on May 15, 2013
Wisconsin is known as the dairy state and here in Milwaukee, Clock Shadow Creamery is committing to the production of local food for local people. Located in the Walker's Point area of the city, this small batch organic cheese factory is part of an urban renewal effort thanks in large measure to the entrepreneurial spirit that has made Milwaukee the great city that it is.As I have been researching and looking for interesting places around SE Wisconsin to visit and write about, I had no idea that we even had a cheese making facility in the city. It was the weekly Living Social deal in my (e) mail box a couple of weeks ago that enlightened me. Ironically, about a week later they were featured on the MPTV (Milwaukee Public TV) show "Wisconsin Foodie" that I had my curiosity piqued.In business in Walker's Point for about a year, owner Bob Wills is also the owner of the Cedar Grove Cheese Factory in Plain, Wisconsin (SE of Madison). He had been a leader in not only product innovation but also in the stewardship of mentoring others with an interest in starting their own cheese business. He is responsible for providing internships to others interested in the craft of making small batch cheeses and therefore the human development within the community.Committed to using only the freshest and natural products . . . namely rBGH-free milk procured from nearby suburban family dairy farms . . . the cheese that is produced and sold by Clock Shadow Creamery is made, distributed (or sold) daily to local restaurants and markets. In fact, one product line that they make (LaBelle Cheese) is made solely with the milk obtained from the Koepke Farms of Oconomowoc some 30 miles west of the city. They take in the whole milk from the farm, turn it into cheese, and they return the cheese to the farm where they sell locally to restaurants and at the local farmers' market.If you are interested in a tour, you are highly encouraged to call ahead for a reservation. For the coming few months that is especially important as they just recently sold more than 1,800 of the 2:1 tour deals on Living Social. I was happy that we got ours, but was a bit frustrated that it was more than a week for us to be able to schedule a tour time that was convenient for us. And while I was initially disappointed to learn that they only make cheese over the midnight hours, and did not open on most mornings until 10:00am, when we arrived for our 10:30am appointment time, they were still in full production of LaBelle Cheese.Ordinarily tours are given between 10:30am and 4:30pm, Monday through Saturday. If you are interested in buying freshly made cheese curds, you are encouraged to visit on Wednesdays and Fridays as those are the days they are committed to fresh cheese curd sales and production. Cheese curds are best bought and eaten fresh as in the same day. They can be stored in a freezer, but generally speaking you do not want to buy packaged cheese curds that are more than a day (or two) old.About the tour . . . it is really more of a presentation about the cheese making process. There is an observation room overlooking the production area. The guide explains what is entailed, starting with the daily delivery of fresh local milk. Visitors are taken through the process of making curds and the off-product of whey. From there, the cheese curd is either sliced and formed into cubes or slices, or gathered and placed into large plastic tubs to from the 12 lb. wheels that are the most familiar shape for Wisconsin cheeses.We were fortunate, as I said, to be able to watch the milk being turned into curd and to see another worker filling the forms and stacking them as the extra liquid (whey) was pressured out of the cheese wheels. Here at the Clock Shadow Creamery, they do not do a lot of long-term aging of their products. Most of what they produce is sold and distributed immediately, providing the freshest product available to the consumer.Tours cost $3 per person for adults and $1.50 for kids. After the 30 minute talk, guests are invited to sample some cheeses offered in the retail store area. Folks are also offered a "mini-cone" compliments of Purple Door Ice Cream (one of the other fresh dairy producers that share this space with Clock Tower Creamery). The Living Social deal was of an especially good value as it was $8 for two people. Included in the tour package price was a 12oz package of fresh cheese curds (a $5 retail price). So essentially the offer provided a 2:1 deal.On our visit however, there were no cheese curds available so we were offered any cheese wedge in the case that carried their own brand name. I selected a mild white cheddar ($7.50/lb) while David opted for the Cajun cheddar ($8.50/lb). Both were very good, with nice texture and flavor.All in all, we enjoyed our time at Clock Shadow Creamery. I would encourage anyone interested in how cheese is made but does not have the time to get out into the more rural areas of Wisconsin, to consider a visit here. You will get a nice overview of the cheese making process, while supporting a local business committed to helping in the continued revitalization of the City of Milwaukee.Note: Being an urban factory, parking is on the street only. The good news is that all of the surrounding area is free parking but you should anticipate having to park and walk a couple of blocks to get to the Clock Shadow Building so be sure to allow enough time for your scheduled tour appointment.
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