One of the popular creations at Clock Shadow Creamery in Milwaukee's historic Walker's Point is Quark.
Quark, a low-calorie, high-protein ingredient and spread has many uses and is beginning to catch on in the world of cheese.
Quark is more specifically a fresh, un-ripened soft cheese belonging to the acid set cheese group, meaning it is traditionally made without the aid of rennet.
Made from skim milk, Quark is often used as an ingredient for cheesecake, spread on a bagel, as a topping for waffles or added to soup or dips.
Cheesemaker Ron Henningfeld says, "It's a German-style fresh creamy cheese. We start with milk and it gets thick like a pudding. Then we put it in cloth bags and drain off the liquid. It's a 27-hour process."
Clock Shadow Quark was the first cheese made by this downtown Milwaukee creamery.
It is available in the creamery's retail store and through Milwaukee-area retailers, Chicago's Pastoral Artisan Cheese, and online at www.Wisconsin-Made.com.
Quark is sold in eight-ounce containers and wholesale sizes and has a three-week refrigerated shelf life. It can be frozen.
Clock Shadow Creamery also makes cheese curds, available hours after production and the retail store offers 60 different varieties of Wisconsin cheese to its customers.
As a separate entity, Purple Door Ice Cream is also made in the processing room there and sold in the store.
URBAN CHEESE PLANT
"The vision of Clock Shadow Creamery," according to Henningfeld, "is to partner with area dairy farms in order to have a close relationship that benefits both our cheese and the farm families."
Cedar Grove Cheese at Plain is the parent company of Clock Shadow Creamery.
Henningfeld grew up on a dairy farm at East Troy and says his first experience making cheese was on his Mom's stove top.
The Milwaukee cheese plant processes about 7,200 pounds of milk on Mondays and Tuesdays from the Koepke Farms at Oconomowoc.
Koepke says, "We ship our milk through Dairy Farmers of America and it goes out on tankers that are filled directly as we milk our 330 cows. The milk that goes into LaBelle cheese is collected in a separate tank and hauled to Milwaukee with a smaller truck."
He said a semi-tanker truck would never be able to unload in the close quarters around the urban cheese plant. He notes, "It costs a little more to ship the milk this way but the desire to have local foods comes at a cost."
Koepke comments, "Having our own cheese made from our milk and then marketing it in the Milwaukee and Madison area provides the opportunity for us to bridge the gap between consumer and the farm. It helps us tell our story."
Koepke's cheese venture has been a successful one and sales have grown continually since they started it a few years ago.
Henningfeld says Clock Shadow also makes cheese for a Delafield area dairy farm.
CHEESE MAKING PROCESS
He hosted a group of 4-Hers and their families recently and described the cheese-making process at Clock Shadow.
Milk is delivered to the side of the building and held in a tank until the cheesemaking process begins.
The first step is to pasteurize the milk and then fill the cheese vat with the milk when it is 90 degrees.
The milk is then agitated and he adds a cheese culture that is actually a healthy bacteria that grows and thrives in 90-degree milk.
The culture is what determines the flavor and texture of the cheese.
He says, "Different cultures give different flavors and texture."
"Next the rennet is added. It changes and coagulates it and changes it from a fluid to a jello-like milk," he describes. "It causes all the proteins of the milk to stick together," he explains.
The next step is to put the cheese harps into the vat, pulling them back and forth all directions to cut the curds. The one-half inch cubes immediately begin to shrink up and the whey begins to push out of them.
Then he puts the paddles back in and stirs the curds and whey while gently cooking it. Eventually they separate again.
Because the plant is located in the heart of the city, he said the most economical way to deal with the whey is to truck it out to a farm to use as fertilizer.
The plant deals in only fresh cheese and relatively small volumes of cheese so there is not enough whey to truck to a processing plant to be utilized for one of the many new uses of whey.
He adds, "Space is expensive in this area so our business plan is to make only fresh cheese and move it quickly. We don't have room to store and age cheese here. We have a lot of customers, however, and we have no problem moving out what we make."
During a typical week the plant takes in 40,000 pounds of milk and makes about 4,000 pounds of cheese. During slow periods they may drop down as low as 1,500 pounds of cheese in a week.