The world of cheese geeks is more than niche in Wisconsin…barely. For most of us, after cheddar, parmesan, mozzarella, and maybe feta, we can’t see beyond the rind. You could fit everything I know about cheese into a colander, but what I do know is that cheese is usually delicious, which is a good place to start when visiting Landmark Creamery in Belleville.
First thing I learned when meeting Landmark Creamery owners Anna Landmark and Anna Thomas Bates is that Wisconsin doesn’t play in the minors when it comes to cheesemaking. Anna Thomas Bates says, “Wisconsin is the only state in the United States that requires cheesemakers to be licensed. It’s a number of classes at the Center for Dairy Research, a 240-hour apprenticeship with another cheesemaker, and then an exam. Anna Landmark (certified cheesemaker) was pursuing that, and I said, ‘Well that’s really cool. What are you going to do next? What’s the plan?’”
After chatting and learning that they each had a kid in the same grade, it was only logical that they would go into business together. Anna Thomas Bates had been a “food writer and had some chef connections and had some artisan food experience and farmers’ market stuff. I would do sales and marketing and promotion. And Anna Landmark is cheese, cheesemaking, food safety operation, all of that.”
2014 marked their first full production year. Anna Thomas Bates refers to those early years as nomadic, renting vats at different places, from Clock Shadow Creamery in Milwaukee to some places in Darlington and eventually Cedar Grove Cheese in Plain, Wisconsin. They also needed space to age their cheeses, all but one made from sheep milk. “Affinage is the French word for aging cheese, and that’s an important step in our process,” says Anna Thomas Bates. “It’s a traditional old-world style of aging cheese on wooden boards in a humidity- and temperature-controlled room. We had to rent that space, and we had to rent cold storage.”
It wasn’t until 2017 that the Annas started renting their Belleville building. After careful consideration, they decided to use the front of the space as a shop where they can also do cheeseboards and grilled cheese sandwiches. They have their cheeses for sale along with crackers, jams, salami, nuts, and cheeses from other producers.
Now before you go to landmarkcreamery.com and “oh my” like Takei at some of the prices, let’s get cheducated. Sheep milk costs at least four to five times more than cow milk, but why? First off, the sheep cheese industry hasn’t evolved in the United States as much as it has in Europe. Anna Thomas Bates says, “Their production has been going on longer. It’s a more advanced industry. The genetics are better. The yields from the sheep are better.”
Anna Landmark adds, “For two or three decades, the United States prohibited importing any new genetics from Europe, and it really set our dairy industry behind. It has to do with different disease and things like that that were spreading.” But we’re not stuck in limbo, as some genetics are having those restrictions removed thanks to the efforts of cheesemakers Jeff Wideman of Maple Leaf Cheese and Mariana Marques de Almeida of Ms. J. and Co., both located in Monroe. Anna Landmark says, “We’ll see a pretty big increase in production and the quality of the dairy sheep here because of that.”
Even after the advancements, a sharp eye will notice that a cow is actually larger than a sheep. Now consider that it takes 10 pounds of milk to make a pound of cheese and that a sheep produces roughly 2 quarts of milk daily (15 times less than a cow). It might take less land and food to take care of a sheep, but when you take the above information and couple that with the scarcity of sheep farms, at this point in time, sheep cheese is just going to cost more.
Aside from getting some great cheeses, investing in sheep cheese comes with a sweet bonus. “I think sheep are a little bit lighter on the land than cows,” says Anna Landmark. “It makes them a little bit more sustainable. And I love the fact that you can renovate an old barn for sheep instead of having to build a big brand-new parlor.”
The original plan for this article was to buy some sheep cheeses from Landmark Creamery, take some notes, and share them. I learned two main things from the experiment: I like cheese, and I don’t know anything about describing how cheese tastes. I called the award-winning Anabasque a martini—what? Their website describes it much better:
“Smooth and fruity with a bit of funk, this washed-rind sheep milk cheese is inspired by the mountain cheeses of the Basque region of Spain. Pair with marcona almonds, marmalade, or a farmhouse ale.”
The next chapter for Landmark Creamery involves the building once occupied by the old Paoli cheese factory from 1888 to 1980. Since then, “it’s been an art gallery and several other things,” says Anna Thomas Bates. Purchased by Nic Mink and his wife, Danika Laine, the old factory is soon to transform into Seven Acre Dairy, which is going to have “a restaurant, a boutique hotel, a café, and they’re going to make ice cream. So Nic approached us to be their dairy partners. We actually have titles; we’re the chief dairy officers of Seven Acre Dairy.
“The story with Seven Acre Dairy is a visitor coming to town will be able to drive past some of the farmers we buy milk from. They’ll be able to look in our window and actually watch us making cheese. And then they can go down to Seven Acre Dairy and enjoy an ice cream cone from milk that passed through our plant or butter that we made right there or cheese that we made right there and then, this is my line, that milk will have traveled less far than the visitor potentially eating it.”
Cheese? Check. Local? Check. History? Check. Landmark Creamery is offering the present and future of Wisconsin cheese with a look at the past, and you don’t have to be cheese smart to savor that.
Kyle Jacobson is lead writer and senior copy editor for Madison Essentials.
6895 Paoli Road
Belleville, WI 53508