During my day trip to Monroe, cheese was on my shopping list as we prepared for our upcoming LONG road trip to Pennsylvania. I did some research to find a new cheese factory to visit and hopefully tour. I decided that the Silver-Lewis Cheese Factory Cooperative in Montecello would be the perfect stop along the way. They did not disappoint me!
Before assuming I could take a tour, I called in advance. They told me that they offer "limited tours" and that it would be necessary to arrive early in the day as they are typically done with the day's production by noontime. I arrived at approximately 9:45am, which seemed just about perfect to see the full operation of cheese production from the arrival of the haulers bringing in fresh milk to the packaging and shipping of cheese produced the day before.
The tour itself was actually pretty extensive to show the entire cheese making process. The young lady who took me through the factory was very nice and seemed happy to tell their story. With my hair net in place, we walked through the entire factory which was essentially three work area rooms.
I observed the process of separating the cream from the fresh whole milk, the filling of the vats with milk, the heating & stirring to create the cheese curd which was separated from the whey. From there the curds were placed in the cheese forms and turned regularly. Once the cheese block was ready, they are placed in a saline bath overnight. The next day, the cheese is wrapped and packaged for shipping.
In the main entrance area, the ladies were packaging curds as well as large blocks of muenster for shipping. In this area, visitors could purchase cheese over-the-counter. I was surprised at their great prices. That is the thing about visiting and shopping direct . . . if you know your cheeses and the regular retail prices at your local supermarket, you can really find some great "direct" prices when visiting this small local cheese factories.
I bought a one pound square of yellow cheddar for $4/lb and another square of brick for $3.25/lb. For just $8.13, I had over two pounds for wonderful locally produced cheese.
The Silver-Lewis Cheese Factory Cooperative has been making cheese since 1897 when two families (Silver and Lewis) came together to form the coop. Today they continue to use fresh milk from a dairy farm still in the Silver family. They are considered to be a small producer and factory, but are well regarded having won numerous awards for their muenster and brick cheeses.
A bonus for me was seeing a barn quilt on their building. "Little Giant" is the name of the design and a photo is included with this story.
For those interested in visiting, they are located at W3075 Cty EE; Monticello, WI 53570-9801. Their phone number is 608-938-4813.