The Wheel Deal
What was your first job? Bet it wasn’t as cheesy as Chris Renard’s.
“My first job was as a four-year-old,” he says of his earliest gig in his family’s cheese factory. “That's when milk used to come in cans, so my job was to put the cans in the washer.”
Chris has gotten a promotion or two since then. Today, he owns and runs Renard’s Cheese in Door County, Wisconsin alongside his wife, Ann. Together, they keep the Renard family tradition going strong with a range of exceptional cheeses – from a gleaming, black-waxed aged cheddar gem to an earthy morel and leek Jack.
“My wife is the glue that keeps everything together,” Chris says of Ann, whose marketing skills helped take Renard’s from a small town shop to a nationally known name in cheese. “I make the cheese, but without her we wouldn't be anywhere near where we are today.”
Renard’s has come a long way indeed since Chris’ grandpa opened their first factory back in 1961.
From expanding to a second factory location to showing up on just about every restaurant menu in Door County, the family’s efforts over the years have taken them from small curds to the wheel deal.
The Wisconsin Difference
Chris says the expertise and creativity of the Wisconsin cheese community has played a big part in their success over the years.
“The difference in Wisconsin compared to other states and countries is the innovation,” he says. “It's not just the cheesemakers doing it – it's the support we get besides.”
From the hardworking dairy farmers to the Cheesemaker Association, Chris says having an entire state dedicated to incredible cheese is what keeps Wisconsin at the forefront. And the Master Cheesemaking program raises the bar even higher.
“It sets Wisconsin apart from the rest – the best of the best are in this program,” says Chris, who has Master certifications in both cheddar and mozzarella. “I went into the Master program thinking I knew a lot about making cheese, and found out there were so much more.”
A Cheese Dynasty
The Master program demands over a decade of experience before a cheesemaker can even apply. Luckily, Chris got his start early on, thanks to his parents and grandfather.
“My dad is the one that put the Master medals around my neck,” Chris says.
Now Chris is a dad himself. And if you think regular dad jokes are cheesy, you haven’t heard them from a cheesemaker.
“When my daughters are making cheese spreads, and I'll look at them and say, ‘You guys spreading the love today? Are you guys spreading the joy?’,” laughs Chris.
The eye rolls must have been epic, but it’s all a part of growing up in a cheese dynasty like the Renards’ – and it’s families like theirs that make Wisconsin the cheesy wonderland we love, Dad jokes and all.