KIEL, Wis. — Kerry Henning starts work while most of Wisconsin is still sleeping.
His day starts at 3:30 a.m. at Henning’s Wisconsin Cheese in Kiel, Wis.
“We have a great time every day,” Henning said.
The third generation cheesemaker has been at it for 40 plus years. In that time, he’s become a certified Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker.
It’s a titled earned only after a lengthy and rigorous process that can only begin after first spending 10 years as a licensed cheesemaker.
“Well, it’s pretty cool,” he said. “It’s not a very big club here in the state.”
He said he puts that knowledge to work every day. Henning explained the cheese curd making process.
He said it takes roughly two hours from milk to finished cheese curds.
First, milk is readied in giant vats. The milk is thickened so it can be cut into curds.
Once cut, the curds and resulting whey are pumped through to massive tables. This is where most of the manual labor is done.
A machine spreads the curds evenly before the crew takes over. They then start pushing the curds to the sides of the table so they’re easier to handle.
Once the whey is drained, workers start stacking the cheese in blocks to help drain even more whey.
Each time they stack them, the weight of the top layers of cheese help squeeze the whey out of the lower layers. Draining whey plays a major role in the curds’ flavor.
“To have the best tasting cheese you got to do a good job with the cheddaring process so that whey can drain out, you get nice curd formation,” Henning said.
After the whey is removed, it’s time to slice the cheese. At this step, the cheese begins to resemble the curds you see at the store.
After cutting, the cheese is salted. The process is nearly done. All that’s left is bagging the curds and hauling them away. Henning still enjoys the process.
“To see how that cheese develops and you get the nice silky feel of the cheese. That’s really kinda cool, but most people think I’m kinda nuts when I say that,” he said.
Henning said he’s proud to keep the family’s cheese legacy alive, and he does that by making sure what they make is the best quality possible.
“I think we all have a sense of pride of where we’ve all come from and I think we just want to continue to do a good job, make good quality cheese, and so we take pride in that,” he said.