheesemaker Anna Landmark and business partner Anna Thomas Bates will set up a table to sample and sell a half dozen of their different artisan cow, sheep and goat cheeses they make at area cheese factories during off-hours. The pair do not have their own plant, and instead rent space at Thuli Family Creamery in Darlington to make their cheese.

Perhaps the first selfie EVER. Taken by Thelma & Louise, one of my all-time favorite movies.
(It doesn’t hurt that a college boyfriend once told me I looked like Geena Davis. Sigh. If only).

“All the cheesemakers have been so welcoming to us, and we’re very honored to be invited to participate in the cheese tent,” Anna Landmark says. “We’re planning on introducing lots of folks to artisan sheep and goat cheeses.”

The Annas, as they are affectionately known in the industry, have been making cheese since 2013. They purchase sheep milk from a partner dairy in Rewey, cow milk from a grazier near Belleville, and goat milk from a neighboring farm. They are perhaps best known for their award-winning Petit Nuage, a fresh sheep’s milk button cheese, and Anabasque, a natural rinded, hard sheep’s milk cheese that rivals the Franco-Basque cheese on which it is based.

Some of the cheeses Landmark Creamery will be sampling and selling this weekend at Green County Cheese Days include:

The Annas at a Milwaukee dinner last year celebrating
a successful year of making artisan cheese.

  • Samwell, an earthy, cave-aged sheep cheddar, as well as a non cave-aged version
  • Anabasque, inspired by Ossau Iraty from the Basque region of France
  • Pecora Nocciola (a cave-aged version), perfect for grating or shredding on pasta
  • Pipit, a smooth and creamy sheep cheese, made for melting or slicing for sandwiches
  • Petit Nuage, a fresh, French-style soft sheep milk cheese, made weekly
  • A new raw milk Spanish goat cheese, cave aged, and yet to be named (they’re looking for ideas)
  • Chèvre: the original fresh goat cheese, with versions flavored with savory spice, thyme, black pepper, lemon peel, sumac and chili flake
  • A goat version of their ACS award winner Summer Babe, flavored with orange peel, lavender and honey.

Cheese Tent hours at Green County Cheese Days start on Friday, Sept. 16 from 9 am to 8 pm,  continue Saturday from 9 am to 8 pm and conclude on Sunday from 9 am to 6 pm. You’ll find Uriah and me helping out the Annas at their table Saturday morning. (Please stop by and say hi!)

Cheese Days itself runs from Friday through Sunday this weekend and includes a myriad of events all three days, including a main stage and several side stages featuring yodeling, alphorns, polka bands and Swiss heritage music. There’s also a cow milking contest, numerous food stands, and deep-fried cheese curds that are completely worth waiting in line for an hour or more.

On Saturday from noon to 4 pm, don’t miss the cheesemaking demonstration right on the square, where veteran cheesemakers craft a 200-pound wheel of Swiss the old fashioned way in a giant copper kettle. Green County cheesemakers take turns at the microphone, and the public is invited to help stir the curd with an old fashioned “Swiss harp.” After the cheese is hooped, Wisconsin Master Cheesemakers Gary Grossen and Jeff Wideman plug a block of cheese and demonstrate the grading and judging process using the criteria of the U.S. and World Championship Cheese Competitions.

Then on Sunday, come for the grand poobah of all parades, starting at 12:30 pm, and led by a procession of Brown Swiss cows and their Green County dairy farm family owners in full Swiss traditional clothing. The two-hour parade features 11 different divisions of bands, floats, dairy queens, horse-pulled wagons, trucks full of past and present cheesemakers, as well as the Limburger Queen, Stephanie Klett (whose day job is the Wisconsin Secretary of Tourism). Everyone should experience the Green County Cheese Days parade at least once in their lifetimes.

More importantly, come for a weekend of good cheese made by award-winning cheesemakers, and be sure to take a wedge or two home with you!

Uriah and I helped cut and wrapped 546 pieces of Landmark Creamery’s Samwell, a cave-aged sheep milk cheddar,  for Green County Cheese Days. Make sure you buy a wedge at the cheese tent in Monroe this weekend!
Photo by Jeanne Carpenter

Got Cheese History? 100 Cheese Factories Now Documented

Newcomer cheesemaker Anna Landmark shares cheese with veteran
cheesemaker Willi Lehner, whose father emigrated from Switzerland
and managed Rysers Cheese Factory in Mt. Horeb for 21 years.

More than 100 cheese factories in southwestern Dane County are now mapped and remembered with extensive information and photos online, thanks to the Mount Horeb Area Historical Society.

The Society unveiled the new cheese factory website on Sunday in downtown Mt. Horeb on the site of the former Henze cheese warehouse, now Zalucha Studios. Next door is the former Rysers Cheese Factory, today home to the Grumpy Troll Brew Pub, where Bleu Mont cheesemaker Willi Lehner’s father – also Willi Lehner – was the managing cheesemaker for 21 years. It seems downtown Mt. Horeb, similar to much of rural Wisconsin, was once a cheese mecca.

The website is extensive, noting the years each factory operated, the types of cheese crafted, each cheesemaker’s name and the years they made cheese at the facility, as well as extensive notes on what was happening throughout the years at each location. It’s a literal treasure trove of cheese history.

So what makes someone want to create a website detailing all the cheese factories that were once in their area? Well, sometimes to understand the present, it’s helpful to understand the past. So this past winter, Society volunteers created database inventories of the area’s schools, cheese factories, churches and cemeteries.

“We found a map where it was just black with dots,” archivist Shan Thomas said of an early 20th century map that located factories in the areas surrounding Mount Horeb. “They were everywhere.”

The web resource actually began with the Society mapping schools in the area. Volunteers identified 52 – yes, 52 – schools in the area that now makes up just the Mount Horeb Area School District. Amazingly enough, 40 of them still stand, and were photographed for the project.

The Society’s schoolhouse project was the subject of an article in the Wisconsin State Journal last year, and the article piqued the interest of Doug Norgord,  a Mount Horeb resident who owns a mapping solutions company. Norgord contacted the Society and offered his services for free.  Through the technology of his company, Geographic Techniques LLC, the project took on further life.

Norgord was part of a perfect storm of people, all Mount Horeb area residents, qualified to pull off this project: Thomas, a former archivist at Luther College; former Mount Horeb school administrator and principal John Pare; computer programmer Merel Black; and Brynn Bruijn, an international photographer whose work has appeared in books and in magazines such as National Geographic and Town and Country. The volunteers also worked with the Mount Horeb Landmarks Foundation and the historical societies of Blue Mounds and Perry township.

Pare and Bruijn scouted the countryside for former schools and sought permission from homeowners who now live on those properties to photograph and document the properties. Once the volunteers got going, they saw a pattern – clustered with the schools were cheese factories, churches and cemeteries. Ask anyone who has grown up in a small town in Wisconsin, and they’ll tell you the most prominent features are the school, the bar, the cemetary, and the old cheese factory on the edge of town now turned into a house. In fact, most former cheese and butter making facilities have today become private residences and are easy to spot because of their elongated style of architecture.

“What we notice is that these little areas were communities,” Black said. “They rode on horseback, they’d drop the milk off and drop the kids off at school.”

Cheese makers at the Mount Horeb Creamery and Cheese Company, taken
on Sept. 15, 1939. The creamery building now houses the Grumpy Troll Brew
Pub. Photo courtesy of the Mt. Horeb Historical Society.

On hand Sunday to celebrate the revival of cheese factory history were several area cheesemakers, including Willi Lehner, who said he often helped his dad clean at the Rysers Cheese Factory in downtown Mt. Horeb. “My dad would often remind me that for the first two years of his apprenticeship in Switzerland, all he did was clean. He didn’t get to actually make cheese until year three.”

Also in the crowd was southwestern Wisconsin native Diana Kalscheur Murphy of Dreamfarm, who now makes amazing goat’s milk cheeses on her farm near Cross Plains, Anna Landmark of Landmark Creamery in Albany, who is making sheep, cow and mixed milk cheeses at both Cedar Grove Cheese in Plain and Clock Shadow Creamery in Milwaukee, and Tony Hook of Hook’s Cheese in Mineral Point, home to world champion cheeses including an array of aged cheddars and blues. In fact, Hook’s brother, Jerry, and sister, Julie, both cheesemakers at Hook’s, are actually alumni of Mount Horeb High School and Jerry still lives in Mount Horeb. Yes, it is a small world.

Each of the cheesemakers spoke for a few minutes, talking about their operations and remembering their family histories. A crowd of about 75 people noshed on local cheese and drank local beer, reminiscing of all cheesy things past and present.

One cheese not represented at the gathering was the stinky granddaddy of them all. The crowd got a chuckle when one attendee asked Tony Hook his favorite cheese. “The answer might surprise you,” Hook said. “It’s Limburger, made today at only one plant in the nation – Chalet Cheese Cooperative in Monroe.” Just goes to show you that no matter how many things change, one of the oldest cheeses in Wisconsin is still front and center.

This One’s for the Girls

This past week has been full of good news from women I love.

