Late in your gift giving? Cheeses purchases will save the day

John Oncken
Cheese from the factory or store is a great gift even for last minute shopper who wait til late in the Holiday season to make purchases.

Pretty much every one loves the holidays; the friendly spirit; family get togethers, receiving presents, the big dinner, holiday music, vacation days and the memories. 

However there is one aspect of the season that most everyone faces and dreads: What kind of a present do we give to a few of our relations and friends? They have been good to us, given our family presents at weddings, confirmations, baptisms and the like. We think and think and ponder and ponder but the answers are still up in the air and all of a sudden Christmas is past. Now what do we do? 

Take for instance the uncle and aunt who live a thousand miles away in Texas. They have no need for clothes, household goods or accessories for their car. They are retired and gone for the winter.

The friend at work who has done us an occasional favor: Giving a ride when our car was in the repair shop or helping put with a garage door last spring. We want to give him something (not money), but what?

Hundreds of cheese varieties are made in Wisconsin starting with curd.

Too late

Indeed, I’ll bet most every family in Wisconsin, the Midwest or anywhere has the same challenge and time got short and we were busy. And, we didn’t get all our presents bought - what to do? The answer is simple and right before us — give Wisconsin cheese!

What? Cheese you say? 

You better believe it. Wisconsin cheese, the kind you get direct from a Wisconsin cheese factory, made by cheesemakers you can call by name. From milk cows living on Wisconsin dairy farms milked by Wisconsin farm families. 

Even if your gift is late that will all be forgiven and forgotten as your friends taste that first slice of Havarti or handful of cheese curds or maybe a new variety just developed.  

You can begin by firing up your computer or smart phone and going to and wading into the Dairy Producers of Wisconsin website that will tell you most everything you’d ever want to know about cheese and where to buy it. 

Glennette and Steve Stettler operate Decatur Dairy near Brodhead and will again send out hundreds of boxes filled with cheese this year.

Or you can visit a few Wisconsin cheese factories as I have over the years, Many are small, have cheese stores and/or websites, have been around for decades and where you can sometimes talk directly with the owner or cheesemaker.

Decatur Dairy near Brodhead is one of those unusual smallish cooperatives unique to  Green county where the dairy farmer patrons own the building and provide the milk and the cheesemaker owns the equipment and makes and markets the cheese. (This is in contrast to the large cooperatives across dairyland where the farmers own everything and employ others to make and market the cheese.)

Steve Stettler who has managed and made cheese at the Decatur Swiss Cheese Co-op since 1982, is a Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker and has added to the facility over the years. This includes a cheese sales shop a couple of years ago that draws a surprising number of visitors considering the location on rural County F a couple miles west of  Brodhead. 

Cheese curds have been a favorite in recent years.

Looking for flavor

“People seem to be looking for full flavor cheeses nowadays,” Stettler says. “Something a bit unusual, something their neighbor hasn’t heard of. “  

With that, Stettler holds up a hunk of Colby-Swiss, a mixture of traditional Colby and Swiss cheese that he began making several years ago. 

“People who try it, buy it,” he says. “It’s is great at a tailgate party.”

Stettler then offers a slice of Havarti/horseradish cheese that surely has full flavor and a bit of a ‘kick” to it. 

Local farmers milk goes in, cheese comes out.

Although he says people are willing to try new cheeses and new flavors, he admits his Stettler Swiss, Championship Harvarti and World Champion Muenster cheeses are his biggest sellers. 

In addition to the cheese store, Decatur Dairy has a very complete website (Decatur,) offering 72 cheeses along with cheese boxes and some sausages. As with most smaller cheesemakers, they offer suggestions and advice for that special gift by calling 608-897-8661.

Where Co-Jack began

Arena Cheese Inc., located on busy US Hwy 14 west of Madison is where Co-Jack cheese was invented by the Peterson family and first sold in 1979. 

Bill Hanson, who has been an owner and cheesemaker at Arena Cheese for many years says that cheese eaters are always looking for new cheese flavors 

“Some people seem to want a ‘hot’ flavor,” Hanson says. “They are more willing to experiment, however, the standard Colby-Jack, Colby and Gouda are where most of his sales are. 

Soon to be cheese at Decatur Dairy.

“Our major highway location makes it convenient to stop and we sell to a lot to stores in the area.”

An interesting aspect of Arena Cheese is the viewing area where you can watch cheesemakers making different cheeses, but best to come early in the day. Of course, you can order Arena Cheese by phone at 608-753-2501 or their website 

By the bite, served in a sandwich or atop a casserole, cheese wins the satisfaction test.

They will remember

There are several hundred varieties of cheese made in “The Dairy State.”  A very little bit of research will bring you to a cheese that will make the ideal post Holiday gift for that relative or friend you’ve been sweating over. For sure, you’ll have the right size, color and style and they will remember you longer than if you gave something that might be stored away in a closet or shipped to Goodwill. Be a hero, gift cheese. You’ll be late but much loved!

John F. Oncken can be reached at 608-837-7406 or at