This month’s featured cheese maker is Marieke Peterman of Holland’s Family Cheese, the business name for a very successful Wisconsin cheese brand and her namesake, Marieke Gouda. The busy staff and many visitors at the small complex she has established in Thorp, Wisconsin, 45 minutes east of Eau Claire, show the results of a very busy woman who has turned a childhood interest in cheese into an impressive venture.

The Marieke Gouda store is located on State Highway 29, which runs between Chippewa Falls and Green Bay and for some is the line between “northern” and “southern” Wisconsin. Outside stands a huge cow with “cheese” on its side – inside the blue and white-walled store is a huge set of award plaques and ribbons that would make any cheese maker proud. And in the almost 13 years since Marieke entered the U.S. artisan market, she has helped Wisconsin cement its relatively new reputation as a global artisan cheese powerhouse.

Marieke’s Roots

Marieke grew up near Weerslo, Netherlands, on eastern edge of the country, less than half-way between Amsterdam and Hannover, Germany. She lived on a dairy farm with a 60-cow herd. When she was young, she would go to the market and see a cheese monger who had a catchy rhyming slogan he would repeat to customers…one that Marieke remembers to this day. He also gave out samples, which attracted children like Marieke.

“I would eat a lot of cheese,” Marieke said.  “We had a lot of farmers markets.”

Out of grade school and into college, Marieke ended up with a degree in Dairy Business and then began work as a farm inspector. But she still remembered the tastes of those farmstead cheeses the farmers market vendor gave her, including that of a young Gouda. She decided to create a traditional Dutch Gouda in honor of those cheese flavors from childhood.

Marieke still returns to the Netherlands two times a year, sometimes with her five children.  She also maintains another connection to her roots by host student interns from the Netherlands in Thorp, who work on dairy or business projects for a few weeks or several months each year.

Marieke Penterman and Ken Monteleone of Fromagination
Fromagination owner Ken Monteleone credits Marieke Penterman with helping to fuel the great artisan cheese “wave” in Wisconsin.

Big Business in Thorp

The trajectory for growth of Marieke’s businesses seems relatively fast.  She arrived in Wisconsin in 2003, and decided to study cheese-making and become a Wisconsin-licensed cheese maker, and began production in 2006. She studied abroad, including back in her home, the Netherlands, and has not only brought authentic Gouda-making technique but also equipment back from there. She and her husband, Rolf, expanded and moved their facility in 2010, then broke ground for a store and restaurant in 2013.

While the shift to Wisconsin from the Netherlands has served her career goals, Marieke still prefers the Dutch climate over that of central Badgerland. “Nine months of winter!” Marieke said, “…and I’m still adjusting” But, from a business standpoint, she certainly seems to have figured how to make it work.

Opened in 2014, the rustic restaurant, Cafe Dutchess (get it?), and the Marieke Gouda store, with a blue and white interior, have become a tourist destination in Clark County.  The restaurant has an outdoor patio, a huge fiberglass cow stature bolted to a concrete slab, cow-shaped fiberglass benches, and a gigantic “jumping pillow” for children – all of which give the facility a tourist feel.  Now a member of WATA – the Wisconsin Agricultural Tourism Association – they give tours twice a day in the summer, but are closed on Sundays and holidays.

The store is equipped with large windows which give several views of the cheese-making process, including a storage facility where large wheels of Gouda sit on pine planks to age.  Visitors can watch employees wipe the planks on a regular basis and turn the wheels of cheese, which happens with less frequency as the cheese ages. Immediately next door is the dairy barn and milking facility (the milk runs underground by pipe into the cheese making facility behind the store.  Marieke’s “right hand” and general manager, Kim, reminds visitors that Clark County has more cows than human residents, and is a major dairy county in Wisconsin.

Store visitors can, of course, purchase Marieke Gouda cheeses, but also cheese curds, and the cheeses of several other Wisconsin producers, including nearby Lynn Dairy.  The extra milk not used to produce cheese in-house is sold to Lynn Dairy for its general cheese-making, but Kim said they dream of increasing production to the point that they eventually use all that milk on-site. To that end, they hope to hire sales managers on the East and West Coasts to boost domestic sales.

“We only need two months’ notice to ramp up production,” Marieke said with a smile.

Marieke Gouda is an artisan Wisconsin product now made in a wide variety of flavors…and sold in the U.S.A., and places such as Canada, Belgium, England and Spain.
Shop for Marieke Gouda products

Still Interested in the Work

In 2006, Fromagination owner Ken Monteleone was in the early stages of developing his business plan when he met Marieke at a workshop in Wausau.  According to Ken, meeting her just fired up his desire to open a shop that would tell her story and those of cheese makers like her.  In 2007, Marieke was one of the first cheese makers Fromagination featured in the front window of the shop.

“It’s been exciting to follow Marieke’s career in the short time she has taken the cheese world by storm,” Ken said.  “Her passion and personality – along with the wonderful Goudas she creates – make me want to tell everyone about her.”

What is Marieke’s biggest competition now?  She says it’s the cheaper, imported Goudas from Holland that are sold in the U.S. market.  In turn, but, perhaps, she will return the favor. Marieke now has an interest in sending a little competition back to the Netherlands and has discussed supplying cheese to a market chain in Amsterdam. Holland’s Family Cheese has not yet worked out some shipping issues to achieve that goal.

