If you think Gen Z is the first generation of entrepreneurs, think again—here’s a story of three generations of cheesemakers who started as teens and have turned the business into Door County’s only family-owned and operated cheese factory, with two locations – Renard’s Cheese.
You actually see a lot of multi-generation businesses in Door County. Family owned and operated businesses seem to thrive, perhaps because of the down-to-earth lifestyle Door County seems to generate. Whatever the reason, Renard’s Cheese is a third generation company now run by Chris, grandson of the founder and a master cheesemaker in his own right, and his wife, Ann.
The Art of Making Cheese
Renard’s Cheese was established in 1961, and has grown under the care of Chris and Ann, and he says, “We are still aiming to grow.” Chris is using his expertise as a master cheesemaker—something that requires licensing, classes, and an annual submission of cheese for testing. With only 6-10 people accepted into classes each year, he’s both proud of the accomplishment and continuing to push himself to become accredited in new varieties of cheese.
Perhaps part of Renard’s success is that they still make the cheese by hand. “We make the cheese the same way my grandfather did,” says Chris. “He’s 89 and still comes to the factory every day. We are way more concerned about the quality of the cheese than the quantity.”
Just About Any Variety You Could Want
They offer a “legacy blend” of gouda and cheddar, and a “heritage blend” of old world cheddar and parmesan, but they offer a wide variety of cheeses overall. That includes cheddars, colby, mozzarella, and more than 50 flavor-infused specialty cheeses. What’s more, the milk used to make the cheese all comes from smaller, local farms—often second and third generation farmers. Says Renard, “Our farmers have been very loyal to us, so we stay loyal to them. We are not going to let them down.”
That loyalty works with their sales as well as production. Renard says their longest-running wholesale account has been with them for 54 years.
Then, of course, there are the Wisconsin cheese curds—those fresh curds that natives crave and others tentatively try, surprised by both the rubberiness and the “squeak” that signifies maximum freshness. Unlike what some people think, Renard says the curds are actually culled from “the very beginning of making cheddar. They are not what’s left over.” Renard’s produces 40,000 pounds of curds a week just out of one factory, and serve them fresh or fried in their store café. They are their biggest seller, “hands down,” says Renard.
They even produce a cherry cheese, a tribute to the Door County specialty, the Montmorency cherry. “One of the things I do is keep everything as local as possible,” says Renard. “We use all Door County cherries. It helps the local economy and grows the business.”
For additional articles documenting our Publisher’s Door County experiences, click here.
Travel accommodations and tour arrangements in Door County were provided by the Door County Visitors Bureau in conjunction with Geiger & Associates Public Relations.
Photos by Paul K. Logsdon