Wisconsin Whirlwind 5: Widmer’s Cheese Cellars

The last cheese factory on our trip was the smallest and most old-school: Widmer’s Cheese Cellars in Theresa, Wisconsin. Joe Widmer is a third generation cheesemaker, another Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker and is still operating out of the factory his grandfather bought 80 years ago. The family has finally moved out of the house above the factory, but that’s about all that has changed.

Here’s the “factory” with my trip mates in the foreground for scale

I had visited once before (on a road trip in 2005 and I actually can’t believe I didn’t write about it). Joe Widmer is one of my favorite cheese people: funny, friendly, and non-pretentious. Just look at him standing over the Brick Cheese brine tank!

What is Brick Cheese anyway? Why is it called Brick? If you are not from the Midwest you shouldn’t feel guilty about not knowing. Like real Colby, and fresh curds, it’s kind of a regional cheese. It’s another washed rind cheese, very stinky and strong if allowed to ripen to its full potential. Widmer actually makes two versions. They start the same, but one is annattoed up to differentiate it. That (orange) one is plastic wrapped and meant to stay milk. The uncolored one is aged longer and paper-wrapped. It’s as stinky as you want it to be.

Why Brick? Well, it’s because real bricks were/are used to weight the cheese and push out excess moisture. Here’s a third generation brick!

Here’s the process! (Germ-worriers please note: the brick lie on top of stainless steel forms.)

Plus the cheese – in a whole block – resembles a brick too. Here it is aging. Please note slimy bacteria on shelves. That’s what makes it great.

I don’t know why I started talking Brick cheese so early in this entry since we sell a whole lot more of his cheddar. Joe Widmer is one of the best block cheddar-makers in the country, managing to make very sharp cheddars that remain moist and creamy. Not brittle like Vermont cheddars, with (I hate to say this as a Californian) more flavor than any California blocks I’ve had. Some are scared of the orange annatto coloring to which I say, this is a Wisconsin tradition. Respect diversity!

Here it is being made:

And here is my favorite picture of the trip. Still life of bricks for Brick cheese at rest. Timeless, eh?DSC00252

2 responses to “Wisconsin Whirlwind 5: Widmer’s Cheese Cellars

  1. awesomeness. I really need to get to WI one of these days. never been there before. and i call myself a cheesemonger… doh!

    been waiting for this Widmer post 😉 though i think the only WI cheeses I currently stock are Crave Bros’ and Pleasant Ridge. love the brick tank and aging pics 😀

  2. I am loving these posts. Seriously. I basically pretend that I am also walking through the factory, stirring cheese vats, and ogling aging rooms. Thank you for enriching my cheese fantasy life just a little bit more.

    Also WORD on the orange vs. white hating in the world of cheddar. UNITY.


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