Every day may feel like a holiday in Wisconsin for fans of the state’s signature dairy product, but Jan. 20 marked a special day for dairy farmers, cheesemakers, retailers, and consumers alike as National Cheese Lover’s Day.
Nick Miller is a key part of that rich dairy heritage. He grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin not far from Le Coulee Cheese Castle. The business was originally started in 1980 in Mindoro, Wis. by Duane and Mary Lou Pfaff. Duane was a cheesemaker and operated several different factories around Wisconsin during his career. The Pfaffs moved the business to downtown West Salem in 1981. Miller bought the business in 2003 to continue offering more than 60 varieties of Wisconsin cheese, Wisconsin sausage, hand-dipped ice cream cones, and various gifts.
“When the previous owners were thinking about retiring, I always thought this was a really cool store, and I wanted to continue the tradition of Wisconsin cheese here,” Miller said.
Despite the challenges of 2020, Miller said the cheese business stayed pretty steady.
“I probably saw fewer regular customers as often, but when they did come, they really stocked up, which was great,” he said.
A classic favorite from the cheese castle is an aged cheddar, but those wanting to try some of Wisconsin’s more than 600 varieties, types, and styles of cheese will also branch out with cranberry, olive, maple, or other unique flavors.
Through his job, Miller meets visitors from out of state who stop in to try the famous Wisconsin cheese. The peak time for these new guests is between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
“It’s almost like a requirement that they have to take cheese with them when they leave the state, so they are always excited to get it,” Miller said. “I think it is just a long-standing tradition knowing the quality of Wisconsin cheese is always top-notch. With so many unique flavors, it is a fun thing for people to try.”
Miller is a resource for people who have questions about the different cheese varieties and makes recommendations to help customers find a flavor that fits them.
“If you continue to buy Wisconsin cheese and continue to support dairy farmers, that would be beneficial to the whole state,” he said.
Nearly 90 percent of the milk produced in Wisconsin is made into cheese. Wisconsin cheesemakers make 26% of the nation’s cheese, producing 3.36 billion pounds in 2019, according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Wisconsin’s dairy industry generates $45.6 billion for the state’s economy.