Holland’s Family Cheese was very lucky when it entered the cheese business, Marieke said.  The artisan cheese market was being revitalized and growing, and they took advantage of the new interest from the incipient “foodie” movement and the cheese-eating public.

“The consumer was ready for some specialty, farmstead cheese, They were willing to pay more for hand-crafted cheese,” Marieke said. “Now Wendy’s (chain restaurant) advertises Gouda on the burgers.”

Marieke made a short list of things she considers the keys to her success, ending with a smile and the last of those components: “Stubborness.”  In between, she talked of the importance of hiring good employees and letting them do their jobs, and making sure her artisan cheese inventory is tightly controlled.  She does not want to see her cheeses discounted at Costco, she said.

“At the end, you have to follow what you think is the best path to go on,” she said.

Rolf Penterman

On the wall in a hallway of the Penterman Farm’s milking facility is a mural which explains a key component of Marieke’s success.  It’s a simple painting of cows running out into pasture, one of them kicking up its heels in the green grass on a sunny day.  But under the mural are painted the words Vrolijke Koeien, which translates to English as “happy cows.”  And the cows at the Holland’s Family Farm facility do, indeed, seem content. The milk they constantly produce has put Rolf’s partner in position to make some highly acclaimed cheese…and she is well aware of that.

Rolf Penterman arrived in the United States with his brother in 2002 to start a dairy business in Clark County.  (Marieke arrived a year later.) He is the man behind the vrolijke koeien, whether it’s giving a tour to school children who get to see calves being born, or explaining the rotating “cow brush” – like something one might see at a car wash – which attracts lines of cows who want to feel it scrubbing their various parts.  He monitors the health of herd members with ankle monitors and cow “Fitbits” in their ears. He seems genuinely proud of his healthy herd, which is just a few steps away from the store and restaurant.

Marieke and Rolf’s attitude towards their dairy herd is well-summarized on the Holland’s Family Cheese website: “We treat our cows with love and respect; it is a code we live by on the farm. In turn our herd provides us with full-flavored, remarkably consistent milk. Our cows relax in the sand in our free-stall barns. They have rotating back-scratcher brushes, sprinkler systems and fans to keep them cool. We like to call it the Cow Spa.”

Rolf Penterman is one reason Marieke came to Wisconsin…and the man who keeps the cows happy…and the milk flowing.

After putting on sanitary booties, Rolf took visitors through the barn to see the herd, made up of Brown Swiss and Holstein dairy cattle.  The dairy staff milk a herd of more than 400 cows three times every day, at 5:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.  According to Rolf, it takes between seven and eight minutes to “empty” a cow, who then returns to eating and sleeping on a sand bed in the barn until its next date in the automated milking parlor.

The State of the Cheese Industry and the Milk Market

From those healthy and contented looking cows comes 40,000 pounds of milk.  It takes 8.5 pounds of milk to create one pound of cheese, and Marieke Gouda employees make two batches of cheese each day. Within five hours of milking, the cheese-making process has already begun. Marieke mentioned again a desire to use all that milk on-site someday.

Rolf dreams of a special calf barn just to keep his “new arrivals” out of the rough weather during central Wisconsin winters, but that is a facility that must be budgeted for…and the challenges of the cheese industry don’t make that easy. Lots of small farms are closing or being bought out in Wisconsin, Rolf said. The current and severe depression of milk prices puts even more pressure on those involved in the dairy industry.  When prices are down, farmers can’t put the source of their income in mothballs and wait.  “You can’t stop milking the cows just because business is down,” he said.

The artisan cheese business is changing again too, according to Marieke. “The small ones are getting bought out,” she said. “If we’re losing the small farmers, we’re losing the heart and soul of the dairy industry.”  They have had offers to buy out their business too, but Marieke and Rolf have turned those down.

Holland’s Family Cheese has a calving area that supports many new “recruits” to its dairy herd.

Awards & Recognition

To understand Marieke’s trajectory in the cheese business, it is instructive to understand how she got legal resident status in the United States. As she told the story of how she got into the cheese-making business, Rolf reminded Marieke how she came to stay in the U.S.  She smiled and mentions what she called “the extraordinary ability route” to stay in the United States.  And that day she reminded Fromagination owner Ken Monteleone that he wrote a letter of support for her to gain that visa.

Marieke decided to apply for a 0-1 Visa, a visa status normally reserved for professors or athletes.  The U.S. Citizen & Immigration Services (USCIS) website explains, “Extraordinary ability in the fields of science, education, business or athletics means a level of expertise indicating that the person is one of the small percentage who has risen to the very top of the field of endeavor.” After a long process, she received the visa…and proudly said that she was the first cheese maker to receive it.

Marieke is no stranger to recognition for her cheese-making prowess.  She won her first significant award in 2007, just four months after making her first Gouda cheese.  In 2011, she was awarded the Grand Master Cheesemaker at the Wisconsin State Fair. In 2013, she captured the U.S. Cheese Championship, held in Green Bay, with her Mature Gouda. That wall in her store, with mentions from American Cheese Society competitions, the Wisconsin State Fair and other contests, looks very much like it will continue to be decorated.

