In Wisconsin it’s all about the cheesemakers

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Max Perrenoud

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Cadott, Wisconsin’s Yellowstone Cheese is one of only a few operations like it in the state

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In Wisconsin it’s all about the cheesemakers

Yellowstone’s lone cheesemaker Dave Anderson’s daily batch of curds.

Yellowstone’s lone cheesemaker Dave Anderson’s daily batch of curds.

© 2019 Maxwell Perrenoud

Yellowstone’s lone cheesemaker Dave Anderson’s daily batch of curds.

© 2019 Maxwell Perrenoud

© 2019 Maxwell Perrenoud

Yellowstone’s lone cheesemaker Dave Anderson’s daily batch of curds.

Cadott, Wisconsin may not give off the perception that unique and exceptional things are happening within its city limits, but tucked away in the cornfields off of County Highway X a family owned cheese factory is doing just that.
Yellowstone Cheese was founded in 2007 by co-owners Heidi and Jeremy Kenealy in the town of Cadott. Incidentally, a welder who serviced their equipment would become their master cheesemaker. He had worked before at a Wisconsin cheese factory that burned down and was happy to get back on the job.
“Every batch isn’t going to set the same, so I feel my way through it,” said Yellowstone cheesemaker, Dave Anderson.
Culture is a primary ingredient in a wide variety of cheeses and adds to the flavor profile Wisconsinites have grown accustomed to.
Anderson literally sticks his hand — wearing a plastic glove, of course — into every single batch of cheese made at Yellowstone, being he is its one and only cheesemaker. This is a rarity as there are over 1,200 licensed men and women making cheese in the state.
“If you’re a minute late with the culture…,” said Anderson on the cheesemaking process, concluding the thought with a sorrowful headshake.
Anderson entered a world cheese competition in his first year crafting it and took second place. He didn’t think much of the achievement at the time, but there are several people who take nothing Anderson does for granted.
“Since you make cheese we don’t even have to take samples anymore,” Yellowstone Cheese General Manager Jeff Soppeland told his cheese maker.
A few years after the business got under way the Kenealy family hired Soppeland for extra help with the growing business. Soon after, they handed over the day-to-day operation exclusively to him and have counted on Soppeland to maintain the business as they continue to work as farmers.
“You have to remember one thing that makes Wisconsin unique,” said Soppeland. “Wisconsin is the only state that requires cheesemakers to go to school and to be licensed. Then it’s dedication and compassion, and that’s what Dave puts into his cheese.”
Yellowstone never processes its cheeses either. There are no artificial ingredients, and all that gets added to the various batches are mix-ins like peppers, garlic, or onion to create distinct flavors.
“A lot of it has to do with the milk, but it was mastered here,” said Anderson of his profession. “So, your best cheese makers will be in Wisconsin because this is where is all started.”
Soppeland said there are only a handful of operations in the state of similar stature to Yellowstone. A gouda plant in Thorp for example runs at a similar capacity. He attributes the production of what he finds to be exceptional cheese to the company’s smaller size. He noted that consistency is what customers are truly after.
“You gotta remember, like the AMPI’s (Associated Milk Producers Incorporated) of the world have to have multiple cheesemakers because they’re around the clock operations,” said Soppeland. “It’s like any other big business. They try to increase their yields; they’ve got more overhead. But bigger isn’t always better and we’re pretty content with our size here.”
Wisconsin customers from around the state seem to agree. Soppeland and Anderson both had a laundry list of regulars from all over the state who make the journey to Cadott just for cheese. Outside of the state, the idea of Wisconsin cheese still resonates with some individuals.
“We’ve actually got a couple customers who come all the way down from Canada once a year just for the cheese,” Anderson said.
Despite Yellowstone using limited marketing and never soliciting for more business, Soppeland said the business continues to grow each year. On Saturday morning you can see the consistency of their customer base coming for fresh Colby, cheese curds and more, Soppeland said.
“We live in Florida; we can’t get this type of cheese down here,” Soppeland said, recalling the comments of some recent customers to the ‘mom and pop’ business.
Adding that cheeses made by major companies are generally processed to increase their shelf-life.
John Pederson, a Wisconsin-born patron from the Milwaukee area, is a regular at Yellowstone Cheese and has friends around the country who he supplies with its cheese on a steady basis.
“A lot of people we know are native Wisconsin people and California cheese sucks,” Pederson said about the cheese he loves. “I send to friends in Incline Village, Nevada, which is on the North side of Lake Tahoe. Then I also take cheese to some friends out in Hawaii.”
Yellowstone currently gets all of its milk from two different farms: the Martin Farm in Cadott and the Zimmerman Farm in Stanley. Other local goods frequent the shelves of Yellowstone’s small shop as it carries goods from three Wisconsin wineries. They also carry honey from two Wisconsin sugar buses, as well as a jam that comes from a fruit farm also in Stanley.
“You can get all the local honey and syrups,” Pederson said. “It’s so important to buy local.”
It is all about the cheese at the end of the day and the team at Yellowstone never takes for granted that the state they began in has an abundance of self-proclaimed “cheese connoisseurs.” Because of this, master cheesemaker Anderson knows he can never take any shortcuts.
“We have a customer that can tell when the cows go out to the pasture versus being indoors and being fed, in the taste of the cheese,” said Soppeland.
The biggest component that Soppeland preaches, is freshness. He also said Wisconsinites are pretty spoiled in this state and should never take its cheese for granted.
“It’s fresh artisan cheese made by hand,” Soppeland said, “and it just doesn’t get any better than that.”