If you’ve had the pleasure of tasting the award-winning Petit Nuage, the soft, tangy French-style cheese made by Landmark Creamery, you know how light and airy it is, and how its salty, slightly grassy flavor turns lingeringly sweet and slightly lemony on your palate.
The cheese, which took home a gold medal in the 2015 U.S. Cheese Championship, is hand-made weekly in southern Wisconsin with sheep’s milk from the Enloe family farm. And it's just one of the cheeses made by two Wisconsin women whose passion for local food and agriculture led them to join forces in making some of the state’s best sheep and cow’s milk cheese.
Among Landmark’s other cheeses are:
- Tallgrass Reserve, a buttery, earthy pastured cow’s milk cheese with a rind that’s hand-rubbed with smoked paprika and olive oil and aged for a minimum of six months.
- Anabasque is a semi-soft Basque-style sheep’s milk cheese that’s cave-aged for three months, giving it a smooth texture with both salty and fruity notes, along with a hint of deliciously cheesy funk.
- Pecora Nocciola ("hazelnut ewe") is an aged, pecorino-style cheese that’s smooth, buttery and enhanced with both a bright character and notes of nutty macadamia.
- Pipit is a creamy, sweet sheep’s milk cheese that melts well and offers a surprising "kick" on the finish.
European style sheep's milk cheeses are a relative rarity in the States. And demand for their small-batch cheese is growing rapidly.
The cheeses are currently available not only in Wisconsin, but also on the East and West Coasts. They also have a place on the menus of several Milwaukee restaurants including Amilinda, Bacchus, Braise, Goodkind and EsterEv.
The Landmark story
Anna Landmark met Anna Thomas-Bates at the Women in Sustainable Agriculture Conference in 2012. Landmark was a hobby farmer, who was working on getting her cheesemaker license, and Thomas Bates was a food writer who moved her family to the country in an effort to downsize.
The creamery was born one evening as the friends were drinking old fashioneds and chatting about Landmark’s plans for a cheese business. After sleeping on the prospect, Thomas Bates says she couldn’t get it out of her head.
"Our skill sets are so complementary," she says. "Anna [Landmark] is so great at getting things done. And I love food and connecting with people. It was a great fit."
The two began making their cheese at Clock Shadow Creamery in 2014. And their beginnings in Milwaukee helped to cement the creamery's success.
"That first year was invaluable in creating the relationships we needed in Milwaukee and Madison," notes Thomas Bates. "I spent the entire first year getting to know chefs and cheesemongers. And those people were really instrumental in giving excellent feedback and really getting the word out about our product."
Among Landmark’s first customers were Chef Dave Swanson of Braise, Chefs Paul Zerkel and Lisa Kirkpatrick of Goodkind and Chef Gregory Leon of Amilinda. And the late Steve Ehlers of Larry’s Market in Brown Deer was instrumental in offering feedback to the new cheesemakers.
"He really sat down with us and gave us some of the best feedback we could’ve gotten," Thomas Bates says. "And we have to credit him with helping us to make the needed changes to really launch a great product."
But, as Landmark grew, there was a need for additional production space, as well as more flexibility in scheduling. So, Landmark moved its production to the Cedar Grove plant in Plain, Wisconsin.
Room to grow
Today, Landmark rents space at two creameries: Cedar Grove and the Thuli Family Creamery in Darlington, Wisconsin, where they make their fresh cheeses. Meanwhile, aging takes place at Bear Valley Affinage north of Lone Rock, where owner Jenifer Brozak oversees day-to-day processes with regular check-ins from both Landmark and Thomas Bates.
But, the time has come, notes Thomas Bates, to expand.
"It’s very easy to stay small, to sell only at farmer’s markets," she explains. "But, we knew from the beginning that we wanted to sell wholesale and really get our cheese out there. And as we’ve grown we’ve also realized that we need our own space to both increase our efficiency and produce the product we know our customers want."
Help them grow
Currently, Landmark is seeking funding through a Kickstarter campaign, which runs through May 11. The campaign will allow the two-woman creamery to purchase block molds so they can produce bloomy rind cheeses like camembert, as well as a small machine to assist in producing fresh cheese with a longer shelf-life. Ideally, Thomas Bates says, they’d also like to fund the construction of a small aging facility where they can better age cheeses that can’t be accommodated at their current rental facility.
Donating will not only make you feel good, but there are some pretty amazing spiffs of which to take advantage. Take for instance a pound of their newest cheese; VIP admission to a cheese and cocktail pairing party at Goodkind on June 10; a Landmark Creamery prix fixe dinner at Amilinda on June 9; or a private cheese party with one of the Anna's. If you love cheese, it's a no-brainer.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.