After sharing a drink or two with my friends at the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board at the last American Cheese Society Conference, we decided to collaborate on a project (this is how most things get done at ACS). I’d get to pitch a topic. My pick? The female cheesemakers of Wisconsin. I’d tell the stories of my choice of four of my favorite women cheesemakers in a series of blog posts. I loved interviewing these ladies, what they’re doing, and thank them for their time. This is the third of the series, focusing on Katie Fuhrmann of LaClare.
Katie Fuhrmann of LaClare Cheese and I first met at the Sonoma Cheese Conference about three years ago. We were sitting across from each other at an outdoor patio after the sessions had wrapped up, beer in hands, and we both looked up and met each other’s eyes. I was super impressed after just trying Katie’s Evalon for the first time at a sample panel, knew she was just opening her new and first creamery at the age of twenty-eight, and really wanted to meet her. Having the intention of befriending the brunette Wisconsin curd magician and being so very smooth as I am, I turned to her and said…
“I, ah, I like your cheese.”
I think she was very impressed (could have been her Midwestern politeness). We became quick cheese friends.
When LaClare’s clothbound Standard Market Chandoka won runner-up Best in Show at the American Cheese Society Awards I, like many in the cheese world who continuously root for the talented and sweet cheesemaker, were very happy. The cheesemaker, however, was very surprised (and the very modest company has not yet even updated their website to reflect the victory).
Today’s LaClare’s most widely available cheeses are Chandoka, Evalon, and Martone. Chandoka, featured above, is a goat and cow’s milk hybrid made in the style of a New Zealand cheddar with sweet lemony notes and fluffy consistency (note to cheese geeks New Zealand Cheddar makers simply stack the cheddar slabs on one another rather than flipping them over as is done with English Cheddar). Her Evalon is a subtle, lightly caramel-like goat’s milk gouda. Her Maratone, below, is a fresh and light goat and cow’s milk hybrid shaped into a tiny, cheese-plate friendly mound covered with ash.
How does one that is twenty-eight go on to start winning Best in Show awards two years after launching her own creamery?
Skills and gumption it seems. Katie was always ambitious when it came to the LaClare family farm. Knowing that she wanted to contribute to the family, she started making her own soap on it at sixteen. Then, in 2008 when the family started shipping off their goat’s milk to a creamery to be made into cheese, Katie took note.
She said, “It hit me like a ton of bricks.”
Katie, who wanted to involved in the farm life but didn’t want to have to milk the family’s goats twice a day or clean out their pins, thought cheese was the perfect answer.
She started learning how to make cheese under Nathan Deahny at Saxon Creamery, who at that time was making cheese with LaClare’s milk. The mentorship relationship was ideal and within years Katie was applying for her license, moved her cheesemaking to Cedar Grove (another Bob Wills inspired maker) and then to Willow Creek. Other cheesemakers she’s cut curds next to during her learning process have been Bruce Workman of Edelweiss, Chris Roelli of Roelli Cheeese, Bob Wills, and Jon & Dave Metzig. Cheesemaking in Wisconsin is apparently supportive.
“There’s a sense of community and respect, no competition. Just, ‘Hey nice job at that cheese you made’,” says Katie. “We all want to represent Wisconsin and that it was built being a dairy state.”
Besides the makers she worked next to, Katie also sites the last “Women in Wisconsin Cheese” focus, Marieke, among her biggest influences. Sure, for her talent and prowess (both make some of the country’s most respected gouda styles), but thoughts of Marieke in particular crossed her mind when she was recently making cheese and over nine months pregnant. Marieke made cheese almost all the way through when she was pregnant with her own five children, and so did Katie. As it became harder to shuffle curds around the vat, Katie told herself, “If Marieke can do it, I can do it.”
“I used a stool to reach into the big vat because my pregnant belly didn’t fit over it anymore,” says Katie, laughing, “you just twist and turn and make it work.”
Katie worked up until the day she gave birth, saying she had plans to start the day’s cheese, then go into the hospital. As it was, Katie went straight in.
But her brother still teased her about missing the day.
“He told me since Charlie was born at 8:30 am, I could be back in time for the audit!,” which was scheduled at 9am.
Word is, she took the entire day off.
The posts were sponsored, and edited only by me.