They are the pioneers. They are the keepers of Wisconsin’s most delicious recipes. They are Wisconsin’s Master Cheese Makers. Meet some of the women at the forefront of one of the industries that makes Wisconsin “America’s Dairyland.”
Carie Wagner, Organic Valley Co-Op - Cashton
Carie Wagner of Organic Valley Co-Op in Cashton was the first woman Master Cheese Maker in Wisconsin. To hold that esteemed title requires ten years of cheesemaking experience before completing a mandatory three-year training course in individual cheeses. Wagner is considered a Master at Asadero, Havarti, Monterrey Jack, and Cheddar. While you can find Organic Valley dairy products all over the country, it all started in La Farge, Wisconsin in 1988 with a group of family farmers that came together and formed the co-op in order to keep farming the best way they knew how.
Pam Hodgson, Sartori - Plymouth
Pam Hodgson was the second female Master Cheese Maker in the entire country. While her grandfather was an award-winning cheesemaker, Hodgson didn’t fall in love with the process until she started working in a cheese plant after graduating from UW Madison. A Master in both Fontina and Open Hard cheeses, Hodgson says cheesemaking combines the best of art, science and team sports because everyone plays a role in creating a great cheese.
She joined Satori, a cheesemaking company in its fourth generation of family ownership, in 2013. Satori was started in 1939 in Plymouth, Wisconsin (now known as the Cheese Capital of the World!), in the historical East Main Caves where they still finish their Bella Vitano cheese.
For a holiday celebration that can only happen in Wisconsin, count down the seconds at the annual New Year’s Eve Big Cheese Drop in Plymouth.
Julie Hook, Hook’s Cheese - Mineral Point
As the only woman to ever win the Wisconsin Cheese Makers World Championship, Julie Hook knows her cheese. It’s also a family affair, as Julie and her husband, Tony, have some 50 years of cheese making experience between them. They’re passing on their knowledge to Tony’s sister and niece to eventually carry on the family business. The Hook’s factory store in Mineral Point is open Monday-Friday and offers more than 50 cheeses including cheddars aged up to 10 years. The couple also offers samples of their prized products at the Dane County Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings.
Marieke Penterman, Marieka Gouda - Thorp
Ten years ago, Dutch-born Marieke Penterman had a dream. She had already moved to Wisconsin but desperately missed her home country’s Gouda cheese. So, she decided to make some of her own. Now, Penterman has made a name for herself by creating some of the most authentic tasting Gouda on this side of the Atlantic with what must be some of the state’s happiest cows. The barn setup in Thorp includes plenty of fans, rotating back-scratchers, and a special “Cow Spa” barn for ultimate relaxation. Book a guided tour of the homestead and end your visit with a Gouda grilled cheese at Café DUTCHess right on the property.
Katie Fuhrmann, LaClare Farms - Malone
Katie Fuhrman works largely with goats’ milk for her cheese and has racked up an impressive list of awards in the trade. Her Evalon (a Gouda-style artisan cheese made with goat’s milk) won the 2011 United States Cheese Championship just two years into her career and also made the Sweet 16 at the 2014 World Championships.
Still hungry? Plan your own ultimate Wisconsin cheese tour and taste the best the state has to offer.