This year, after placing two of her cheeses in the top 20 finalists, she lost the U.S. Cheese Championship by .124 of a point to an Ohio cheese maker’s Baby Swiss.  But she not only took 2nd place, but also 3rd place, among those final 20 competitors.

In 2019, Marieke Gouda not only took the Best of Class Award, but placed two cheeses in the top 20, then the top 3, losing the Champion title by a mere .124 of a point.

As a result, in early March CBS’ “Sunday Morning” television program featured Marieke in a story.  The company received as many orders online in the first two days following that program as it had during all of 2018 online.   

So…which one of her cheeses is her favorite?  Marieke rolled her eyes slightly and replied, “All of them!  They’re like your children.”

We are proud to have her as Fromagination’s Featured Cheese Maker of the month. 

After the huge success of our Winter Cheese Classes, we have put together a brand new series of classes based around the theme of Spring. 

Starting May 9th for 10 weeks, our new Spring Cheese Classes will take you on a culinary journey around the world, where you will learn all about the various cheese delicacies and ancient cheese making methods as well as a whole new collection of Cheese pairing experiences! 

What are Fromagination Cheese Classes?

Fromagination Cheese Classes are exclusive learning experiences that take place “After Hours”, once the shop is closed. During these classes, you will learn about how the cheese is made, what are the best ways of eating delicious cheeses, which are the meats, wines and beers that make the best pairings for your favorite cheese. You will also learn how to cut and present cheese, meats, crackers and companions the Fromagination way.

Most importantly however, you will get to share a wonderful moment with your friends and family while tasting cheese. What more could you possibly want?

All classes will take place in our store in downtown Madison, WI, on the Capitol Square, in the Heart of the Dairy State. Set in our amazing store, Fromagination, offers the picture-perfect location to learn all there is to know about cheeses from our wonderful state and from around the world.

Fromagination features summer cheese boards

The classes series are as follows:


A. Cheeses of the World series

The cheese of the world series will bring to light some of the greatest cheese from Europe, and will highlight the social and historical elements that make cheese so special in these regions. 

  • 05/09/19 – Cheese of the British Isles – Take a culinary tour of the British Isles (1 of 5)
  • 05/23/19 – Queso, por favor – Class on Spanish cheeses (2 of 5)
  • 06/06/19 – Dammi Il Formaggio – Class on all things Italian Cheese (3 of 5)
  • 06/20/19 – Vive le Fromage!! Class on all things French Cheese (4 of 5)
  • 07/02/19 – Welkom in Nederland Class on Dutch Cheeses (5 of 5)

B. Entertaining with Cheese Series:

In this series of classes, we will take your knowledge of cheese pairing to a whole new level. You will learn how to find the best pairing and the greatest combinations for you favorite cheeses and companions as well as learning how to experiment with cheese and pairings. 

  • 05/16/19 – Tea & Cheese – Mixing ancient traditions (1 of 5) read more about Tea & Cheese Pairing
  • 05/30/19 – Cheese with Wine – Class on choosing the perfect combinations (2 of 5)
  • 06/13/19 – Cheese & Cocktails – Class on how to pair Cheese with Cocktails (3 of 5)
  • 06/25/19 – Cheese & Crackers –  Class on how to pair Cheese, Crackers and Bread (4 of 5)
  • 07/09/19 – Cheese & Beer Class on how to choose great Cheese & Beer combinations (5 of 5)

Read all about our Spring Classes right here

Why Fromagination Cheese Classes?

These exclusive events are the perfect opportunity to wind down after a long day at work, to sit down and relax in a calm environment surrounded by fellow cheese lovers.

Fromagination Cheese Classes are perfect for Date Nights or to just hang out with friends.

The Fromagination Cheese Classes are intended to be shared, that is why we offer special prices to help you enjoy this experience with your favorite people.

Furthermore, all participant will receive a 15% discount on all cheese and meats and on all other food products in the store. 

Visit our website to reserve a seat at the table for you and your loved ones or for anyone in the Madison area who you know loves cheese.

Our exclusive Fromagination After Hours Classes will begin in February but are all available for purchase this holiday season, right in time for Christmas.

If you are therefore looking for a perfect gift for a cheese loving friend or family member, look no further.

Find Classes right here!

Learn how to do things the Fromagination way!

Fromagination’s Matriarch

Our featured Cheesemonger for the month of April is Kristi O’Brien. Kristi is Fromagination’s most seasoned cheesemongers and matriarch.

We sat down with her and asked her to tell us a little more about herself!

How long have you worked at Fromagination?

I have worked for Fromagination for a number of years, not since the inception but shortly thereafter. I have enjoyed my work here immensely and as a result of working here for the duration that I have gotten to know a lot of loyal customers and getting to know them on a first name basis, that creates a more personable interaction with my customers.

What is it you do here?

My title is cheesemonger. In addition to advising customers on styles of cheese or helping them with their needs, I take care of the cheeses in the cases, I look for imperfections and try to elevate the standards that we have here for our cheeses and companions. I do other things here; such as compose the cheese of the month letter every month. And try to advise my fellow cheese mongers, find out what they need from me and get what I need form them.

