Best Cheese Factory Tour - Ever!

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by MilwVon on May 12, 2013

If you have read some of my other "Wisconsin Series" journals, you know that recently I've been exploring the history of cheesemaking in Wisconsin, to include taking a number of tours of local cheese factories around the state. Unless you live in SE Wisconsin or have visited Green County during Monroe's Cheese Days Festival, you have probably never heard of Decatur Dairy or their many cheese products. Probably one of the best kept secrets is that Decatur's cheesemaking capabilities and reputation are world renowned. If you buy products with brand labels such as Boar's Head, Sargento or Pace . . . there is a pretty good probability that the cheese was actually produced here at Decatur Dairy in rural Brodhead, Wisconsin.

Since I was planning to come to Brodhead to take in the "Tour a Farm Day" I thought I would try to find another cheese factory to tour. I am so glad I found Decatur Dairy, as now I have yet another stop to make when I come to Green County for my beverage fix in Monroe (the county seat).

Tours are offered for $2 per person and are recommended between 9a and 11a. If you arrive after that time, it is possible that they will be winding down production and there will be little to observe. I am so glad I was able to work this stop into my schedule early on what was a very full day of activities. Arriving at around 10:30a, I was actually concerned that I might be too late but fortunately, they said they would be available for tours until roughly noontime.

The young ladies in the retail store informed the guys in the back that I had arrived and was looking for a tour. Shortly after my arrival, a young couple from Madison came in looking to do the tour so we were a group of three. Our guide was a friendly and talkative story teller by the name of Rick. Rick clearly loved his job and enjoyed telling people the Decatur Dairy story and how their Master Cheesemaker Steve Stettler has grown this co-op based cheese manufacturing business.

The tour started in the area where the cheese curds are filled into the forms and flipped previously filled forms before hosing them down with hot water to condense and compact the cheese slabs. From there we observed where they separate the cheese from the form, placing them onto a rack which would subsequently be submerged in a saline solution. From there, the Muenster blocks were moved through an area where which is coated with an orangish coloring before being wrapped and packaged. Today's shipment was being prepared for Boar's Head.

In their daily cheesemaking production, Decatur Dairy accepts over 300,000 pounds of milk per day. On this day's visit (a Saturday) they would have 16 vats of production of approximately 35,000 pounds of cheese as the outcome.

Besides seeing the wonderful behind the scenes efforts that go into making world class cheese, the best opportunity from my visit was learning that you can buy direct at their factory store for $3.50 to $4.00 per pound for high quality cheeses that with other brand labels, would fetch upwards of $6.00 - $10.00! I'm not a huge fan of Swiss Cheese mostly because of the strong bit or aftertaste. I have found a couple of Baby Swisses that I like, so Rick suggested I try their Stettler Swiss . . . a buttery smooth lace style Swiss. It was yummy; unbelievably smooth and pleasant. I bought a pound to go . . . $3.85/lb. Amazing! I guess when you do not have the middle man or the additional packaging, it is less expensive when selling direct without any extraordinary marketing efforts required.

For more information, including mail order retail sales, check out their website at: (Please be advises that their prices for retail product shipped will be higher than the prices found if you buy direct in their retail store at the dairy.)
Decatur Dairy
9505 County Road F, Brodhead, Wi 53520
Brodhead, Wisconsin, 53520-9505

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