At Henning’s Cheese, cheese lovers, and those yet-to-become cheese lovers can find a wide array of cheese flavors, thanks to the the cheesemaker’s attitude about adding the “spice of life” to the cheese making process.
Master Cheesemaker Kerry Henning and his crews have shown their penchant for trying new cheese flavors. Their journey has taken them beyond the mundane to cheeses that
“All of the cheese made here is good cheese. We want to open peoples senses up to appreciate the varying flavors that add to the taste experience,” Kert Henning said.
Finding that right flavor takes a lot of tweaking and experimentation. While all the flavored cheeses work off the same quality Henning’s Cheese base, the process involves several factors—coming up with the right ingredients and learning the right aging window for each variety.
“Sometimes it takes six months to a year for a new flavor that Kerry is working on to be ready for the market,” Kert said.
Small batches are hand worked when a new flavor is tried. Then, the cheesemaker has to let the aging process take over. “Some cheeses taste different at three months than they do at six months. What might not peak at three months opens up to a whole new set of flavors when you try it again at six months,” he added.
Peppers top the list
In the process of working out new flavors, Henning’s Cheese has developed several successful flavors using peppers.
Right now, hot peppers seem to be the rage in the industry.
“For some people you can’t get it hot enough,” Kert said.
Whether its jalapeño, habañero or hatch pepper, Henning’s tries to find the right blend to fit the tastes of the marketplace.
Still, there are always those markets who favor things even hotter than can be made in the Midwest. At the request of one customer, Henning’s made a batch of cheese using scorpion pepper—one that grades out above ghost pepper on the Scoville scale for “heat.”
The pepper is so volatile that it vaporizes when placed on cheese in a vat. To create the cheese, the vat crews had to wear gas masks, rubber gloves and aprons. The scorpion pepper was so volatile that any expose skin would literally be burned by the heat.
That’s when the master cheesemaker said, “No more scorpion pepper.”
Henning’s Cheese still serves the needs of those clients that like it hot, but they work with safer ingredients to generate the heat.
Flavors that don’t bite back
In addition to its peppered cheeses, Henning’s Cheese also produces flavors that don’t bite back.
Italian and Mediterranean spicings are popular. A tomato basil flavored cheese is fun on its own, but also makes for great pizza and Italian food recipies.
Cheese flavored with onion, chives or dill can be used on any kind of sandwiches, but they sure give new zip to the average cheeseburger.
For the consumer, it’s all about experimenting with different flavors. That means being able to think creatively in the kitchen. Cheeses with flavors can be used as substitutes for traditional ingredients in many recipes.
“Sometimes people are too worried about following a recipe to the letter. A flavored cheese allows them to proceed in the spirit of the recipe, making it possible to develop a more intriguing taste to their foods,” Henning said.
Some cheeses tickle the palate with sweetness. Such is the Henning’s blueberry cobbler cheese, which stands on its own as close to dessert as cheese can get.
Throw it in pancakes or a grilled cheese sandwich and you have just upgraded your breakfast and lunch.
At holiday time, Henning’s cant keep its cranberry orange cheese on the shelves. New this year, the cheese was a big hit. “It had a phenomenal flavor,” Kert said.
Cheese fans can also make their recipes work better with quality cheese. A quarter cup of traditional sharp cheddar will go a lot father to enhance a recipe than the low fat cheese called for in a recipe that calls for a lot more cheese.
“It’s a way to get more from less, and the palate changing experience is amazing,” Kert said.
Meanwhile back in the cheese room, one never knows what the mind of the master cheesemaker will conjure up next.
Beyond its traditional cheddar and low fat cheeses, Henning’s Cheese still gets a lot of inquiries for a cheese variety that dates back more than 60 years, to Otto Henning’s era.
The Colby longhorn, “the way grandpa used to make it,” is one of those treats common to cheese lovers who frequent Henning’s Cheese.
Made in individual forms, the longhorns are formed with cheese cloth around the outsides then hand-dipped in was.
“The flavor profile of this horn is so different from regular Colby. It still has holes all over it, which makes it more interesting. There is just no comparison in the taste,” he said.
Aged cheeses gain popularity
In addition to throwbacks like the longhorns, Henning’s Cheese has seen a growing interest in aged cheeses. The warehouse stock of older cheeses, four years and up has grown exponentially in recent years.
The aged cheeses, longhorns and flavored cheeses might not all be found on the shelves of the local grocery store, but they aren’t far from home either.
Out on Point Creek Road, near Wilke Lake, Henning’s Cheese operates its cheese store and museum as a source for people who want to savor the flavor on all levels.
The store is open Monday through Friday from 7 a. m. to 4 p. m. and on Saturdays from 8 a. m. to 2 p. m.
The Henning’s Cheese store is a great place to find all of the Henning’s flavors, and all of the aged varieties of cheese. But, it’s a whole lot more, as Henning’s also brings in some specialty cheeses from other cheesemakers to round out the selections. Most are made right here in Wisconsin, and might include varieties like aged brick cheese, bleu cheeses, various Sartori cheese selections, cooked cheese. One of the most unusual selections is a German hand cheese, an import which is gauranteed to “change the aroma of your refrigerator” when you bring it out of frozen storage to thaw it out.
Henning’s Cheese also offers some variations of cheese that the company purchases and repackages.
While shopping for your favorite cheese at the Henning’s Cheese store, customers can also browse through the selection of wines, cheese souvenirs and trinkets, specialty meats and snacks, including ice cream and speciality popcorn products.
Always popular, Henning’s cheese curds are available every day, depending on the cheese making schedule. Call ahead to 894-3032 to find out when the fresh curds hit the counter.
Perhaps the best opportunity of all awaits the visitor who wants the “full cheese” experience can be found in the cheese making museum which adjoins the store.
Cheese making and other dairy manufacturing equipment from days of old is on display in the spacious museum room. As an added attraction, the room contains two large window bays that allow visitors to watch the cheesemakers as they go about the business of producing some of Wisconsin’s finest cheese.
Henning’s Cheese is located at 20201 Point Creek Road, northeast of Kiel.
You can find them on the web at henningscheese.com.