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Wheel of fortune

Photos by Dan Bishop

December 2012

The Clock Shadow Creamer, one of only a few urban cheese factories in the country, produces curds, quark, ricotta, mozzarella and other cheeses.

It began with a cheese curds conundrum. Bob Wills, owner of Cedar Grove Cheese in Plain, Wis., struggled to deliver fresh curds — so fresh, they squeak — to Milwaukee retailers by early afternoon each day. The 240-mile round trip posed a challenge.

Now, when cheese lovers walk into Clock Shadow Creamery in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood, which Wills opened in June as one of the country’s few urban cheese factories (others are in places like New York City’s Times Square and Seattle’s Pike Place Market), the problem is solved. Cheese curds are sold just a few hundred feet from where they were made that morning. "They’re squeaky and fresh and that’s how they should be," Wills says. "The whole idea here is to serve the city with fresher cheese than they can get otherwise." Other fresh cheeses, like quark, ricotta and mozzarella, are made and retailed here, too. It’s attracted the attention of local chefs. "Peter (Sandroni) from La Merenda is down here twice a day for cheese," Wills says.

In 1989 Wills bought Cedar Grove Cheese from his in-laws. Under his guidance, the creamery produced the country’s first non-rBGH cheese and was among the first to make grass-fed, organic cheeses. Establishing Clock Shadow Creamery — a challenge, given the decreased square footage, which makes aging of cheeses impossible — fueled his want for innovation. "I had just been to Seattle and was thinking about ‘local,’" says Wills, who frequently receives calls from others around the country pondering urban cheese factories. It was a call from local developer Juli Kaufmann that alerted him to the building on a former brownfield site. Today, it’s an eco-friendly building with geo-thermal wells, a rooftop garden with a rainwater-collection system and a commitment during its construction to use 50-percent recycled materials.

Wills estimates about 100 people visit daily, some paying $3 for a tour of the factory as seen through large windows and a historical overview of Wisconsin cheesemaking. "I thought it would be so cool for people to see how the cheese is made," Wills says. "In some ways this is more than a cheese factory. One of the things about this location is local, local and local." After the tour there is a tasting and the opportunity to buy scoops of ice cream or ice cream sandwiches from Purple Door Ice Cream in the same space. Founders Lauren and Steve Schultz shifted their production of ice cream — featuring local ingredients, in artisan flavors like Fair Trade Banana Chocolate Walnut and Chocolate Guatemala Roast — into the creamery shortly after it opened.

Wills has been pleased to see his cheeses pop up on restaurant menus in Walker’s Point, a fitting tribute for this cheese factory named after the neighborhood’s most iconic image: the Allen-Bradley Clock Tower. "It’s become a mecca for restaurateurs," he says about Walker’s Point. "Most of these are using our cheeses. We just feel like we’re really loved here."

Future plans call for cheesemaking classes and tutorials in pairing wines with the Clock Shadow Creamery cheeses made here.


This story ran in the December 2012 issue of: