Living the cheesy life: He said/she said
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Clock Shadow Creamery Cheesemaker Ron Henningfield and his wife, Josie, grew up in East Troy. They attended the same high school, were involved in some of the same clubs and had a few mutual friends. But, it wasn't until they were in college that they began dating. It was then that the adventure began.
Josie studied dance at UW-Milwaukee while Ron studied agriculture at UW-Madison. After graduating, Josie – who had performed in musical theater since she was a child – landed a job working as a dance teacher and choreographer. Likewise, Ron spent some time working on the dairy farm before taking a job as a leadership facilitator and serving as a high school agriculture and biology teacher in Delavan. He also began working with area cheesemakers to hone his craft. In 2010, he was quite possibly the first and only Wisconsin high school teacher to also be licensed as a Wisconsin Cheesemaker.
After working with a wide variety of cheesemakers, including Bob Wills of Cedar Grove Cheese and Andy Hatch from Uplands Cheese, Ron was asked to head up the cheesemaking facility at Clock Shadow Creamery.
While Ron makes cheese, Josie teaches dance, and in her spare time she herself dances for the Milwaukee Diamond Dancers, the official dance team of the Milwaukee Brewers. Although the two have very different day jobs, they are united by a passion for delicious Wisconsin cheese and a common desire to make a difference in the Milwaukee community.
Of course, I found myself wondering about the difference in perspective between the cheesemaker himself and his devoted wife. So, I decided to ask each of them a few questions. Here are some insights into what the life of an urban Milwaukee cheesemaker is really like.
OnMilwaukee.com: There's been some big buzz over the opening of Clock Shadow Creamery. How does it feel to be involved with a project like this?
Josie Henningfield: It's really exciting! Ron and I love new adventures, and we try to make a difference in the community we are living in. I hope that Clock Shadow will give us an opportunity to educate the public about our product and our mission. Not just about how their cheese is made, but where it comes from and the importance of supporting local agriculture and small businesses. The Clock Shadow building itself is incredible, and it's amazing to be able to be a part of it.
Ron Henningfield: The interest and excitement coming from the community and area businesses is encouraging. The buzz also puts me on the spot to perform. Just over a week ago I got to sample out and share my first batches of Milwaukee cheese with customers. Their reactions were exactly what I was hoping for.
OMC: Similarly, what does it feel like to be married to/be the only cheesemaker in Milwaukee?
JH: (laughs) It's pretty awesome, not because of the title, but just because it's Ron. He is a pretty modest guy, and much more of a team player, so I'm guessing he would prefer to put the focus on the Creamery and the Clock Shadow building rather than the title of the "only cheese maker in Milwaukee." He has an amazing work ethic and puts 100 percent into everything he does, no matter how big or how small the job may be.
RH: Well, I do have a good assistant cheesemaker, William Knox, working with me and we would really enjoy meeting the other cheesemakers in Milwaukee who have remained under the radar.
OMC: What do you think the biggest benefit of an urban creamery is?
JH: Again, the opportunity to educate, and the chance to bring in a unique experience for those who visit Milwaukee.
RH: The biggest benefit is being able to get fresh cheeses out to the urban population quicker than other cheese factories. Right now I make cheddar cheese curds and quark cheese with fresh cheeses to follow. For these types of cheeses, the fresher, the better.
OMC: What's one thing people in Milwaukee don't know about your husband/you?
JH: He built a 40-foot-tall trebuchet one summer with a few friends. It's pretty awesome. Freedomlauncher.com; check it out.
RH: I have never gotten a professional haircut. My dad used to cut my hair, then my brother used to, and now my wife cuts it for me. I do, in return, cut my dad's and brother's hair; but, I only got to cut my wife's hair once.
OMC: What's the best thing about being married to/being a cheesemaker?
JH: Hmmm ... besides eating ridiculous amounts of amazing cheese? I think it's been great getting to know other Wisconsin cheesemakers and their businesses. Ron and I both have a lot of Wisconsin pride, so being able to be part of the thing that most people associate with our state is pretty cool.
RH: Cheese makes people happy.
OMC: What are the hours like? How often do you see one another?
JH: Well our schedule has been a little chaotic our entire marriage, no matter what jobs we've had. Being involved in the arts keeps me busy on nights and weekends, pretty much the opposite of Ron. He usually works seven days a week and starts early in the morning and works until he's done. Some people think our schedules are crazy, but we are happy that we are both able to do what we love and have the support of each other in doing so. We love to spend time together by traveling. We went to Europe for a while a few years ago and love to go visit our friends in other states. We lived in Hawaii right after we got married, so we try and make it back there whenever we can. It all balances out.
RH: Two Saturday nights ago my wife and I went to the creamery from 11 p.m. until 1:30 a.m. on Sunday. The quark cheese, which was draining in cheesecloth bags, had reached the right moisture so we worked together to finish and salt the cheese. That was some quality time together! I really appreciate my wife's help, support and involvement in what I do. My hours are often and early, and I am always on call for the cheese. Our schedules lead us to taking advantage of the time we can get together.
OMC: What are the trickiest things about making cheese?
JH: I honestly don't know much, but I feel like most of the cheesemakers I have met have one thing in common: they pay attention to detail. Like the making of most food, I think there is an art to cheesemaking that requires that attention to detail, and a little creativity.
RH: The main ingredient, milk, is inconsistent. Even when receiving milk from the same farm again and again there are often variables in the amount of protein or butter fat. Sometimes even subtle changes to the handling of the milk can have effects on the cheesemaking process. The tricky part is observing and reacting to these small changes so that the resulting cheese is consistent.
OMC: What kind of equipment should aspiring cheese makers have in their kitchen?
JH: This question kind of makes me laugh because I remember the makeshift cheese press that Ron made when he was making his first batch of cheese curds at home. I really love a good cutting board, so I would recommend one. An encouraging spouse who is willing to try out your test batch is also helpful ... Are we considered equipment?
RH: I got started in my mom's typical kitchen. My advice for first-timers would be to use stainless steel pots and equipment, because it is best for the cleaning and sanitizing process that's such a large part of making clean, safe, good-tasting cheese. A home cheesemaking kit can also be a useful tool.
OMC: What are your husband's/your favorite cheeses to make?
JH: Not sure! I don't know if he even knows! I know he really enjoyed working with Andy Hatch at Uplands Cheesemaking Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Rush Creek cheeses. I think he likes the "art" of aging cheeses. He also likes to experiment, so we'll see what he comes up with.
RH: I have been fortunate to work for a couple of cheesemakers and make a variety of styles of cheese. On one hand, I really enjoy the differences that go into making different cheeses. On the other hand, I like the process of making the same cheeses repeatedly so that I can home in on observing, learning and managing the subtleties of that particular cheese. Some of my favorites to have my hands on have been Babcock Hall's havarti and juustoleipa, Uplands' Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Rush Creek Reserve, Cedar Grove's cheddar and Water Buffalo mozzarella, and Clock Shadow Creamery's curds and quark.
OMC: What's your favorite thing to do with quark?
JH: Ron mixed in some fresh strawberries and used it as a topping for our waffles one morning. It was awesome!
RH: Share it with my grandma because she loves it! I also like to spread it on a bagel, put it in my dad's twice-baked potatoes, and make a sweet dip by mixing maple syrup into it.
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