First, some of you may recall that three summers ago, I took my daughter on “the last mother/daughter road trip before my daughter starts to hate me because she’s a teenager and I’m her mother.” I’m so glad we took that trip, because as any parent of a teenage girl who looks 21 will know, the past three years have been full of slamming doors, broken curfews, smashed hollyhocks (which had the misfortune to grow directly under the bedroom window of which she routinely snuck out), and of course, boys. And more boys. Did I mention boys?

In good news, my daughter is now almost 17, has settled down a bit, and seems to be past most of the rocky spots, except when it comes to driving fast and furious (she’s one ticket away from having mom as chauffeur) and I’m hoping (fingers crossed) we’re on the road to a really good relationship. In fact, when I mentioned this might be the last mother/daughter adventure we take because she’ll soon be going to college, she informed me she would never be too busy to take a road trip with her mama. I’m taking that as a very good sign (again, fingers crossed).

Landmark Creamery Nuage Noir.
Photo by Anna Thomas Bates

The second good bit of girly news comes from Anna Landmark, who this past week quit her day job and launched Landmark Creamery (woot woot)! Anna’s been working to attain a cheesemaker license since earning the 2012 Wisconsin Cheese Originals Beginning Cheesemaker Scholarship.

She”s now making her sheep’s milk cheeses at Cedar Grove Cheese full-time and has reached the stage where she’s ready to start getting her cheese into the retail arena. She’s even taking orders from individuals through her website, At the moment, she’s only selling in the Madison-Milwaukee-Chicago areas, but will hopefully be able to ship nationwide by next March.

Congratulations, Anna! You go, girl.

Sarah Pinet with her teenage doelings.

The third bit of girly good news comes from Sarah Pinet in western Nebraska. When Sarah found out her favorite mother/daughter duo were staying in a cabin a mere three hours north of her farm, feeding the “wild” burros in Custer State Park, she messaged me and invited us for a visit.

So we trekked down to the picturesque Victory Hill Farm and hung with Sarah, her husband, Lee, their three children, 39 milking goats, 12 doelings, two sows, one boar, three piglets, two calves, two horses, one pony, two dogs, four cats, numerous chickens and two kittens that I had to persuade my daughter not hide in the backseat and take home with us.

Meadowlark Reserve

Sarah is making a whole line of goat’s milk cheeses, including fresh and flavored chevres, feta, a 6-month cheddar she calls Meadowlark, Beer Cheddar (washed in Fat Tire), a gouda named Goldenrod, and my favorite, a 2-year gouda named Meadowlark Reserve.

We got the full tour of the milking parlor she designed based on Anne Topham’s set-up, the creamery, based on Diana Murphy’s make-room (see a pattern of Wisconsin-inspired cheesemaking here?) and the barnyard, complete with three giant pigs which promptly climbed out of the mud pit, shook every bone in their body, and completely splattered Avery and me with dark oozy gooey chunks. With a look of horror on her face, Sarah immediately started apologizing and shepherding us into the house to clean up, to which my daughter proclaimed: “That was awesome!” Ahh, that’s my girl.

The offending pig.

So all in all, I’d say it was a pretty good week for us girls. A road trip with my daughter, a week away from my desk, and a cooler full of cheese to put in the fridge when we got home. Win-win!

Growing Cheesemakers

My family has the darnedest time figuring out what exactly it is I do for a living.

I grew up in a small town, moved away after college, and don’t get home very often. So on the rare occasions I go back for weddings or funerals, I often stand to the side and amusingly watch my father, a retired farmer, get asked by former neighbors and old friends what his two daughters grew up to be.

My sister has it easy. “Well the oldest one’s a lawyer,” Dad will say with a big grin. And then he’ll go on to talk about how she owns her own law firm in Milwaukee and how she helps people who’ve been discriminated against at their jobs. He might even describe her latest case, or talk about a big company she just sued. My sister is a very good attorney.

“Oh, isn’t that nice,” the little grayed hair ladies will say, bobbing their heads and clucking approvingly. And then, inevitably, the question will come: “And what about your youngest – what does she do?”

And that’s when the eyebrows furrow, the eyes squint, and the look of confusion starts.

A slow inhale. A slower exhale.

“Well …. she used to be a newspaper reporter. She was a real good reporter,” he’ll say. “She won lots of awards.” Pause. Longer Pause. “But now she works with cheese. I think she writes about cheese. I know she does some real nice events in Madison.” And then he’ll frantically search around the room to find me smiling at him, wave me over, and have me explain what exactly it is that I do.

But therein lies the problem. Hell, even I have a hard time explaining what it is I do for a living.

