Bold cheese, bold economics from Deer Creek and Henning’s - by Peter Tolly
If you come to Gazta craving cheese that puts an unexpected spin on classic styles, look no further than our offerings from eastern Wisconsin-based cheese producer Deer Creek: Moon Rabbit, a two-year cheddar that’s been bathed in Chartreuse, brings a dose of botanical flavor to a tangy, crumbly mainstay; Blue Jay, an ultra-creamy blue cheese enhanced with juniper berries, is bold, melts in your mouth and finishes with a gin-like pepperiness; for spice-craving palates, we offer Rattlesnake, a tequila-habanero-infused cheddar that packs a lingering heat.
In addition to souping up classic cheese styles, Deer Creek—and one of its cheese production partners Henning’s Cheese—take a bold approach to the economics of cheesemaking. Hailing from eastern Wisconsin myself, I met up with Deer Creek owner Chris Gentine when I was in the area recently to talk cheese. I ended up learning about the dairy industry and how cheesemakers have the opportunity make a big difference in dairy farmers’ lives.
Chris and I met at Henning’s, where Master Cheesemaker Kerry Henning also took the time to show me around the facility while I was there. Select Deer Creek cheese recipes are produced on Henning’s production equipment using milk from Henning’s network of dairy farmers. While the Deer Creek brand is distinct from Henning’s own line of products, the partnership between the two companies is very much a collaboration—one built on shared ideas about farmer-focused economics.
In the current economy, a low market price for milk incentivizes players in the dairy industry to increase scale in order to produce more, faster. As a result, milk quality can suffer and traditional, more time-intensive cheesemaking methods can fall by the wayside in favor of shortcuts.
Henning’s aims to free its farmers to produce excellent milk fit for superb cheese, necessarily a slow, careful process. To do so, the third-generation cheese producer applies a fair trade policy at a local level, paying its Wisconsin dairy farmers above-market prices for high quality, clean milk. This business model empowers small dairy farmers to choose practices that promote quality and cleanliness without pressure to grow too big or cut corners. The result is a sustainable relationship between dairy farmer and cheesemaker that has authenticity and quality as its foundation.
Valuing both original cheese styles and originality, Deer Creek adds a dose of experimentation to this cheesemaking equation by enhancing heritage cheeses with surprising flavor additions. Moon Rabbit, Blue Jay and Rattlesnake are just a few examples of the many cheeses in our case that carry stories of artisanship and innovation. Stop by to give them a try—one of our cheesemongers would love to help bring these and our other inspiring cheeses to life.
Peter Tolly has been a Gazta team member since November. He can usually be found plating up cheeses with various accoutrements or shaking craft cocktails behind the bar. The best part about his job? Sharing the stories behind Gazta’s artisan products with curious tasters.