Environment
6:00 am
Tue April 29, 2014

The Cheesemaker Behind Clock Shadow Creamery

Ron Henningfeld stands next to the "chevre maker". The harps used to cut curds during cheesemaking hang from wall behind him.
Credit S Bence

The Walker’s Point operation is one of only a handful of urban cheese factories in the country.

Up until now, cow milk has been its main cheese ingredient.  Just a few weeks ago, Clock Shadow Creamery started incorporating goat milk into its offerings.

You have to get up pretty early in the morning to see Ron Henningfeld start the cheesemaking process.

Afterglow Dairy Farm goats are supplying milk to Clock Shadow Creamery.
Credit Michelle Maternowski

“The goat milk came in at about 11 pm last night," Henningfeld says. "We unloaded it from the truck, we pasteurized it and ran it into our production room into our cheese vat. We made goat cheese cheddar and chevre."

Henningfeld says, when chevre is prepared to perfection, it’s somewhere between a thick yogurt and a soft cream cheese. He seals this batch in a stainless steel vessel.

Chevre, which means goat in French, didn’t figure into his early vocabulary; he’s one of seven kids raised on a cow dairy farm thirty miles from here. His older brother now runs the farm.

“I went to Madison and I studied biology and agriculture education,” Henningfeld syas. While teaching high school ag classes, Henningfeld started exploring cheesemaking. He had already tried his hand at it on his mom’s stovetop.

Eventually he took certification courses and an apprenticeship and then went to work for a premier cheese company in Dodgeville.

“Uplands Cheese – pretty much the most renowned cheese in the United States; the most highly awarded, recognized cheese,” Henningfeld says.
 

Henningfeld slices sample of goat milk cheddar.
Credit S Bence

Henningfeld was recognized too – the creator of Clock Shadow Creamery sought him out to run the new operation.

“I remember a casual conversation – he asked me what I wanted to do and I wanted to be an entrepreneur," Henningfeld. "That’s why I got into cheesemaking and I think that comes from growing up on a dairy farm – a family entrepreneurship. That’s what I want to do in cheesemaking."

Henningfeld circles back to our conversation about goat cheese – and how to create the cheddar variety. He points to this morning’s output – the curds are being pressed inside large forms.

“Two wheels and four blocks; the wheels are about 10 pound wheels, the blocks are about four pound blocks. Those curds get pressed and after about two hours of pressing they’re a solid cheese, a solid block of cheese,” Henningfeld says.

Henningfeld pops open a wheel and cuts a thin slice to sample – a squeaky taste experience.

"It’s mostly fresh, milky and salty until that cheddar flavor develops in it," Henningfeld says. "It will be squeaky for a few days while there are changes going on in the cheese. The protein bonding starts to soften up and weaken with age and so it loses that squeakiness."

One of Henningfeld’s assistants is Juan Cruz finds the process fascinating – from beginning to end.
 

Juan Cruz checks on progress of cheese in the making.
Credit S Bence

“How we bring in the milk from the milk truck and pasteurize it and then from there we start adding the enzymes and the culture and from there to the end until it’s ready to eat,” Cruz says.

Cruz says he grew up just three blocks away and seems happily stunned he’s working here.

“In the interview, Ron asked me if I know a lot about cheese, if I like cheese and I told him to tell the truth the only cheese I know is Kraft singles – it’s the only one I every tried before," Cruz says. "It’s a big change. Now I know how it’s done; I know how to make it. I tell everyone anything with tomato basil is my favorite."

Cheesemaker Ron Henningfeld says he eventually hopes to hire more assistants and to come up with new variations of cheese.

While the company’s focus is on taste and texture, it sets goals to tread softly on the environment. One example is the gallons of liquid whey that are a bi-product of the cheesemaking process.

“Every Friday, a truck takes it about 10 blocks away to the Potowatomi Bingo Casino, where they built a biodigester," Henningfeld says. "The whey is unloaded into the biodigester, which produces biogas to generate electricity."

As for its new cheese, Clock Shadow has introduced its chevre, but the creamery has not yet released its goat milk cheddar to the public, it’s still aging.