One thing I enjoy I giving customers tips about pairing cheeses, especially when they are thinking of putting together a cheese board. I’d recommend using cheeses of different milk types or different textures, and definitely try to include a blue cheese on the board. I can’t stress enough the importance of having something salty, sweet and savoury on the board. Having salty olives and sweet chocolate makes for an interesting dining experience.

Kristi with a customer

You have a culinary background, why make the shift from restaurants to a specialty cheese store?

I was at a point in time where I wanted to make a change, take an other direction. When I heard that Fromagination had just opened, I pictured myself working the front of house, as opposed to working in the back in the kitchen. It’s been wonderful in term of interacting with different kinds of customers and personalities. I’ve also learned that I actually enjoy it. This keeps me more social compared to when I work in the back.

How much has Fromagination changed in the time that you’ve been here?

Fromagination has changed immensely! We are extremely focused on locally produced items and therefore consider ourselves very fortunate to have a number of artisans here in the city that make companions to pair with cheeses. Everything from honey to preserves, to crackers, to chocolate. We are really blessed here in Madison that we have such a wide variety of artisans. I think Madison has come a long way by having these producers in the last 10 years, and frankly I look forward to the next 10 years for this industry. Fromagination has been able to centralize all these amazing products, given some of these artisans a platform, and worked together to help curate the Fromagination identity. We have researched many producers, and we have therefore chosen the best of the best that the area has to offer.

What are your top picks?

Some of my top picks would include the Pleasant Ridge Reserve, from Uplands Cheese, from Dodgeville Wi. It’s a tremendous cheese, it has won numerous awards, but this is one of my personal top cheeses. Collective Goods Rye Crackers is another item that I really enjoy, especially pairing with cheeses, it’s a thin delicate rye cracker made locally. William Marx Chocolate, also actually pairs really well with a number of cheeses. Who knew cheese and chocolate would pair so well together? Quince & Apple’s Orange marmalade with Lemon is another one of my favorites. I really like that hint of lemon that gives it that kick, it pairs well with Gouda’s, Blue Cheeses)

Kristi with Noelle and Andy

Have you noticed a change in how people eat cheese?

People are getting much more adventurous when it comes to cheese now. Above all, there has been a huge artisan cheese movement and people are willing to branch out and be more adventurous and less cautious. It really is a matter of trial and error. People are also starting to really notice that cheesemakers go to great lengths to develop wonderful flavors within the cheeses and I believe that people are just more comfortable eating more of these artisan cheeses. Much more so that in the last 10 years. It’s just wonderful to watch people’s expressions on their faces when they decided to try something they wouldn’t ordinarily and remark that it’s something very enjoyable.

What is the latest cheese pairing that has really surprised you?

Actually, trying to pair cheese with licorice for instance. Licorice is quite strong and is therefore not to be paired with something mild. The rule of thumb is to pair something strong with a strong flavor. Therefore, licorice pairs extremely well with aged gouda. In some capacities it pairs very well. Just to be clear, I’m talking about the Scandinavian style, very salty licorice. As far as I’m concerned there is only one kind of licorice. It is not for the faint of heart!

In conclusion, come on down to Fromagination if you want to discuss cheese and companions with Kristi!

This month’s featured cheese maker is Sid Cook of Carr Valley Cheese. Carr Valley is arguably Wisconsin’s most prolifically successful cheesemaking company. With over 100 different kinds of dairy products and close to 800 national and international cheesemaking awards, it is hard to view Carr Valley as anything other than incredible.

Founded in 1883, Carr Valley Cheese has been making handcrafted cheese for over 125 years. Now, four generations down the road, Sid has taken cheese making to a whole new level. Back in 1982, Sid Cook saw an opportunity to make something other than what was mostly produced back then and createdCarr Valley’s first artisan cheese. It can be argued that his vision and desire to innovate with cheese has paved the way for future generations of cheese makers, and has helped shape the recent artisan cheese movement, as well as redefining the landscape of cheese making in the state of Wisconsin.  

Carr Valley Cheese prides itself on using only locally sourced milks of the highest quality and from trusted farmers. They make close to 5 million pounds of cheese every year.

Sit down with Sid Cook

Sid and Chris

Sid Cook is a very hard man to pin down. He makes daily rounds of all four cheese production plants to oversee production. His never wavering dedication to his passion is a strong indicator of the kind of man he is. After over 50 years of cheese making, Sid is clearly as dedicated as ever and much to our relief has absolutely no intention of retiring any time soon.  Meaning that we will be able to enjoy his innovative cheese making for many more years to come.

We were lucky enough to be able to sit down with him and his national sales rep, Elle Fearing after a guided tour of their LaValle production plant. We were then treated to a cheese tasting that would put all other cheese tastings to shame.

Read our conversation with Sid Cook below:   

Where do you get most of your inspiration?

“Well, years ago, growing up in a cheese factory, we made Cheddar, Colby, Monterey jack and muenster. I always thought that if I had an opportunity to sell other cheeses, I would sure like to make them. And so, back in about 1982, we made our first artisan cheese. I had an opportunity to sell it but I didn’t have a store where I could do the things I wanted to do. So in 1986 I bought this factory and had a small cheese store. That enabled us to start making a lot of different things, because back in those days, people buying cheese from us would never want to buy a goat or sheep’s milk cheese. It was having a market, having people interested in these different kinds of cheeses that gave us the inspiration.

