Wisconsin’s grande dame of goat cheese, Anne Topham, retired this spring after nearly 30 years of making French-style fresh chèvre and handcrafted aged goat cheeses for the market.

Sourced from Cheese Underground | Written by Jeanne Carpenter


Those of you who braved the last of Wisconsin’s never-ending winter last week at the Dane County Farmer’s Market may have noticed a familiar face missing. That’s because Wisconsin’s grande dame of goat cheese, Anne Topham, retired this spring after nearly 30 years of making French-style fresh chèvre and handcrafted aged goat cheeses for the market.


While Anne would never dream of taking credit for starting the Midwest’s love affair with chevre, all credit surely does go to her and partner Judy Borree for introducing Wisconsinites to fine French-style goat cheese. The pair started milking goats at their Fantome Farm near Ridgeway in 1982, after Topham took a break from studying for her doctorate in education policy studies at UW-Madison.


At the time, no one else in the region was making goat cheese. So, like any good academic, she went to the library. She read cheesemaking books in French, took the University of Wisconsin cheese technology course, and visited pioneering California cheesemaker Laura Chenel. Then she and Judy started experimenting. A pet pig ate their first mistakes. Later, better cheeses went to the Dane County Farmer’s Market, where the pair had to literally give it away in order to get customers to try it, because no one in Wisconsin had ever heard of goat cheese, much less eaten it.

“We cajoled people into trying our cheese at the market. We thought if they tried it, they would buy it, and we were right,” Topham said. She soon began to learn as much from her customers as she had from her books and expert advice.
“Sometimes, a customer might say last week’s batch was too salty so I would measure more carefully the next week. Others would tell us we were making a cheese that you could only find in the mountain farms in Puerto Rico, or that it was similar to the fresh cheese made by the nomadic people in Afghanistan. And here I thought I was only making a gourmet French-style goat cheese!” Topham laughed.

Although many would agree Topham has long since perfected the art of making cheese, she never stopped learning new techniques. She traveled to France in 2003 to study affinage – the art of ripening cheese, went to Italy in 2007 to study the making of Parmigiano Reggiano, and volunteered time in 2010 teaching cheesemakers in Ecuador how to add value to their dairy farms.

Along the way, she learned just as much as she taught, and after every trip, “It made me come back and want to tear up everything I had and start over,” she says. Her 2003 trip to France to study affinage was one of the first study trips by a Wisconsin cheesemaker on the subject.

“Seeing the mechanical caves in France definitely changed my advice to starting farmstead cheese owners,” she said. “Building and planning for such spaces and learning ways to perfect ripened cheese really helped take farmstead and artisanal cheesemaking to the next level here in Wisconsin.”

Thirty years after having to give away fresh chevre to customers in order for them to try it, it’s a bit ironic that Cook’s Illustrated dedicated an entire section to “The Best Fresh Goat Cheese” in its May/June 2013 issue. Editors compared nine different chevres from the United States and France, recommending Laura Chenel’s Fresh Chevre Log as its overall winner. While Anne’s cheese wasn’t involved in the study (she makes only enough cheese to sell at the market each week), it’s likely Fantome Farm chevre would have placed high on the list.

At age 73, Anne says she doesn’t plan to stop milking a few goats or making a little cheese. She’s just not going to make it for sale anymore. The next chapter in her life might include some consulting for beginning cheesemakers, something she’s done quite often along the way, most of the time for free. With 30 years of cheesemaking knowledge, she’s still got a lot to offer. Look for her walking – not working – the farmer’s market on Saturdays, still talking and sharing stories with former customers.






More Articles


THIS WEEK ON FOODIE: Odd Duck, Vanguard, & Goodkind

S08 E13 – Kyle and Jessica take on the Bayview of Milwaukee in a day of great food and cocktails.

by: Arthur Ircink



S08 E12 – Wisconsin Foodie visits Spain with Jessica and Karen Bell to see and taste all it has to offer.

by: Arthur Ircink


THIS WEEK ON FOODIE: Kickapoo Country Fair & Organic Valley Family

S08 E11 – We explore Organic Valley at the Kickapoo Country Fair and All Seasons Farm and watch Organic Valley turn their milk into butter.

by: Arthur Ircink

WF8-610_v3 01200607

THIS WEEK ON FOODIE: Perch Science & Wendt’s Fish Fry

S08 E10 – We explore the world of perch at UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Science and at Wendt’s Fish Fry.

by: Arthur Ircink

WF8-609-IndianSummer_WildRice-v1 01104615

THIS WEEK ON FOODIE: Indian Summer & Wild Rice

S08 E09 – We celebrate Native American culture at Indian Summer and then are treated to a traditional musky meal made with wild rice.

by: Arthur Ircink

WF8-Cheesetopia_v1 01032014

THIS WEEK ON FOODIE: Cheesetopia & LaClare Farms

S08 E08 – It’s all things cheese at Cheesetopia where we check out a bunch of cheeses and then profile LaClare Farms and their amazing goat cheeses.

by: Arthur Ircink



S08 E07 – Stoney Acres Farm hosts a pizza night with ingredients right from their farm.

by: Arthur Ircink


THIS WEEK ON FOODIE: New Glarus Oktoberfest & Company Brewing

S08 E06 – In this episode, we join George Bregar at Company Brewing as he makes a pale ale with fresh, locally sourced hops. Then we celebrate Oktoberfest with Deb and Dan Carey of New Glarus Brewing.

by: Arthur Ircink

10568892_10152718581033690_2629754367554472243_n (1)

Join our Spring/Summer Cheese Tours!

Wisconsin Foodie is organizing Cheesemaker tours this Spring/Summer and we’d like you to join us.

by: Arthur Ircink


THIS WEEK ON FOODIE: Driftless Organics, Viroqua Food Co-Op, & Rooted Spoon

S08 E05 – This week we tour the driftless region and visit Driftless Organics, Viroqua Food Co-Op, and Rooted Spoon.

by: Arthur Ircink

WMMB - Rotational AD
Outpost Natural Foods Co-op v2
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