|LaClare Farms Cheesemaker Katie Hedrich Fuhrmann
and Martone, her newest creation.
Never one to rest on her laurels – or let’s face it, rest at all – U.S. Champion Cheesemaker Katie Hedrich Fuhrmann of LaClare Farms returned from her Hawaiian honeymoon last Friday afternoon to host hundreds of visitors at her family’s farmstead creamery grand opening, and that night, attend the Wisconsin Cheese Originals Meet the Cheesemaker Gala, where she debuted a brand new cheese she’s been working on in secret for more than two years.
It makes me tired to even write that sentence, much less execute everything it entails.
But then again I’m not a young, energetic cheesemaker with a lifetime of award-winning cheeses ahead of me. Katie’s latest creation, enthusiastically enveloped by the artisan cheese community at the fifth annual Wisconsin Cheese Originals Festival this weekend, is called Martone. Cheese lovers in Wisconsin have been anxiously awaiting a cheese like this: a surface-ripened beauty made from a 50/50 blend of cow and goat’s milk, resulting in a mild, buttery flavor and citrus finish. Sitting at about 1-1/2 inches tall and about 3-1/2 inches wide, Martone is my new favorite table cheese.
Katie says she named the cheese for her great-grandfather, Martin Kozlowski, a dairy farmer and the first generation Kozlowski to settle in Wisconsin. But the cheese is really inspired by Martin’s granddaughter, who just happens to be Katie’s mom, Clara. Mama Hedrich, as I like to call her, grew up on the family farm and was the first in her family to attend college. She went on to become one of of the first two women to graduate from UW River-Falls with a degree in agriculture education. She’s spent the past 37 years sharing her passion with thousands of students. In fact, she is the longest tenured ag instructor in the state and is revered by her current students at West DePere High School. It’s not hard to see where Katie gets her drive from.
|Hedrich patriarch Larry Hedrich shows off
his new dairy goat freestall barn, which opens
to the outside with paddocks of fresh grass.
These are some seriously happy goats.
Martone is made with pasteurized milk, vegetarian rennet and is ripened 10 days. That means it will likely be between two and three weeks old when you buy it at a retail store and eat it, but you’d better hurry, because it’s only got a 30-day shelf life. After that, this bloomy rind blossom is likely to harden and lose it complex flavorings.
The cow’s milk used for the cheese is sourced from Red Barn Family Farms, a group of American Humane Certified cow dairies near Black Creek, Wisconsin. The goat’s milk comes from the Quality Dairy Goat Producers Cooperative Of Wisconsin, founded and managed by Katie’s father, Larry. Today, seven – and soon to be eight – farms, including LaClare Farms, milk between 120 and 600 goats. That milk is sold to cheesemakers, including Carr Valley Cheese, Sartori, and LaClare Farms, where it’s made into award-winning cheeses such as Sartori Extra Aged Goat, LaClare Chandoka and Carr Valley Billy Goat Blue. It’s also bottled into LaClare Farms Bottled Goat milk and crafted into ice cream for LaLoos Goat Milk Ice Cream.
While each of the seven farms belonging to the goat cooperative is a top-notch operation, the 450 dairy goats at LaClare Farms are living the high life in a brand new facility built specifically for them at the still-smells-like-new LaClare Farms farmstead creamery.
Turning off Highway 151 east of Lake Winnebago and driving into the parking lot of the new picturesque goat dairy, creamery and what should be called a visitor center just outside the bustling unincorporated berg of Pipe, Wisconsin, feels like entering the Disneyland of dairy goats. Because 1) yes, it’s that clean, and 2) yes, it’s that fun.
Run by the Hedrich clan – mom and dad Larry & Clara, along with their grown children: Cheesemaker Katie, Business Manager Greg, Store Manager Jessica and part-time Herd Manager Anna — the family has pulled together to create something Wisconsin’s never seen before: an agritourism destination where visitors can see animals in a barn, watch them be milked in a double 24 goat parlor through a huge viewing window, watch cheese being aged through windows in the visitor center, and then purchase an array of cheeses made both at LaClare Farms and from around Wisconsin, as well as ice cream from Kelley Country Creamery near Fond du Lac.
|Rock Star Chef Jim McIntosh in the new
LaClare Farms farmstead kitchen outside
And when they’re done with all that, they can order lunch or dinner made by renowned chef Jim McIntosh (most recently the executive chef at Grand Cafe in Minneapolis). This is a farmstead creamery with a top-ranked chef also cooking with its products. Open to the public seven days a week, the LaClare Farms Cafe has already drawn a grand reputation for its Friday night Fish Fry and hand-cut French fries, which according to this French fry connoisseur, are the best she’s ever eaten. Jim told me he’s already torn his hand-operated potato fry cutter off the wall twice in his anxiousness to get fries into the fryer. “The way I’ve got it bolted to the wall now, the next time it comes off, the wall’s coming with it,” he said in completely seriousness.
While the cafe, retail store and dairy goat milking parlor are up and running at 100 percent, the cheese factory is almost there. Katie estimates she’s about two weeks away from final inspections and finally making cheese in her own facility, after spending more than four years putting thousands of miles on her car, driving to three different area cheese factories to both make and age her cheeses. She’s been sleep-deficit for years, constantly on the road between home and a cheese factory that’s not her own. Married for exactly 18 days, Mrs. Katie Fuhrmann is looking forward to finally establishing a home base. It will be a well-deserved reward for one of the hardest-working cheesemakers in the state.
“It is going to be so awesome to make cheese in my own place,” Katie said during a tour on Monday. “I get goose bumps every time I walk past the cheese vats. We are so close.”
Katie will have two cheese vats at her disposal: a 5,000-pound and 11,000-pound vat, where she will make her champion Evalon cheese, as well as a full range of goat’s milk cheeses including Fondy Jack, Chandoka, Goat Cheddar, Chevre and the new Martone. What’s more, the new LaClare Facility boasts six – yes six – different aging rooms, which can be each set to their own temperature and humidity levels. Katie will have an Evalon room, a washed-rind room for cheeses currently under development, a cheddar room, and others still to be classified. She’ll also be making custom cheese for at least two companies. The goal is for LaClare Farms to become an incubator and affinage facility for new cheeses and cheesemakers who can not yet afford to make and/or age cheese at their own place.
|Cleaning the cheese vats at LaClare Farms creamery.|
“This has truly been a labor of love for our family,” Larry said on a tour yesterday, clearly in his element talking about the new facility. “We are proud to open one of the most modern dairy processing facilities in the United States producing the highest quality dairy products possible. We are proud to have our family here with us, working side-by-side. That was the dream, and we’re here.”