When we first started making artisan cheese, we started by sending out samples to chefs. And then we made it onto their menus. And the people we sold our cheese to (Colby, Cheddar, Monterey…) weren’t interested in buying our artisan cheese. There really was no market for it. We had to make the market. A lot of chefs started coming to our stores to buy our cheese and that’s kinda how it all started.

Of which Carr Valley cheese are you most proud?

We make over 100 different dairy products and so it depends on a point in time. The Mobay is a fantastic cheese, it’s a pun on the French cheese Morbier, we do a layer goat milk and layer of sheep milk separated with a line of ash.  Whereas the Morbier is just cows milk. It’s a completely different cheese. The idea behind separating the goat and the sheep was to give the cheese three different flavor profiles. It’s a beautiful looking cheese, you can really see the difference between the two kinds of milk used.  

The first time we had shown the cheese was at the American Cheese Society in San Francisco, and the reason it didn’t get best in show was because they thought something was wrong with it because of the two colors! They didn’t realise it was sheep and goat!

We’ve got some really great cheeses, we love our bread cheeses, we’ve got excellent blue cheeses, and we do a great job with our goat milk cheeses. To date, we are at about 771 national and international cheeses and we just won 11 at the US contest. With all the awards we’ve won we kind of limit ourselves to the number of competitions we enter. We don’t enter American Cheese Society anymore. Our best showing there was 29 awards. That year the entire state of California got 32, Carr Valley got 29.

Carr Valley is essentially its own cheese state!

We’ve got a bunch of really great products, and so I’m proud of about 50 of them. The Cranberry Chipotle is excellent, the Cocoa Cardona, we do a great job with our truffle cheeses. Our bread cheeses are excellent. We’re coming out with reserve Gouda and reserve cheddar. Both of those are amazing. We’re very proud of our smoked cheeses. We’ve been very innovative with these cheeses. We’ve had a smoker for 25 years. We do cold smoking. In 1999 I got a fire lit under me, and I was going to do all these other cheeses because by then we had two or three stores and we could really market and have a reputation for great product. Really start selling.

Fromagination features Carr Valley cheeses
From left to right: Mobay, Cave Aged Marisa, Cocoa Cardona, Wildfire Glacier Blue, Caso Bolo

Which Cheese was the hardest to perfect?

Probably the Maustoner. That is a really, really great cheese. It’s kind of an in-between Gouda and Baby Swiss, it has some flavored notations of both cheeses, and it’s just really a pretty wonderful cheese that’s been around for around 25 years, but has only really taken off in the last six months.

To what would you credit your prolonged success?

There are a lot of great people and cheese makers that work with us. So many master cheese makers only get to make one or two cheeses, a lot of the people that work for them are in the same situation. Our cheese makers on the other hand are really happy about what they do because they do so many different things. That makes work so much more interesting day after day. We’re very hands on too.

Can you sense a change in the way that people consume cheese and the flavors they are looking for?

Oh, sure! I think people are more and more conscious about calories. If you’re going to consume calories, you might as well want it to taste good. Why would you go for a slice of Mozzarella when you could have something that really tastes good? It just makes sense! If you’re going to have 20 people around a table, there will be 5 different favorites, everybody else is going to line up. Several people won’t try the blue cheese, some people won’t like anything with pepper or truffle. Having a variety is important because then you have something for everyone.

Fresh Wheels of Carr Valley Cheese

It must be an exciting time to be making cheese.

Yes! It’s awesome. It’s awesome for us. But it might not be awesome for the person that is making 20 pounds once a week and trying to sell it at the local farmer’s market. It’s not great for a person that has spent 300 thousand dollars on a new farm, did all the regulatory thing, put the milk into it and then they have to go age and sell the product. It is a real eye opener, because everybody thinks that there is a lot of money in the cheese business, but it’s really slow money. It’s a lifetime commitment, not the sort of thing that you can just jump in and succeed. It’s not like software, it’s slow going. We have some cheeses that aren’t sold yet but that are 18 years old.

What’s next for Carr Valley?

Well, we’re doing butters. We are also doing the reserve Gouda and reserve Cheddar. That’ll be pretty beautiful. The label will be embedded in the cheese.

You’re a 4th generation cheese maker, will you be able to pass it on?

We have a few step kids in the business, we’ll see. But I’m really not thinking about passing it on right now, I’m having fun. There are still plenty of things I want to do. I’m not thinking about cashing out yet. I mean it would be great if it could continue because we’ve got a lot of really good young people. We’ve got a young master cheese maker. We have people of all ages involved. We’ve even got some 14 year olds that are selling cheese here on the weekend. That’s actually how I got this gal here (points to Elle), she was selling cheese here when she was 14. She went off to college and I said, “When you graduate, let me know because I have a job for you”. It worked out pretty well!

Sid and Master Cheese Maker Bob

With our master cheese maker, it’s the same thing. He wanted to go to college to study engineering. When he thought about quitting, I told him “If you finish, I’ll hire you”.  It’s important to surround yourself with intelligent people.

Do you still have creative control over the recipes?

Oh yeah! At least I think I do. Every once in a while somebody is changing stuff or doing something that they shouldn’t be doing and we’ve got to catch them.

What can you tell us about your relationship with Fromagination?

