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Building Community Through Cheese

July 22, 2021

Building Community Through Cheese
Ron Henningfeld of Hill Valley Dairy crafts cheeses that make people happy. From squeaky cheese curds to unique cheddars, he creates fun flavors meant to be enjoyed daily.

cutting cheese

What’s the secret to amazing cheese? For Wisconsin cheesemaker and Hill Valley Dairy owner Ron Henningfeld, it’s community. From buying milk from his brother’s dairy in East Troy to making small-batch cheeses in Milwaukee to aging and distributing his specialty cheeses through Hill Valley Dairy in Lake Geneva, Ron is passionate about his milk-to-market approach that focuses on connecting local people to local products.

Ron’s family have been part of the state’s dairy industry for many years. Grandparents Roman and Marion Henningfeld established the Romari farmstead near East Troy, Wisconsin, in 1942. Today, Romari Farms is a third-generation business run by brother Frank and sister-in-law Colleen. It supplies the milk Ron and his wife Josie use to create their cheeses—flavored cheddars, goudas, alpine styles and squeaky, fresh cheese curds. These handcrafted cheeses are sold to cheese lovers at local farmers markets, specialty shops, restaurants and grocers in southeastern Wisconsin. We sat down with Ron to learn more about what makes Hill Valley Dairy cheese so special.

Hill Valley Dairy cheese

What inspired you to pursue a career in cheesemaking?

I’m a first-generation cheesemaker, though my family has been dairy farming for generations. Growing up on a dairy farm attracted me to cheesemaking—I enjoyed working with family and watching my parents run their own business. It wasn’t until college, however, that I considered cheesemaking as a career. I experimented with home cheesemaking, which fueled my curiosity to learn how to make good cheese.

What do you love about your job?

Cheesemaking has allowed me to reconnect with my family farm and partner with my brother and his family. It also provides me the opportunity to work alongside my wife, my young daughters and several of our friends. We also enjoy Wisconsin’s cheesemaking community. The people we meet are wonderful and helpful. It would be tough to be a first-generation cheesemaker without their support.

Hill Valley Dairy cheese wedges

How does community contribute to your success?

While working as an apprentice, a mutual connection introduced me to Bob Wills at Clock Shadow Creamery. I soon became a full-time cheesemaker. The dairy industry has its challenges, but we were able to start small by using milk from Romari Farms and developing a strong customer base.

How did you choose the cheese varieties you make?

I craft cheeses that I personally enjoy and have the tools to make. I started with cheese curds and cheddar. I’ve since moved into goudas and alpine styles, and I am expanding into cave-aged cheeses.

Ron Henningfeld holding cheese

Where do you find inspiration for your flavored cheeses?

Our cheeses are influenced both by local cheesemakers and the cheeses I’ve sampled. There are so many good Wisconsin cheeses and a lot of natural collaboration with folks in the industry. I also find inspiration through my family and customers, who are always asking me about different styles of cheese. For example, a local retailer asked if we could make a whiskey cheese for an upcoming event. Today, our Hill Valley Dairy Whiskey Gouda cheese is a style our customers really like! It’s also a cheese I’m passionate about. We soak it in a rye whiskey made by Great Northern Distilling in Plover, Wisconsin. My brother-in-law Tyler is the head distiller. For me, it’s as much about family as it is about creating a fun product.

wooden crate of Hill Valley Dairy cheeses

Where can consumers find Hill Valley Dairy cheese?

Stop by Hill Valley Dairy's Milwaukee store location, or follow them on Facebook and Instagram for updates on where to find and purchase their cheese.

Taste the Difference

Sample the taste of quality in a fondue and quesadillas featuring Hill Valley Dairy's gouda and cheddar cheeses.

classic cheddar beer fondue

Make it: Classic Cheddar Cheese Beer Fondue

gouda cheese quesadillas with pico de gallo

Make it: Gouda Cheese Quesadillas with Pico De Gallo


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