It's a family affair

I am a cheese-loving cheesemaker with a passion for farming and a ton of Wisconsin pride! There are a number of reasons I chose artisan cheesemaking as a career, and I want to share those with you today.

My Love of Family Farming.

As entrepreneurs, my wife and I consider artisan cheese a way to work together and do something we love with people we love. Owning our small business makes for long days and hard work, but the silver lining is that a lot of that time is spent with each other. Whether bringing our two young kids along to farmers markets, discussing marketing, sharing managing rolls or labeling cheese, it’s a family affair.  

For me, making artisan cheese is also an extension of the family farm I grew up on. It allows me to work closely and often with the farmers in my family. My brother and his wife own and operate our family’s farm, and our parents, who are retired farmers, continue to play a big role helping on the farm. For me, it is the ultimate reward to make great cheese with milk from my family’s dairy farm — and working with my family always feels like home.

The Great Community of Cheese People.

The people who live and love Wisconsin cheese also happen to be a community that I love being part of. 

 Have you ever met a Wisconsin Cheesemaker? If not, you should. They are some of the most genuine, hardworking, caring people you’ll ever meet, and take great pride in their work and cheese. Some of these qualities are probably due to the fact that Wisconsin cheesemakers apprentice with other cheesemakers in the state and then must pass an exam. Our system focuses on food safety, which is the top priority, but it also sets Wisconsin cheesemakers up with the relationships, experiences and resources to make some of the best artisan cheeses in the world.

When I think of my cheese-loving cheese people, I think of my relationships with cheese retailers, chefs and grocers. I think of the cheese academics, researches and the Wisconsin cheese organizations. I think mostly about my customers; the family who buys cheese curds every time they come to the farmers market, the couple that takes time to talk about their latest cheese shopping and favorite cheeses, the customer who tries to have a new cheese question for me every week, the young couple always looking forward to the cheddar and gouda they pick up and the supportive words of our community on social media. 

For me, devoting a career to artisan cheese isn’t only about making great cheese, it’s about connections, relationships and a stronger community.  In this case, the people just happen to love cheese and I couldn’t do this without them.

The Art and Science of it.

Crafting my cheeses is a hands-on project. It requires a blend of using tools, taking measurements and using my sense to guide milk and microbes through the cheesemaking process before then guiding the cheese through the aging process. 

The art and science of it, along with variables and challenges in the cheese making and aging processes, is very interesting to me.  I’ve been making cheese for 10 years and there is still so much to learn and explore. Cheese is certainly a topic for where, as Albert Einstein once said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”

Artisan Cheese Makes People Happy.

Has cheese ever made you smile?  Have you ever wanted more cheese with your cheese?  Have you ever noticed people staring at you because you were overly excited about cheese? Yeah, me too!

One of my ongoing goals as a cheesemaker is to craft cheese that is like a good friend. A cheese that people notice and appreciate having around. a cheese that people want to invite to their social gatherings, special occasions and everyday life.  

The reason I am all in on great artisan cheese is because I think that when done right, it can make for a strong family and team of employees, a stronger farm, a stronger community and it can genuinely make people happy. It is rewarding every time I see a smile on one of my customer’s faces.

About the author | Ron Henningfeld is a cheesemaker and the owner of Hill Valley Dairy in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Ron hails from a dairy family and is proudly bringing his cheese business dreams to life. Explore the full portfolio of his cheeses at hillvalleydairy.com.