I like Ken, what’s not to like? Very likeable! I’ve been in the store a few times but I try to stay out of Madison. I prefer the countryside, no traffic, I like a nice, quiet life. I’m not real big on cities, so I don’t get out all that much. I think he’s got a great store; I think it’s a great thing he does sandwiches. Fromagination really represents what’s going on, he’s done a really nice job and good for him”.

For someone who has won as many awards as he has and been making cheese as long as he has, Sid Cook is clearly as passionate as ever about cheese. After our conversation, he comes across as someone who genuinely cares about the products he creates as well as the people who work for him. He encapsulates what it means to be an artisan cheese maker and thanks to him, Carr Valley is its own cheese State.

 We are proud to have him as Fromagination’s Featured Cheese Maker of the month. 

An Unconventional Pairing

When you think of cheese pairings, you think wine, beer, crackers, preserves, chocolate or olives. Those are all amazing pairings. There is however, a new pairing that has many cheesemongers and other cheese fanatics very excited. Tea and cheese!

The idea of pairing tea and cheese is somewhat unconventional. The variance in temperature and flavors may be cause for concern but when taking a closer look at what makes tea so special, the reasoning behind this pairing doesn’t seem so far fetched.

Indeed, much like wine, many teas are high in tannins, have different degrees in astringency and even have their own specific terroir. The aromas and flavors of high quality tea will, similarly to wine, depend on the soil, weather and local climate as well as the methods used to dry and cure the tea leaves.

Tea and cheese: The pairing that works both ways

The one quality that makes tea stand out from all other pairings is the warmth. The high temperature of the tea will amplify the earthy, sweet, fruity, and pungent flavors of the cheese that other pairings might not.

The amazing thing about pairing tea and cheese is the fact that it works both ways. The smoothness of the cheese will often curb the astringency of the tea, and in turn awaken the complex floral, fruity and smokey notes that would otherwise go unnoticed.

Tea and cheese are very similar in function. Much like cheese, tea is more often than not the focal point of any “dégustation”. When pairing cheese, we often look for companions that will amplify, improve and sometimes exaggerate the flavors of the cheese. For example, it is unlikely to pair cheese and honey for the purpose of amplifying the flavors of the honey. It is therefore very uncommon to find a pairing that allows maximum enjoyment of both pairings individually. The reciprocity is what makes this pairing so wonderfully unique.

Pairing Tips

Black teas: Black teas generally have the most tannins. It is recommended therefore to pair them with soft and creamy cheese. This will balance out the bold flavors and astringency. A strong blue cheeses will on the other hand rival it’s strength (Hook’s Original Blue or Barneveld Blue).

Green teas: Green teas are less oxidized than black teas and therefore have fewer tannins. As a result, these teas are best paired with semi soft cheeses. You can also use your cup of green tea as an excuse to indulge in a soft goat cheese or a triple cream (Fresh Chevre or Humbolt Fog)!

Herbal teas: These teas are very mild and contain close to no tannins. Because they are made from berries, fruits, flowers, or roots, it is important to take their dominant flavors into account when pairing with a cheese. With such teas we recommend pairing them with young milky goudas, fresh goat cheese or a brie (Fresh Chevre, Little Lucy Brie or Marieke Gouda)

Bellocq Teas

In order to provide Fromagination patrons with the best possible cheese and tea pairing experience we have partnered with Bellocq Tea Atelier out of Brooklyn, NYC.

Bellocq Tea Atelier is a little specialty tea shop tucked away in a quiet corner of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. They specialize in whole leaf, organic and herbal bland teas. Tea is rapidly becoming the new Foodie craze and Bellocq is definitely leading the way in terms of quality, variety and flavor. Fromagination is the exclusive retailer in Madison, we will carry their full leaf teas in a variety of packaging (Kraft box, Bellocq Signature Yellow Box and Yellow Tea Caddies) in addition to their preserves and honey sourced from Hawaii.

The Teas we Carry

Black Teas: No  1 Bellocq Breakfast, No 18 Afghani Chai, No 22 National Parks Dpt, No 35 The Earl Grey, No 47 The Queens Guard.

Green /White Teas: No 10 Jasmine Silver Needles, No 20 Kikuya, No 38 Majorelle Mint, No 45 The White Wolf.

Puerh Teas: No 16 Golden Puerh.

Herbal: No 42 Little Dickens, No 121 Canyon Chai, No 31 Siam Basil Lemongrass.

Matcha: No 80 Green Matcha

We will be hosting an exclusive cheese and tea pairing class as part of our spring class series. Make sure to keep an eye out, date to be determined.

Our team of cheesemongers are passionate about this new pairing, and are excited to share it with you. Make sure to come visit Fromagination to experience this incredible new cheese pairing!!

Do you know someone who loves cheese, meats and companions? Do you have family in the Madison area? Do you have kids studying at the University of Wisconsin? Are you looking for the perfect gift for them this holiday season?

We have the solution for you.

This holiday season, we are offering our you the possibility to learn how it is we do things, through our exclusive Fromagination After Hours Classes. Few people love cheese as much as we do, and we want to share our passion and knowledge with you.

What are Fromagination After Hours Classes?

