The Cheese Life
Some choose the cheese life. Others are born into it. But for Bruce Workman, it was fate.
On a Saturday night in Monticello, Wisconsin back in the 1970s, teenage Bruce ran out of gas while driving his friends around town. When he walked to the nearest house for help, the man who opened the door turned out to be a cheesemaker.
“If you can be at the cheese factory Monday morning at 4 o'clock,” he told Bruce, “you got a job.”
And the rest is history.
“The story says if the first drop of milk hits your shoe, you're gonna be a cheesemaker,” says Bruce. It was definitely true for him – what started as an after-school job turned into a full-blown obsession.
Today, Bruce is the most decorated Master Cheesemaker in America, with 12 Master medals in all.
“I just love making cheese,” he says. “I like to cook – I just have really big pots.”
A Master At Work
Watching Bruce tend to those big pots – gleaming vats where fresh Wisconsin milk becomes award-winning cheese at his small artisan factory, Edelweiss Creamery – truly feels like watching a Master at work. But the real magic happens when people taste his creations.
“Oh, I watch their face,” Bruce grins. “We've got an aged gouda that's to die for. It's five years old and there's a lot of the tyrosine crystals like you get in an aged cheddar – that nice crunch. And people say, ‘this is like crack cocaine, man, you just want to keep coming back!’”
Bruce is best known for bringing the lost art of classic big-wheel Swiss Emmentaler back to Green County, Wisconsin.
Edelweiss is one of the only factories in America that still makes these iconic, 180+ pound wheels, and Bruce is proud to preserve ancestral Swiss cheesemaking heritage by crafting the rich, nutty Emmentaler in an old-fashioned copper kettle straight from Switzerland.
So proud, in fact, that he’s got a tattoo of a Swiss wheel on his forearm.
“I got the tattoo of the champion Swiss cheese on my right arm and my daughter got the wedge cut from that wheel on her forearm,” he says. “She's always got a piece of me with her.”
A Lifelong Student
Family is a big part of Bruce’s business. His wife and daughter run the retail shop in the charming town of New Glarus down the road, while his son works alongside him at his historic cheese factory, which started turning out curds way back in 1873.
“What I'm proud of right now is the next generation,” says Bruce. “You know, you have kids, you raise them...and you hope that somebody will want to come and follow in your footsteps."
But Bruce’s own work in the cheese world is far from done. He’s a lifelong student of cheesemaking, and it shows in his commitment to mastering so many types of cheese – including (deep breath) Alpine-Style, Baby Swiss, Brick, Butterkase, Cheddar, Emmentaler, Gouda, Gruyère, Havarti, Muenster, Raclette, and of course, Swiss. Phew!
“The education is unbelievable,” Bruce says of the Master Cheesemaker program. “I've taken just about every class they've offered. And it's definitely made me better.”
Bruce may have stumbled into cheesemaking by accident, but it was clearly meant to be. And in true Bruce Workman fashion, he made it official in ink.
“I tattooed the Master mark on my right shoulder,” Bruce says. “Because I'm proud of what I am.”
There’s no doubt about it: the cheese life has left its mark on Bruce. And we think it’s safe to say that this master of Masters has left his mark on the cheese life, too.