Food Republic: Wisconsin’s famed cheese makers get eco-friendly

Article By: Kristine Hanson / foodrepublic.com

In a state with about 1,200 certified cheesemakers — many are master cheesemakers and known for award-winning fromage — the competition to turn out excellent cheese is stiff. Putting an eco spin on the production process is one way these Dairy State cheesemakers stand out.

There are some solid examples of how the state’s cheese industry infuses cutting-edge, green business practices into a storied history of making cheese.

At Willi Lehner’s creamery (Bleu Mont Dairy) near the rolling hills of Blue Mounds State Park, he ages his organic cheese in an underground cave constructed from straw bales. Wind and solar power keep the whole operation running smoothly. The Swiss-American cheesemaker creates products that are the kind your palate won’t ever forget: think sharp, full-bodied notes in his English-style bandaged cheddar and a washed-rind cheese called Driftless Select “Earth Schmier.” Lehner makes Cheddar, Gouda, Havarti and Swiss, all from milk derived from cows at local dairies that have the run of a pasture.

In this year’s United States Championship Cheese Contest, Bleu Mont Dairy’s clothbound cheddar snagged a third-place award in the category of “Class 6 Bandaged Cheddar.” Its cheeses are served at L’Etoile, a restaurant that famed Slow Food advocate Odessa Piper founded in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1976 when many communities across the country hadn’t even begun to forge farm-to-table connections. Bleu Mont Dairy also sets up a stand at the Dane County Farmers Market — purported to be the country’s largest farmers market — and retails at one of Wisconsin’s best artisan-cheese shops (Fromagination in Madison).

Within facility maintenance lies a lot of room to implement eco-friendly measures. Crave Brothers, which has made farmstead mozzarella and mascarpone right on its Waterloo dairy farm since 2001, has designed a process where the cow manure is transferred into energy. Drop by any day of the week and you’ll be greeted by hundreds of cows that supply the milk used to make its award-winning cheese. This spring, Crave Brothers won two awards at the United States Championship Cheese Contest: Second Place Award in the Open Class Soft Cheeses Category (for its Mascarpone) and Smear-Ripened Semi-Soft Cheeses Category (for its Les Frères).

This was the 11th time its Les Frères took home an award. But what most people don’t know about is Crave Brothers’ computer-controlled (via an office in Milwaukee) anaerobic digestion system. By turning manure into energy, it generates not only enough electricity to keep the farm and cheese factory running — but enough for 300 area homes too, making the neighbors very happy.

Rolling out an organic cheese is another way to be green. Organic Valley, whose dairy products are sold nationwide through a co-op structure with 1,636 farmers, was founded in LaFarge, Wisconsin, in 1988 and has several organic cheeses in its catalogue, including Raw Milk Sharp Cheddar, Blue Cheese Crumbles (a three-time first-place winner at the World Dairy Expo) and “Stringles” (Mozzarella string cheese).

These green ways of doing business are proof that dairy farming is just as cutting-edge as other agricultural fields. And for Wisconsin, the number-two U.S. state (after California) in terms of the number of dairy cows (with an impressive 1.26 million milking cows) and the quantity of milk produced, this do-good, eco-friendly talking and walking is a boon for the economy. The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board estimates that Wisconsin dairy farmers generate $26.5 billion annually to the state’s economy. Thanks, in large part, to cheese.


More Articles

Schreiner's 01

THIS WEEK ON FOODIE: Schreiner’s Restaurant & Bay View Packing Company

On the season finale of Wisconsin Foodie, we visit Schreiner’s Restaurant, Bay View Packing company, and close it out with Wolski’s.

by: Arthur Ircink

Deer Butchery 01


It’s deer season this week on Wisconsin Foodie! Keith Warnke from the Department of Natural Resources guides us as well as Kyle through the Wisconsin tradition of hunting.

by: Arthur Ircink


THIS WEEK ON FOODIE: Roelli Cheese & Driftless Café

This week, we eat some of Roelli Cheese’s award winning cheese and make some incredible dishes with it at Driftless Café.

by: Arthur Ircink


THIS WEEK ON FOODIE : Amaranth Bakery & Madison Sourdough Company

This week, we load on the carbs with Amaranth Bakery and Madison Sourdough Company.

by: Arthur Ircink

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 12.13.25 PM


This week, we’re going fishing at Rushing Waters Trout Farm!

by: Arthur Ircink

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 1.25.36 PM

THIS WEEK ON FOODIE: Apple Sauced | Weston’s Antique Apples | New Glarus Fruit Caves

We are all things apple this week on Wisconsin Foodie! We check out Edible Milwaukee’s Apple Sauced Event, Weston’s Antique Apple Orchard, and New Glarus Brewery’s new fruit caves.

by: Arthur Ircink

Screen shot 2015-02-09 at 3.54.13 PM


We celebrate the 100th anniversary of Cheese Days in Monroe, Wi!

by: Arthur Ircink

Screen shot 2015-02-03 at 4.48.11 PM

THIS WEEK ON FOODIE: Fondy Farm Feast & Dinner Service

We dine at two farm dinners! First, the Fondy Farm Feast and then at Dinner Service!

by: Arthur Ircink

Screen shot 2015-01-26 at 12.16.59 PM

THIS WEEK ON FOODIE: Door County Creamery & Door County Brewery

This week we return to Door County to check out Door County Creamery and Door County Brewery.

by: Arthur Ircink

Screen shot 2015-01-19 at 2.57.51 PM

THIS WEEK ON FOODIE: The Victory Garden Initiative

This week on Wisconsin Foodie, we help Gretchen Mead install gardens in people’s as part of the Victory Garden Initiative. Then we come back to see how Concordia Gardens has grown over the season.

by: Arthur Ircink

Outpost Natural Foods Co-op v2
WMMB - Rotational AD
Our Media Partners

Copyright © 2012 Wisconsin Foodie. All rights reserved.

Use of this Site constitutes acceptance of our User Agreement and Privacy Policy. The material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached, or otherwise used, except with the prior written permission of Wisconsin Foodie