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

The Masters of Green County Cheese: Mustaches, Biceps & All

One tends to underestimate just how big a giant wheel of Emmentaler is until – if you’re like me – you try and fit one into the back of your car.

Bruce Workman, Master Cheesemaker at Edelweiss Creamery in Monticello, knows exactly how big – and how heavy – a “Big Wheel Swiss” is, and he’s smart enough to know a loading dock and two strong men are instrumental to transporting it from an aging warehouse into the trunk of a Honda Accord. That’s because he’s the only cheesemaker left in America crafting 180-pound wheels of Old World Emmentaler, and he’s got the biceps to prove it.

One photo shoot and a strained back later, I had a lot more respect for this jumbo cheese, and for the man who spends 14 hours a day making it in an original Swiss copper vat he imported from Europe. “There used to be 200 little cheese plants in Green County, all producing authentic copper-kettle Swiss,” Workman says. “Over the years, as cheesemaking became industrialized and companies worked to reduce their labor costs, it was abandoned. I’ve set out to bring it back.”

As one of 10 Master Cheesemakers who call Green County home, Workman is considered by many as one of the state’s most innovative cheese geniuses. He’s certified as a Master in nine – yes nine – different cheese varieties, and routinely wins national and international cheese contests with his Gouda, Havarti and Muenster. In a region where the number of dairy cows rival the number of people, Workman is one of the reasons Green County is considered Wisconsin’s epicenter of cheesemaking.

When you’re talking about the cheesemakers of Green County, three words immediately come to mind: innovation, craftsmanship and tradition. Cheesemaking goes back more than 150 years in this region of southwest Wisconsin, where Holstein and Brown Swiss cows eat grass sprouting from the region’s sweet soils and limestone-filtered water. In fact, grass in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin – home to Green County – is considered to be some of the best grass in the Midwest for cheesemaking. In what could easily pass for a Bud Lite commercial with Clydesdale horses frolicking in the background, the cheesemakers in Green County have a saying: “Have patience. In time, grass becomes milk, and milk becomes cheese. And if you’re lucky, it becomes Green County cheese.” This “cheesy” saying happens to be true: cheese made in Green County is routinely judged as some of America’s best.

Indeed, Green County is routinely touted as Wisconsin’s cheesemaking hub.  In fact, 100 years ago — in the days of metal milk cans, horse-drawn wagons and cheesemakers who could lift twice their own weight — this 585-square-mile region was home to a cheese plant on nearly every four-corner crossroads. Today, more than a dozen dairy processing plants, many still owned by farmer cooperatives and operated by third- and fourth-generation cheesemakers, continue to make up the backbone of America’s Dairyland, handcrafting award-winning cheese year after year.

Looking for the best of Green County cheeses? These plants offer retail outlets, often staffed by cheerful gray-haired ladies, who take a break from packaging to ring up your order with a pencil and paper.

Chalet Cheese Cooperative
At the only cheese plant in the nation still making Limburger – the stinky cheese that Americans love to hate – Master Cheesemakers Myron Olson and Jamie Fahrney also craft Baby Swiss, German Style Brick and Brick, all in open vats and by hand. Located near the middle of nowhere, use your GPS to find this historic cheese factory. Otherwise, like me, you may end up at the Monroe Municipal Airport wondering where you took a wrong turn. Address: N4858 Cty. N, Monroe. Hours: Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. – 10 a.m.

Chula Vista Cheese Company
Master Cheesemaker Jim Meives and his team specialize in Hispanic cheeses, crafting more than 40,000 pounds of their signature “Chihuahua” cheese a day – a Hispanic melting cheese that tastes somewhere between mild cheddar and mozzarella. Address: 2923 Mayer Rd, Monroe. Hours: Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Decatur Dairy
Third generation cheesemaker Steve Stettler, a Master in Brick, Farmer’s, Havarti, Muenster and Swiss cheeses, makes some of the best specialty cheeses in Green County. His signature mustache and deep drawl characterize him as the cowboy cheesemaker of the Midwest. Address: W1668 Cty. F, Brodhead. Hours: Monday – Saturday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Emmi Roth Alp and Dell
Known for its cellar-aged Gruyere, Emmi Roth USA also makes Fontina, Havarti, Edam, Gouda, Raclette, Rofumo, and Butter Kase. The modern and spacious retail outlet links to a cheesemaking viewing hallway and timeline of the company’s history in the United States. Address: 627 2nd St, Monroe. Hours: Monday – Saturday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m; Sunday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Maple Leaf Cheese
Master Cheesemakers Jeff Wideman and Paul Reigle make Edam, Gouda, Cheddar, Flavored Jacks, Queso Blanco, Cheddar Blue and Yogurt cheese. Address: W2616 Hwy. 11/81, Juda. Hours: Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Silver-Lewis Cheese Cooperative
Just as close to the middle of nowhere as Chalet Cheese, Silver Lewis is worth the hunt. Owners Josh and Carla Erickson specialize in Brick, Muenster and Flavored Jacks, with the retail store located just steps outside the cheesemaking room. If you’re looking for a step back in cheesemaking time, rev up the DeLorean and head back to the future. Address: W3075 Cty. EE, Monticello. Hours: Monday – Friday, 6 a.m. – 1 p.m.; Saturday 7 a.m. – 11:30 am.

Of course, Green County also offers an amazing cheese festival and cheese museum.  Open from April thru October, the National Historic Cheesemaking Center offers a glimpse of cheesemaking in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, when Monroe was the “Swiss Cheese Capital of the USA.” Also step inside the century old Imobersteg Cheese Factory which sat undiscovered for almost a century. The wooden one-room factory was moved to and restored on the National Historic Cheesemaking Center’s campus.
And, last but certainly not least, be sure and mark the dates of Sept. 14-16 on your calendar for Green County Cheese Days, home to one of the best parades, cheese tents and everything-possible-cheese-related festivals in the country. Only held once every two years, this celebration is worth trekking cross-country for. You’ll see all the Green County cheesemakers in their glory!