Fromagination After Hours Classes are exclusive learning experiences that take place “After Hours”, once the shop is closed. During these classes, you will learn about how the cheese is made, what are the best ways of eating delicious cheeses, which are the meats, wines and beers that make the best pairings for your favorite cheese. You will also learn how to cut and present cheese, meats, crackers and companions the Fromagination way.

Most importantly however, you will get to share a wonderful moment with your friends and family while tasting cheese. What more could you possibly want?

All classes will take place in our store in downtown Madison, WI, on the Capitol Square, in the Heart of the Dairy State. Set in our amazing store, Fromagination, offers the picture-perfect location to learn all there is to know about cheeses from our wonderful state and from around the world.

Fromagination features summer cheese boards

The classes are as follow:

Cheese Pairing Course: Five Classes featuring Artisan Guests.

The cheese pairing course will bring to light all the best companions for you favorite cheeses. Each course will include demonstrations on how to cut and present cheese, as well as a sampling of cheese with their perfect companions.

  • 02/05/19 – Cheese Pairings – Class on how to find the best pairings for your favorite cheese (1 of 5).
  • 02/12/19 – Cheese & Chocolate – Class on how to pair and enjoy chocolate & cheese. A Valentine’s Day Special!! (2 of 5).
  • 03/05/19 – Cheese with Wine & Beer – Class on how to pair and enjoy wine & beer with cheese (3 of 5).
  • 03/19/19 – The Butcher Special – Class on how to choose, cut and present charcuterie into a perfect charcuterie board (4 of 5).
  • 04/02/19 – Cheesemonger’s Pride – Class on how to choose, cut, present cheese into a perfect cheese board and create the perfect cheese experience (5 of 5).

Graduation Ceremony (04/02/19): For those who take part in all 5 classes, be ready to receive an amazing surprise!!

Cheese Science:

All classes will include explanation on what kind of milk they use and how they age the cheese. Each class will also include some sampling of the cheeses being demonstrated.

  • 02/19/19 – Grand Tour – A tour of cheeses from all around the world (Alps, Spain, England and Wisconsin) (1 of 5).
  • 02/26/19 – Fromage, please – Class on Alpine cheeses  (2 of 5).
  • 03/12/19 – Queso, por favor – Class on Spanish cheeses (3 of 5).
  • 03/26/19 – God Save the cheese – Class on all things English cheese  (4 of 5).
  • 04/09/19 – Becoming Dairyland – Class on the history of Wisconsin Cheese (5 of 5).

Graduation Ceremony (04/09/19): For those who take part in all 5 classes, be ready to receive an amazing surprise!!

Why Fromagination After Hours Classes?

These exclusive events are the perfect opportunity to wind down after a long day at work, to sit down and relax in a calm environment surrounded by fellow cheese lovers.

Fromagination After Hours Classes are perfect for Date Nights or to just hang out with friends.

The Fromagination After Hours Classes are intended to be shared, that is why we offer special prices to help you enjoy this experience with your favorite people.

  • Class x 1 = $35
  • Class x 2 = $70
  • Class x 3 = $105
  • Class x 4 = $140
  • Class x 5 = $166.25
  • Class x 6 = $199.50
  • Class x 7 = $232.75
  • Class x 8 = $266
  • Class x 9 = $299.25
  • Class x 10 = $315

Whether you purchase tickets for one class or for multiple classes, the bulk discount applies to all!

Furthermore, all participant will receive a 20% discount on all cheese and meats used during the classes as well as a 10% discount on all other food products in the store. 

Visit our website to reserve a seat at the table for you and your loved ones or for anyone in the Madison area who you know loves cheese.

Our exclusive Fromagination After Hours Classes will begin in February but are all available for purchase this holiday season, right in time for Christmas.

If you are therefore looking for a perfect gift for a cheese loving friend or family member, look no further.

Buy your Class Pass right here!

Learn how to do things the Fromagination way!

Andres started out not knowing much about Wisconsin cheese culture, but now he is a seven-month cheesemonger at Fromagination.  

“Well, I didn’t know a whole a lot about cheese,” he said. “I felt like this was a good way really to acquaint myself with the world of cheese.”

Andres had already decided why Fromagination was his first pick for employment.

“I always enjoyed coming into the shop. I feel like the environment and the atmosphere Ken [Monteleone, Fromagination’s founder] is trying to convey here in the shop is just the kind of place I wanted to be apart of.”

A cheesemonger’s first day on the job is always a chance to learn.  Andres arrived at the shop in early March.

“It was a learning experience,” Andres said. “There were so many kinds of cheese towards winter. It was a relaxed day and I got time and attention to my training.”

According to some customers, Andres has already become an expert!

“I made a cheese plate for some people…actually I made a few cheese plates and they loved them. They were calling me ‘the cheesemaster’ and they were just overjoyed,” he said. “It felt good to be able to make people feel like that.”

But Andres hasn’t always been in the Wisconsin cheese community.

“In South Dakota, [I] worked with kids, [and] graduated school for art…I’m a painter. Met my wife here, and now I work at a cheese shop.”

As with most cheesemongers, Andres has his favorite cheesemakers, one of whom lives here in Dane County and founded Bleu Mont Dairy.

“Willi Lehner, he’s my favorite cheesemaker. I’m sure there are a lot of really cool, awesome people making cheese, but Willi really appeals to my…I guess, independent spirit, and [it] doesn’t hurt that all of the cheeses he makes are basically like my favorite cheese.”

