Listen to an interview with three award-winning Wisconsin women cheesemakers on Cheese Underground Radio:
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A bit of the backstory:
Of 1,200 licensed cheesemakers in Wisconsin, less than 60 are women. Three of them: Katie Fuhrmann at LaClare Farms, Anna Landmark of Landmark Creamery and Diana Murphy at Dreamfarm (pictured above from left to right), shared their stories with me and dozens of others at an event I hosted at the Wisconsin Historical Museum last week. Each of these three ladies came to cheese making from a different path with different goals, but they all share one opinion: cheddar is heavy.
You’ve heard this story before: Two people get married. They have kids. Sometimes, one of those kids is allergic to cow’s milk, so the couple buys a goat. A few years go by, and one goat becomes two goats. Two goats become 10 goats. And now, with an oversupply of milk, mom starts making cheese. Pretty soon, she’s making more cheese than her family can eat. So, she shares some with her neighbors and friends. It doesn’t take long before mom is now looking into ways she can sell her cheese. And before you know it, another artisan woman cheesemaker is born.
One of those women is Diana Murphy. She’s the lead cheesemaker and owner at Dreamfarm near Cross Plains. Her fresh chevre is legendary in southern Wisconsin. She’s a super small-batch cheesemaker, so you’ll have to visit us to find her cheese, but one taste of her Apricot Honey Lavender-infused fresh goat cheese will convince you that America’s Dairyland is calling your name.
“I grew up on a traditional dairy farm with 40 cows and a very large family. I loved growing up on the farm, but when I turned 18, farming was not the direction I wanted to go, so I went off to technical school to become a commercial artist. I like using my hands and being creative,” Diana says. “And I loved being in that field until it went to computers. That wasn’t fulfilling. So, when I started a family with my husband, we got animals. Pretty soon we had more goat milk that we could consume, and I started making cheese.”
Today, Diana, her husband, Jim, and her daughter, Alicia, milk 22 goats and one cow – there’s a great article in the current Isthmus by Jane Burns talking about Diana and her cow, Nelle. She hauls her milk in buckets from the dairy barn to the cheesrie, where it is pasteurized and then made into fresh cheeses and some harder cheeses. You can find her cheeses in Madison at Willy Street Cooperative and Metcalfe’s Market-Hilldale.
Like Diana Murphy, cheesemaker Anna Landmark first starting buying a few animals after she and her husband purchased a small farm near Albany. She started playing around with cheese on her stove, and it wasn’t long before she knew she wanted to earn her cheesemaker’s license. Today, without a cheese plant of her own, she travels to different factories to make and age cheese. One of my favorites is Anabasque, a cheese whose name is a play on the Annas that run Landmark Creamery – cheesemaker Anna Landmark and her business partner, Anna Thomas Bates.
“I got my cheesemaker’s license in 2014,” Anna says. “My specialty is primarily sheep milk cheeses. We’ve made cheese in three different plants since we started, and now are making it all at Cedar Grove in Plain. The cheese is then aged in a different location at Bear Valley Cheese.”
So, while Diana focuses on fresh goat cheeses and wants to keep her farmstead creamery on the smaller side, and Anna is focusing on sheep milk cheeses and is growing her business to one day build her own cheese factory, our third cheesemaker – Katie Fuhrmann, of LaClare Farms – has already done all that.
In 2011, her career was fast-tracked when she won the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest with Evalon, an aged goat milk cheese made with the milk from her family’s farm. Today, she leads a team of eight cheesemakers at her family’s farmstead creamery and focuses on agri-tourism. That means visitors can watch 800 goats being milked twice a day. You can also eat lunch and dinner in the creamery’s café, purchase all of the LaClare products – goat milk yogurt, bottled milk and dozens of different cheeses, in the farm’s retail store, and watch cheeses aging to perfection through the cellar’s viewing windows. But believe it or not, her career path to cheese started when she thought she was going to be on television.
“I grew up on a dairy goat farm, and we got to the point where we were milking 29 goats by farm. My parents asked us kids if we wanted to go commercial. And I was like: ‘We’re going to be on tv?’ So that’s how this thing got started,” Katie said. “I was a gypsy cheesemaker like Anna for a while – we made cheese at Saxon Creamery for three years but got to a point where we wanted to expand our product line.”
I asked the ladies if they ever faced any challenges specifically because they were women. “I wouldn’t say I’ve hit any barriers being a woman cheesemaker, but I have hit barriers being a woman business owner,” Anna said. “Wisconsin is a really great place to launch a cheesemaking business because of its infrastructure and resources, but when it comes to bank financing, being a little business in a really big industry has been a challenge.”
Katie chimed in: “There used to only be girls in the plant, and we kind of enjoyed that,” she laughed. “Women typically make softer, smaller cheeses vs the bigger, heavier cheeses. I probably wouldn’t have said that when I was 22, because I had to prove to the world that I could do anything. But after having two kids, I like making smaller cheeses, because it’s not so physically draining. Having men working in the plant helps us make the bigger cheeses.”
All the women agreed on one thing: cheddar is heavy. “Forty pound blocks – I don’t care what anyone says. After you lift a bunch of them, they get really heavy,” Katie said.
Love cheese more. This episode of Cheese Underground Radio is sponsored by Fromagination, Madison’s premier cheese shop, located in the heart of America’s Dairyland, right on the capital square. Fromagination’s team of expert cheesemongers help you select the perfect cheeses and companions for every occasion. Shop online at fromagination.com, or better yet, visit and taste the cheeses that make Wisconsin famous. Fromagination. Love cheese more.