BRINGING A SPOTLIGHT TO AMERICA’S DAIRYLAND — Bruce and Kathy Workman of Edelweiss Creamery will open a retail store in Verona, Wis., next month featuring their cheeses as well as those of other Wisconsin cheesemakers.
By Kate Sander
MONTICELLO, Wis.— Bruce Workman, president and cheesemaker at Edelweiss Creamery in Monticello, Wis., and his wife Kathy have been sharing Edelweiss Creamery’s cheeses, including Gouda, Emmentaler, Lacey Swiss, Havarti, Muenster and Butterkäse, at the farmer’s market in Madison for the last several years — and loving every minute of it.
In part because of the positive reception at the farmer’s market, the couple found themselves wanting another venue to talk directly to customers. They decided to explore opening a retail store that features their own cheese as well as other Wisconsin cheesemakers’ products — “because we have the best cheeses in the world … why go anywhere else?” Bruce Workman says.
The dream of a retail store will become a reality at the end of May — just in time to celebrate June Dairy Month — when the Workmans open “Edelweiss Cheese Authentic Wisconsin,” a cheese retail shop in Verona, Wis., featuring Wisconsin cheese.
The store has been a few years in the making.
“We had been talking about a store for a couple of years, and we are ready for a new venture,” says Kathy Workman, who recently retired from her career as a teacher to pursue the couple’s dream of operating a store.
Finding the right location was one of the biggest hurdles. After looking for a while, they learned of a 1950s bungalow in Verona at 202 West Verona Avenue. Verona, 25 minutes away from their plant in Monticello, is an ideal location because the southwest Madison suburb doesn’t have a store devoted to cheese and is one of the fastest growing communities in Wisconsin, Bruce Workman says. The couple was able to get the house rezoned for commercial business and is in the process of completely renovating it top to bottom, complete with brick front and spacious garden. The full details of the decor still are being worked out, but Kathy Workman describes it as “a bit eclectic.”
The store will be more than just a place to buy cheese. The Workmans are in the process of obtaining a beer and wine license for the establishment and will feature cheese and wine and beer pairings, cured meats, olive oil and other accouterments to go with the cheese. Seasonal gift boxes also will be offered. The focus will be on the cheese, but there will be enough selection that customers can mix and match 6-packs of beer or try other products they like best with a particular cheese. Knives and cutting boards will be available as will be cheese flights to go.
As for the cheese, there will be lots of Wisconsin variety to choose from — no foreign imports and nothing from other states.
“Only Wisconsin cheese,” Workman firmly says. “We have everything here in the state. That’s what’s so awesome about Wisconsin.
“I know all of
in the state, and I want to bring everybody in to be part of this store.
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we have as many
cheeses as we can.
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“I know all of the cheesemakers in the state, and I want to bring everybody in to be part of this store. We want to make sure we have as many cheeses as we can. We’ll be able to fill up the place in a heartbeat,” he says.
In fact, the Workmans are doing their best to make sure as many products as possible in the store are sourced in Wisconsin, including Wisconsin meats and microbrews. Bruce Workman says there will be a few Wisconsin wines too.
In addition to cheese-knowledgeable people working in the store, a video will be available for customers to learn more about the cheeses of Wisconsin.
The store will be open seven days a week, Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays, noon to 6 p.m.
“We really want to try to meet the needs of people who are working and on their way home,” Kathy Workman says.
The 800-square-foot store also will include a kitchen where quiches, cheese and meat sandwiches, snack packs and other cheese-related fare will be prepared. Purchases can be made to go, but there will be seating for 12 inside as well as outside seating once the landscaping is completed.
The Workmans’ desire is for Edelweiss Cheese Authentic Wisconsin to become a destination. The store is located along a major bike trail, and they would love to see customers ride their bikes and stop in for a glass of wine, a cheese flight and some jazz music on a Sunday afternoon.
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mix of cheeses to fit
The Workmans expect to open the store with about 150 cheese varieties on hand. As they work on the last details in these six weeks before opening, they are keeping all kinds of consumers in mind — those who haven’t really experimented with cheese and are looking for a basic Cheddar or Jack and those who are looking for a high-end artisan cheese for a special occasion. Pre-packed cuts of cheese will be available as will a deli case with cheeses that can be cut and wrapped on site.
“There will be a mix of cheeses to fit all budgets,” Kathy Workman says.
The Workmans are looking forward to having their fellow cheesemakers’ products in their store as well as their own. The company makes just under 2 million pounds of cheese annually, and about 90 percent of Edelweiss Creamery’s cheese is sold under other labels.
In addition to the cheeses produced under the Edelweiss Creamery label, Workman also makes the cheese for Edelweiss Graziers Co-op using milk from the five co-op families dedicated to rotational grazing. The cows are grazed whenever possible, allowing the unique flavors and seasonality of the forage to come through in the milk and, subsequently, the cheese.
“The milk quality down here is excellent.”
All told, the company currently makes about 23 varieties of cheese, and Bruce Workman most enjoys making cheeses without added flavors.
“I don’t like to add condiments; I want the cheese to stand alone,” he says.
That said, he knows many people are seeking added flavors, so he produces some of those cheeses as well. In fact, the company’s Onion Havarti placed third in its class at the American Cheese Society (ACS) competition last summer. Over the past several years, the company’s Muenster, grass-based Emmentaler and grass-based Gouda also have been honored in the ACS competition, the Workmans say. In addition, the company’s Havarti placed first and Muenster placed third in the 2010 World Championship Cheese Contest, and in the 2011 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest, the company’s Lacey Swiss placed first and Havarti placed third.
Workman says that the fact his cheeses are made in open vats and that every cheese takes its time to be made, help set them apart from others.
“The milk quality down here is excellent,” he says of Green County, known for its lush pastures and many cheesemakers.
It also doesn’t hurt that Workman has years of experience in the business. The five-time graduate of the intensive Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker program holds certifications in Baby Swiss, Butterkäse, Emmental, Gruyere, Havarti, Raclette, specialty Swiss (low-sodium, lowfat Lacey Swiss), Brick and Muenster.
Because Workman’s love is cheesemaking — “I’m a cheesemaker,” he says simply — other than the cheese marketed at the farmer’s market and the store, Edelweiss Creamery cheeses will continue to be marketed by Jeff Wideman and Shirley Knox of Maple Leaf Sales Inc., who also are partners in Edelweiss Creamery.
“I like making cheese, and when they can do the marketing, that’s really awesome,” Workman says.