Andres thinks that cheese is a universally popular food.

“Cheese is one of those things where you know even if you don’t have much experience with it… [I] mean it’s delicious,” he said. “And it’s not really an acquired taste…it is an acquired taste, but I would say a lot of cheese isn’t. It’s the kind of thing anybody can pick up and recognize, ‘Wow, this is amazing,’ you know?”

And what is Andres’ favorite part of the cheesemonger job, you may ask?

“Being able to help people find what they love and the joy on their faces,” he said.


Greg has been part of the kitchen staff at Fromagination since it opened more than 10 years ago. He was drawn to the shop because of his family legacy in dairy farming.

“All of my relatives were dairy farmers when I was a kid. Even when I was a little boy I lived in a cheese factory for a while. My relatives had one of the very first herds of Holsteins cows so that’s what I grew up around. It was very natural to step into it. Then we had our own flower shop, then that closed down and Ken was opening a store, so it was a nice transition. And I needed a new job and I talked cheese so…,” he said.

His trial period at Fromagination was different from other staff members because he was one of the very first employees.

“None of us knew what to expect because it was just opening, so we didn’t know how busy it was going to be. It was pretty busy because we opened in the fall…we had…Thanksgiving and Christmas on the way so it was kind of exciting because it was all new.”

Day-to-day, Greg is often answering the phone at the shop, taking orders and making sure other employees get messages.  Especially during the December holidays, we should call him the “Voice Of Fromagination.”

To make customers happy, you meet their expectations and surprise them, Greg said. “Find your favorite cheese and don’t mess with it again,” he often says.

One of Greg’s favorite cheeses is also a favorite of many customers – Pleasant Ridge Reserve, from Uplands Cheese.  He cuts a lot of that cheese to make the cheese and charcuterie trays that Fromagination sells for events.

“I love traditional, soft-ripened washed rind cheeses too,” he said.  One of those, Rush Creek Reserve, is also from Upland Cheese, sold at Fromagination traditionally during the December holidays.

Greg is a chef and has long maintained an interest in fine foods. He has done catering and makes impressive, elegant desserts and appetizers.  When asked the key to making food visually attractive – such as Fromagination’s cheese trays – he sounds more like an artist that is opening his paints.

“It’s the same way I would arrange flowers, decorate a Christmas tree…or other projects.  It’s about contrasting textures and flavors…it’s just all about inter-relationship so that it puts everything into its best light.”

And like Greg’s creations, the Fromagination staff has become one of various talents and interests that make Fromagination an interesting place to work.


Kristi is a long-time cheesemonger at Fromagination, starting her cheese sales position two and a half years after the shop opened in 2007.

Customer service and finding the best cheese for particular customers is Kristi’s focus. Before Fromagination, she cooked in several restaurants and a private school. But she always wanted to work with dairy.

“The reason why I wanted to work in the food industry was to be able to support Wisconsin dairy and agriculture by working in artisan cheese shops that would give me the opportunity to become more aware of our cheesemakers.”

As the artisan cheese movement has grown, it has been a process to learn the ropes.

“My first day was a little overwhelming. My coworkers were very instrumental in teaching me things, and slowly but surely I learned how it worked here.”

Kristi has to know what cheeses will fit the customer she’s talking to in order to provide the best experience.

“I think my work ethic is strong,” she said. “I also think to make a happy customer is to go above and beyond. I call it my ‘surprise and delight’.”

Kristi likes to make it easy for her customers to reach that delightful moment.

“The best part of Fromagination is working with the customer, tending to their needs and recommending things they would have never thought of. It’s a little overwhelming and intimidating for some people, so I like to kind of narrow it down so it’s easier for customers to make choices that way.”

But Kristi has her favorites if you ask her what she likes.

“My favorite pairing is our signature cranberry relish with a nice sharp cheddar.”

Outside the shop, she likes reading, cooking at home and taking care of her pets.

“I try to encourage people to ‘Love cheese more’,” said Kristi, echoing Fromagination’s tagline.

Fromagination assisted with a world record on Wednesday, August 1!  The world’s largest cheese board was assembled in downtown Madison…and we helped!

4,437 pounds of cheese came to the Capitol Square – engineered by Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin (formerly the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board) to break the Guinness Book of World Records’ mark, previously set in the Netherlands.

Assembled on a huge cheese “board” on King Street, directly east of the Capitol Square, the gigantic display was seven feet wide and 35 feet long!  2000 guests received a curated cheese plate with Wisconsin cheeses chosen by Fromagination.  Others were invited to bid on wheels of cheese for a raffle that benefited the Great American Milk Drive.

Fromagination’s owner and general manager, Ken Monteleone (picture above on an optical illusional chunk of cheese), helped coordinate the cheese cutting, which took place next to the Fromagination shop at Madison’s Park Hotel.  He was there at 6:00 a.m. to make sure that the Guinness representative saw all the cheese officially weighed before it was delivered to the street display.

“It was a long day,” Monteleone said, “but it was an impressive display of Wisconsin’s flagship export, artisan cheese!  And lots of people got to taste some very delicious cheeses.”

The leftover cheese was donated to Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin, which provides food to people in need.