KIEL, Wis. — Cheese is a subject of great importance, and great passion, in Wisconsin. And it is a tradition among the Henning family of that state, whose factory in the small town of Kiel celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.
Henning‘s Cheese is producing a 3,200-pound mammoth cheddar with which The Andersons and The Blade are renewing one of Toledo’s most cherished traditions. On Nov. 15 — in a nostalgic salute to the fondly remembered Tiedtke‘s Department Store — which used to present a gigantic cheese each year at Christmas, then slice and sell it — there will be a ceremonial slicing of the giant Henning’s-made cheese at The Andersons, 4701 Talmadge Rd., just in time for the holidays. (Details of the event are still being finalized at this time.)
Wisconsin takes its cheese very seriously, as the only state that requires a cheesemaker to be licensed. It also mandates that a licensed cheesemaker be on-site when cheese is produced for retail sales. The licensing process includes extensive study and special coursework, as well as an apprenticeship.
Those with true devotion to the craft of making cheese in Wisconsin can even go beyond licensing and pursue the status of Master Cheesemaker.
A “Master’s Mark” on a Wisconsin cheese is a badge of honor. It indicates that the cheesemaker has produced cheese for at least 10 years. Then, after that much dedication, there is still a three-year program requiring more schooling in everything from cheese technology to applied dairy chemistry. Samples of the candidate‘s cheese must be assessed regularly for consistency and quality, and there is an intensive final exam. The program is administered by the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Kerry Henning, grandson of the family business’ founder, Otto Henning (and thus the third generation to produce cheese), has earned his Master‘s Mark. In fact, he has done so three times over, specializing in cheddar in 1999 and in Colby and Monterey Jack cheeses in 2002.
Curds and whey are poured into a vat as the cheese making process begins.
The cheeses produced at Henning‘s are made with great care and a personal touch ... literally. While there are machines to assist with the most strenuous tasks (such as agitating curds, which helps to evenly disperse flavorings such as the tomato, onion, and cilantro added to the Mexican-inspired Pico de Queso variety), much of the work still gets done by hand.
The milk used to make the cheese is provided by 25 Wisconsin farmers, whose cows are fed natural grains and are permitted to graze in the pasture. As Kert Henning, Kerry’s brother, said, “We want small family farms. They watch their protein and butter fat.” Higher quantities of both entities make for a richer, more flavorful cheese. “If you don‘t have a good quality milk, you won’t get a good quality product,” Kert said.
Cheese curds are agitated at Henningâs cheese factory in Kiel, Wis.
Once finished, that “good quality product” is aged from three months to nine years, creating mild to very sharp cheeses, respectively.
Henning’s cheeses have won multiple national and international awards, most recently in March at the 2014 World Cheese Contest in Madison, Wisconsin. The Bandaged Style Cheddar Cheese Wheels, wrapped individually in cheesecloth, won gold, while the Chipotle Cheddar -- a naturally white cheese featuring roasted jalapenos -- took silver. Bronze was awarded to the Mango Fire Heritage Cheddar, which offers an initial sweet taste from fruit supplemented by the heat of habanero peppers.
Some of the company‘s cheeses are available at local grocery stores, and the entire line is available at cheesestore.henningscheese.com.
Kert Henning’s son, Joshua, has recently acquired his license, with plans to apply for the title of Master Cheesemaker in 10 years. The family tradition of cheese-making excellence continues.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1-1/2 cups white onion, chopped
- 3/4 cup bell pepper, small dice (green pepper, or other color to taste)
- 5-1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (or frozen sweet corn, thawed)
- 1 bunch green onions, chopped
- juice of 1 lime
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 cup real mayonnaise
- 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 12 ounces Henning’s Hatch Pepper Heritage Cheddar, shredded (see note)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- milk, for thinning dip, if desired
- tortilla chips, for serving
Henning’s Hatch Pepper Cheddar Corn Dip
With football season upon us, this would be great to serve at a tailgate.
In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, heat olive oil and sauté garlic, white onion, bell pepper, and corn until vegetables are translucent. Add green onions, lime juice, cumin, and sugar; sauté for 2 minutes.
Stir in mayonnaise and cream cheese, breaking up the chunk of cream cheese, until smooth. And shredded cheddar, salt, and pepper. Heat until cheese is melted. If you want a thinner dip, slowly stir in a bit of milk until the dip is the desired consistency.
Place into a serving container and serve warm with tortilla chips.
Yield: 12 servings.
Source: Adapted from henningscheese.com.
Note: If Henning’s Hatch Pepper Heritage Cheddar is not available, substitute shredded Pepper Jack cheese combined with shredded cheddar.
Henning’s Pico de Queso Cheddar Bacon Stuffed Tomatoes
- 4 large, firm tomatoes
- 6 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1/2 cup bell pepper, chopped (green pepper, or other color to taste)
- 1/2 cup onion, chopped
- 1-1/2 cups Henning’s Pico de Queso Cheddar cheese, shredded (see note)
- 2 tablespoons lettuce, chopped
- 12 Wheat Thins crackers, crushed
- 2 tablespoons butter, cut into 4 pieces
A hearty way to enjoy late summer‘s bounty.
Preheat oven to 400F.
Cut thin slice from top of each tomato and discard the tops. Carefully scoop out pulp, then drain it, chop it, and set it aside. Drain the tomato shells upside down on a paper towel.
Meanwhile, in skillet, cook bacon until almost done; drain off fat. Add bell pepper and onion to the bacon; sauté until vegetables are soft. Remove skillet from heat. Blend in cheese, lettuce, and reserved tomato pulp.
Place the drained tomato shells into a baking dish into which they will just fit nicely. Fill each shell with 1/4 of mixture. Sprinkle with cracker crumbs and dot with 1 portion of butter each.
Bake 25-30 minutes, until the tops are golden and the tomato shells are just softened.
Yield: 4 servings.
Source: Adapted from henningscheese.com.
Note: If Henning’s Pico de Queso Cheddar cheese is not available, substitute shredded Pepper Jack cheese combined with shredded cheddar.
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