I’m a writer. I’m a storyteller. I’m also an event organizer. I like to write about cheese. I like to talk about cheese. I like to organize events around cheese. And, of course, I eat a lot of cheese.

Mostly, though, I like to make stuff happen and then stand in a corner and watch it unfold.

That’s what happened today when I wrote a little press release about a young woman who’s just starting out in the cheese world. I don’t think she even has any idea of what’s in store for her. But I can see it. Her name is Anna Landmark. Today, she’s a policy research director for a Wisconsin non-profit organization, who with her husband, owns and runs a small-scale sustainable farm in Albany, Wis.

Five years from now, she’ll be an award-winning cheesemaker crafting original sheep’s milk cheeses and clearing a broader path for Wisconsin artisan cheese. She’s the kind of gal who’s going to put her own mark on the dairy industry, and she’s going to do it in style.

You see, Anna was selected from a wide field of applicants for a $2,500 scholarship from Wisconsin Cheese Originals, an organization I started in 2009 to help consumers connect with Wisconsin cheesemakers. She is mid-way through the courses required for the cheesemakers license and is working to secure an apprenticeship this fall.

As you know, Wisconsin is the only state in the nation that requires its cheesemakers to be licensed, an 18-month process that involves attendance at five university courses, 240 hours of apprenticeship under a licensed cheesemaker, and a written exam at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture.

While big and even medium-sized cheese companies can afford to put beginning cheesemakers through the licensing process, smaller, artisan companies, and especially those just starting out, can find the process daunting and sometimes, insurmountable. That’s why I started the scholarship in 2010 – to create a platform for beginning cheesemakers whom I am confident will go on to do great things if they can just get past the hurdle of getting their license. Past scholarship recipients include Katie Hedrich, a goat cheesemaker in Chilton, Wis., who went on to be the first and youngest woman goat’s milk cheesemaker to be named a U.S. Champion; and Rose Boero, a goat and cow’s milk cheesemaker in Custer, Wis., who will complete her cheesemaker’s license this spring.

While all of this year’s scholarship applicants were more than well-qualified, Anna’s application stood out because it told a story. And perhaps because I myself am a storyteller, her story spoke to me.

Anna’s story begins at her grandparents’ dairy farm in Mount Horeb, Wis., where a big block of Swiss cheese was brought out every morning for breakfast and then left on the table under a glass dome until after supper. Her story continues through the terrible milk prices of the 1980s, when she watched her grandfather become discouraged, eventually retire, and then discourage his grandchildren from ever getting into farming. Her story blossoms with the discovery that she loves to cook, and how that love led to making cheese in her kitchen (her first batch of mozzarella was so terrible she didn’t attempt to make cheese again for two years). And it ends with the story of buying a small property outside Albany in 2009 with her husband, where a new story is now starting: one of buying a gentle, stubborn, noisy Milking Shorthorn named Freckles who produced so much milk that Anna started making cheese just to use it all up. Then came along two Alpine dairy goats, and she made goat’s milk cheeses. Then heritage breed sheep, and finally sheep’s milk cheeses, where she found her true passion: to become a sheep’s milk cheesemaker.

After she uses the scholarship money to earn her cheesemaker’s license, Anna plans to craft fresh sheep’s milk cheeses, and differentiate them from her cheesemaking idol Brenda Jensen’s cheeses, by draining the curd for a longer period of time and perhaps rolling the cheese in herbs and distributing it in various shapes. She’s also going to make aged sheep’s milk cheeses, including thistle-rennet cheeses, which will require her to develop her own rennet from thistle flowers. This type of cheese is currently only available via import from Portugal and Spain.

“Wisconsin has such a robust cheese industry and I live in the heart of it,” Landmark said in her scholarship application. “However, the majority of sheep milk cheeses consumed in the United States is still imported. I would like to grow this emerging industry and help provide a stable market for sheep dairies in my region.”

I have no doubt she’ll accomplish all that and much more. Anna will be a cheesemaker, and she’ll be a good one. She says her grandfather is now enjoying watching her entry/return into the dairy and cheese world, but is still skeptical anyone on a small scale can really make a living doing it.

Good cheesemakers can make a living doing it. And Anna will be good cheesemaker. I’m looking forward to watching her grow and discover all the things of which she’s capable, all of the things I see in her when she talks about making cheese.

So perhaps that’s one way I can explain to folks what it is that I do: I help grow cheesemakers. But then again, that’s not going to be an easy career for my father to explain to the neighbors either. So I guess I’ll stick with being a writer who has a sister who is a good attorney. That’s good enough for me.