Next up on our dairy tour…
Our second stop was to Widmer’s Cheese Cellars in Theresa, Wisconsin.
Before I get into the good stuff (that would be the cheese), I want to share a quick story that the owner, Joe Widmer, shared with our group before we toured their cellars.
Joe is a 3rd generation cheesemaker and Widmer’s was started by his great grandfather, John Widmer, over 80 years ago. John came to America from Switzerland and settled in Wisconsin, where many other immigrants who were dairy farmers set down roots. What do you do when your neighbors excel in raising cows? Make cheese. After John got settled and his cheese business off the ground, he received a letter from his sweetheart back in Switzerland. She offered him an ultimatum; send for her now and marry her when she arrived or she was going to move on and marry someone else. John set the money right away and traveled to meet her at Ellis Island. As the boat pulled up to the docks, John saw his sweetheart but after hours in the harbor, she still hadn’t disembarked! John found a dock worker who explained that their quota for immigrants had been met for the day and the people being sent back to Europe had issues with their paperwork. John realized if they married on the spot, they would have to let her off the ship. He found a priest who performed the ceremony right on the docks and she was allowed to join her husband on U.S. soil. According to Joe, the rest is history.
Widmer’s is famous for their brick cheese…which just so happens to actually be made with bricks. See, the curds are pressed into molds and topped with a brick to press and condense them into a block of cheese. Brick cheese has a mild flavor and is incredibly buttery. Brick is perfect for just about anything from sandwiches to eating it as is. Did you know it takes 10 gallons of milk to make 1 pound of cheese? That’s a lot of milk and bricks!
In addition to making the best brick cheese I’ve ever had, the Widmer’s stepped it up a notch and created what was affectionately called “cheese crack” by our tour group. See that little tub with the blue label in the photo below? Widmer’s Aged Brick Spread may be the best thing to ever grace a cracker. It’s made with a mix of brick and cheddar cheese. It was sharp and creamy at the same time and all sorts of delicious.
After a late morning spent at Widmer’s, our tour headed up to Kelley Country Creamery in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. The best way to finish up a morning of cheese is with some good ole’ Wisconsin ice cream. The Kelley family’s main business had always been their dairy farm. The matriarch of the family, Karen Kelley had a dream of opening an ice cream shop using the cream from her family’s dairy and three years ago, her dream became reality!
We were treated to some delicious ice cream in some expected and unexpected flavors.
My favorite: Leo’s Butter Pecan
My other favorite: Blue Cheese Pear
Talk about a unique flavor experience! The ice cream was sweet and dotted with caramelized pears and every so often you’d get a chunk of salty blue cheese. It harks back to the wonderful salty/sweet combo that works in so many other ways and in this ice cream it paid off.
The afternoon we visited Kelley’s, Good Morning America was stopping in as well to film a segment. Kelley Country Creamery was officially named the best ice cream in America! Talk about a stamp of approval. If you’d like to check out a video of the segment, click here.
Overall the day was incredibly enjoyable and so informative on such a huge industry and foundation of our great state of Wisconsin. If you’re local or have a visit in your future, please check out these great purveyors of Wisconsin dairy and cheese.
The tour was sponsored by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board however opinions are 100% my own.