It’s been nearly a month since we visited the Center for Dairy Research in Madison and interviewed a number of the key players in the Master Cheesemaker program. So — with regrets on the delay — here are a few of the most interesting quotes we gathered from their staffers:
Dean Sommer, Cheese & Food Technologist: Cheesemaking is like driving a car — when you first start, there is so much to watch, you are watching all the gauges, what is my temperature, what is this… You know the rules, and you can get down the road, but you don’t have the feel and the comfort level. That is the artistry, the comfort level. With cheesemaking, you don’t have to watch the pH meter constantly, you can look and see and feel and know how it is going.
Mark Johnson, Senior Scientist: I gave a presentation on cheese, and people asked where the cheese came from. I said: “These are all from Wisconsin” and people thought I was joking. They thought they were imported. Every cheese you see imported we can make in Wisconsin. And make just as good, if not better because we have control over everything. The cheeses you get in Europe are great when they are made, but then you have to transport them.
John Jaeggi, Associate Researcher: We like to stay in the background, we don’t want to be in the foreground because we strongly believe that the focus should be on those guys — the cheesemakers, the cheese companies are the ones in
the trenches. So most people won’t hear of us, but a lot of the award winners in cheese contests are a result of work done here.
Marianne Smukowski, Dairy Safety & Quality Coordinator: We’ve tightened up some requirements [for the master cheesemaker certification]. Some of those guys who graduated early are now sitting on the board — it’s an honor, and it’s very prestigious, and they want it to be earned.
Joanne Gauthier, Associate Marketing Specialist and Program Administrator: It has always been something that I was really proud to be involved with. I have met all of the master cheesemakers and really gotten to know most of them. They are all great people, their stories are wonderful from the 1st generation cheesemaker to the 4th generation cheesemaker.
We have gotten a chance to meet not only the master cheesemakers, but
their mentors and the people that they looked to for guidance. It is
not just a few people, it is a huge network.
Bill Wendorff, Professor, Food Science: It’s kind of like being a country doctor, who delivers babies and watches them grow up and go through high school — you take a look at some of these guys and you see what they’ve done and you just feel good about how what you’re doing in the program is really contributing toward that.
Rusty Bishop, CDR Director: We will lose a lot of knowledge when these guys retire — in 15, 20 years a lot of these guys are going to be gone. This new group, they’re still deciding what they want to do with their life. We have to convince them why they want to be in the cheese plant. They’re not going to work for $20,000 a year — we need to pay them a competitive salary.
And, finally, a quote from Jim Path (retired), who may the single person most responsible for the Wisconsin master cheesemaker program:
In our first graduating classes we had large and we had small cheesemakers, and it had a lot of credibility. I think the thing that really touched my heart a lot was that we now see generational applicants, where’s there’s been a master whose son is coming into the program. When you see generations, you say: “Wow, that’s really something.” And the other thing that sort of touched me a little bit was that you can go back for a second mastership. There was a guy who was in his 60s who came to the university… he had been a cheesemaker all of his life. Excellent, outstanding cheesemaker.
The question became: Is it fair to take someone who works at the university, and enter him into the program? It was a legitimate debate, and the board decided that he should because he was outstanding. He had heart problems, and he died about a year ago, he died in his seventies. It was so touching to see, and it meant so much to him… You know, maybe you’ve done a little good. It’s nice to see a program that you’ve developed touches the hearts of people, and it touches their lives.