March marks the observance of Women’s History Month, to spotlight the cultural, historical, political, and economic achievements of women. Here at Marché, that means giving gratitude to and shouting out the amazing women producers and their edible arts featured in our shop. The lineup in our cheese cases is pretty incredible from the Midwest alone. There are many opportunities while visiting Marché to engage with and support women-produced artisan wares and fares. While there is a greater presence of women in the cheesemaking industry today, it is still a fairly small amount, roughly 22%. As this month of recognition unfolds, stop in to learn more!
It is impossible to talk about the history of artisan cheese in this country without talking about Judy Schad, one of the original pioneering women who helped build the bedrock of farmstead artisan goat cheese/artisan cheese at large in the US in the 80’s. “Judy Schad is among a small handful of cheesemakers in the United States that was at the forefront of the farmstead cheese revolution, and she has vastly contributed to helping shape the future of the movement,” writes essential cheese periodical Culture Magazine. “Judy has been making cheese since 1976, when she and her husband moved with their three young children from the suburbs to a hill farm in southern Indiana…Over the years, the suburbs have followed them and they are now the last working dairy in the county.” Today, 34 years later, with countless awards, admirers plus industry leadership and education roles to her name, cheeses from Judy’s creamery, be they ash-ripened or blanketed in flowers or paprika, are cheese shop icons and staples. Slice into the perfect globe of a Wabash Cannonball and see for yourself!
Blakesville Creamery, while young at two years old, flourishes by way of Pedraza’s illustrious resume of over a decade in cheesemaking and now carries the torch for innovative goat cheese. Starting as an intern at Sweet Grass Dairy in Georgia, Veronica went on to the cellars of Jasper Hill in Vermont and an award-winning run with her sheep milk creations at Meadowood Farms in central New York. Setting roots in Wisconsin, Pedraza churns out goat cheese in every texture and style you can think of. With determination, vision, and well-honed veteranship, Veronica broke ground on a farmstead goat creamery during the height of a global pandemic and is building powerful momentum. Her aged tomme St. Germain and soft ash-ripened Lindeline took gold and silver medals in their divisions respectively in the World Champion Cheese Awards just last week, and her beer-washed Sunny Ridge (currently in rotation and building a staff fandom here at Marché!) brought home a Good Food Award this year!
Further up north in Thorp, Wisconsin, is Marieke Penterman, a Holland native with dairying in her blood. She settled in the States and went on to become the first woman awarded Grand Master Cheesemaker at the Wisconsin State Fair and has taken home over 150 awards and counting! It’s easy to see why if you’ve tried any of her raw milk farmstead Goudas. Her Golden Mature has been our standby for a reason: perfect balance of sweet caramel and salty tang. As owner of the operation, Marieke also works to create an atmosphere of empowerment. “There are 1,200 licensed cheesemakers in Wisconsin and only 60 of them are women,” reads her website. “Marieke Penterman is not only the owner of Marieke® Gouda, but she is also one of our three licensed cheesemakers, all women. Marieke has women as the head of almost every department…Running her business in this inclusive way has helped put Marieke on the map for her cheese-making.”
Moving further down south to the Driftless region, you’ll find Brenda at Hidden Springs Creamery. Coming from a previous life in the printing industry, Brenda and her husband took on sheep dairying in 2001 with an interest in using the milk for cheese. After feeling the spark of inspiration from classes with local farmstead maker Mary Falk, Jensen fell in love with the process and found her calling. The physical trials of creamery life were a place to prove herself, she explained to cheese writer Kristin Jackson.“At forty-four years old, she was a newbie. And she was a petite (yet strong) woman often training at cheese plants with men who grew up next to cheese vats,” wrote Jackson. “She admits being a female cheesemaker sometimes made her have to work harder. One cheesemaker at a location where she trained didn’t let her cut the curd until her third shift on the job. But even though she had to stand back and watch and clean a lot in the beginning, she says, she noticed she was treated differently after the first year. They started looking at me like, ‘Huh, maybe she is really going to make cheese.’” She started off her Hidden Springs Creamery career with a soft fresh sheep milk cheese called Driftless in 2006 and everything grew from there, winning over 100 domestic and international awards and making it to the finals of this year’s World Championship for a reserve-aged raw milk.