Wisconsin Cheese embodies tradition, history, but maybe most of all, terroir. Master Cheesemaker Mike Brennenstuhl brought all of that together and added his own touch of genius in his work at Door Artisan Cheese.
A story you can taste
Mike Brennenstuhl tells the best kind of stories: the ones you can taste.
“There's a story behind every cheese that I make,” says Mike, a Master Cheesemaker and owner of Door Artisan Cheese in Door County, Wisconsin.
Quite the opposite, actually.
From his Trappist stout-washed Valmy gouda made in honor of Wisconsin’s Belgian immigrant community to his BelaSardo made in the classic Italian shape his family used at their Wisconsin factory, each of Mike’s wheels is like a really, really delicious history book.
Take, for example, Roseate – a gloriously pungent asiago soaked in a deep red South African wine and set in a unique Sardo wheel mold that Mike special orders from Italy. Roseate’s flavors are global, but its name came from a little closer to home.
Mike's wife has an affection for dragonflies, and one night, while pacing around their house trying to come up with a name for his newest cheese creation, he spotted her picture of a striking red dragonfly called Roseate on the wall.
“I thought, bingo!" says Mike, "I just found the name for my cheese. So she knows she was the inspiration.”
Cheese is a 24/7 obsession for Mike, and he’ll talk at length about it anytime, anywhere – even while he’s right in the middle of making it.
When he's in the factory, Mike wears a theatrical headset so guests can observe through the big viewing window, push a button, and ask questions.
He never minds the interruptions: “The best thing we can do to support our industry is to educate people. And everything we do is based around telling the story of Wisconsin cheesemaking, not just ours.”
A cheese dream come true
Mike grew up in a cheesemaking family: “I was forced into the business by birth!” he laughs.
Although he’s made cheese around the world, Wisconsin has always had a special place in his heart, which is why he chose Door County to build his dream cheese operation.
For the love of cheese
Mike considers Door Artisan, a brand new facility with a market, restaurant, and underground cheese caves, to be the culmination of his career.
“Over the course of my 47 years I've worked for seven different major cheese companies and in many different capacities," he says. "But I always had this dream to be able to make artisan cheeses.”
Mike’s cheesemaking is more than artisan – it’s Master status. He has his Master Cheesemaker certifications in blue cheese and gorgonzola to prove it.
“I couldn't be prouder to be a Master Cheesemaker,” he says. “You’re a part of a group of people that really have made the commitment to find the inner workings of what these cheeses do, how they perform, how they taste, how they age.”
All of that expertise is infused into every cheese Mike makes, along with the rich histories he shares about each of them.
Just a few years into being open, Door Artisan has already started sweeping cheese competitions. Their Top Hat Cheddar even took home a gold medal at the 2018 World Championship of Cheese.
But Mike doesn't do it for the fame. He does it for the love of cheese.
“Every night before I leave here, I come down to the caves, say goodnight to the cheese, and turn off the lights,” Mike says. “I've been a businessman and different things, but at the end of the day if you had to put something on my headstone, I’d want it to say ‘He was just a good cheesemaker.’”