Earning Master Cheesemaker medals is just one of the ways Pam Hodgson aims to raise the bar for Wisconsin Cheese.
A team sport
When you’re one of only two women in the country to hold the title of Master Cheesemaker, it would be easy to let the glory go to your head. But that’s not how Pam Hodgson rolls.
“Cheesemaking is a team sport,” she says. “Nobody is a Master Cheesemaker without a great team.”
Pam brings that humility and perspective to her work at Sartori, a fourth-generation family owned and operated cheese company that plays at the intersection of tradition and innovation.
“I've been tasked with creating new cheeses. Well, cheesemaking is ancient! It's a big task to come up with a Wisconsin Original, something nobody else is doing,” says Pam. “But it speaks a lot to who Sartori is and what we're trying to do. We want to do something new and different.”
Something new and different
With the Sartori original MontAmore®, they did just that. Pam absolutely lights up when she talks about it.
“It's got some unique surprises and pops,” she says of the Parmesan-inspired cheddar, an indescribably original cheese that is made exclusively at the Sartori Cheese headquarters in Plymouth, Wisconsin. “It's sweet but it's tangy. And it's a little bit savory.”
As passionate as she is about it now, making cheese was never Pam’s plan.
After growing up on a dairy farm, Pam started out doing on-farm sales with an agricultural co-op. Her work took her across the state to help farming families become more efficient and sustainable.
But when she became a mom, she left life on the road for cheesemaking – and now her deep connection to the Wisconsin dairy community comes through in every cheese she and her team makes.
“When you try a Sartori cheese, there are a lot of things you can taste,” she says. “You can taste Wisconsin. You can taste milk that came from dairy farm families who really care about producing the utmost wholesome product. You can taste love of the land, and love of their cows, and farming as a way of life.”
Pam is a proud native Wisconsinite and champion of the state’s heritage in creating great cheese. And that’s a big part of why she became a Master Cheesemaker.
“The Master program pulls it all together,” she says. “There are experts that can advise us on any kind of technical question. There is a pilot plant where we can try new things. And not only has the program made the Masters better, I think it's made everybody better.”
The future is female
After earning her two Master certifications in fontina and Open Class Hard Cheese, Pam and her fellow Masters at Sartori began encouraging other cheesemakers to take classes at the Center for Dairy Research.
“I want them to know how to do their job,” says Pam. “But I also want team members to know why we do what we do, and what's going on inside the curd.”
Teaching the “why” behind cheesemaking is a huge focus for Pam as she mentors the next generation. She’s especially passionate about supporting women in the industry.
“We need to get a lot more women in the Master Cheesemaker program,” she says. “That's one of my goals.”
Her recruitment work has been successful so far: Pam's daughter, whose birth prompted Pam to join the cheese world in the first place, has earned her cheesemaking license and spent some time working as a cheesemaker herself.
“My advice to her was to start in quality, because quality should be the foundation for everything that you do in cheesemaking,” says Pam. “Or whatever you do in life.”
Now that Pam is in a position to mentor up-and-coming cheesemakers, she wants to pave the way for others and make sure they have opportunities that she had to fight harder for as a woman. She’s guided by a Mark Twain quote she found during her early years.
“It goes like this: ‘Stay away from people who belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that. But the truly great ones make you feel that you, too, can be great,’” she says. “That’s the person I want to be.”