There’s an old Wisconsin saying, “If fresh cheese is what you seek, make sure to listen for the squeak.” The phrase has been passed down for generations. It’s a very important part of Midwest folklore, and cheese tasters have abided by the rule for centuries. I’ve heard that some cheesemakers inscribe the words in food coloring on the inside of the cheese rind during production for good luck.
Okay, okay, that’s not true. And “old saying” clearly translates to “hey, look what I just made up!” But still, it is true that the fresher the cheese, the more it will squeak. And dare I say, the squeakiest cheese I have ever enjoyed came right out of Milwaukee, at Clock Shadow Creamery.
Clock Shadow is Wisconsin’s first creamery in a city and was designed with the goal of having a local, accessible cheesemaker for city residents and visitors. Three cheesemakers work overnight to create four flavors of curds (plain, garlic dill, tomato basil, jalapeno) and about ten cheeses based on yellow and white cheddar (ricotta is the newest). If you’re unfamiliar with the cheesemaking process, here’s a quick overview.
A couple times a week, milk trucks carrying 100% whole cow’s milk from Noble View Creamery pull up to Clock Shadow and fill up two massive tanks. The milk heats up in the tanks for the next 45 minutes or so and then is released into three different vats on the cheesemaking floor. A starter culture is added to give the cheese its flavor, and then plant-based rennet goes in to thicken the milk and turn it to a solid. Wire panels run through the mixture and separate curds from the whey. They whey is shipped off to local farms who use the product as fertilizer. Once the whey is gone, the curds go through “cheddaring,” a process of pressing the cheese to make more uniform pieces. All told, the process takes about seven hours to go from milk to curd. Clock Shadow goes a step further and uses a pressing machine to compress cheese curds into wheels. A close look at a Clock Shadow cheese wheel shows the outline of each curd.
The eight-month-old Creamery’s owner also owns Cedar Grove Cheese in Plain, WI. The two locations offer largely the same product, although Cedar Grove has the ability to make more variations and age the cheese up to four years. Clock Shadow only has enough space to age cheese up to six or seven months, up to a mild cheddar stage.
Clock Shadow shares its production space with Purple Door Ice Cream, a 3-year-old company that grew out of the childhood dream of the owner and her husband. All of Purple Door’s ice cream is hand-made and hand-packed. The company offers seasonal, surprising ice cream flavors like bacon, whiskey, jelly bean, garlic, and olive oil. I tried the salted caramel; Kyle got cinnamon. Purple Door is charitable, too – 3% of the profits are donated to various shelters.
For $3 (Is anyone else noticing a trend of 3s here? That’s weird…), you can be shepherded into a side room to get a better view of the production area and see photos of the cheesemaking process. A staff member will be there to regale you with stories of how cheese is made, the uniqueness of Clock Shadow, and some other funny tidbits and information about both businesses using the space. At the end of the talk, you get to sample some cheese and four types of ice cream.
But back to the squeaky cheese. The shop at Clock Shadow stocks samples of several types of quark (Have you had this delightfully creamy cheese? It’s packed with flavor – and spreads over crackers like a champ) and a few cheese curds, freshly made that morning. We indulged in the garlic dill curds, room temperature and squeaky like an un-oiled hinge. The difference in taste of few-hours fresh cheese and days-old curd will reach out to you from the depths of your palate and sway you away from grocery store-bought cheese for good. It was, in simple terms, the perfect curd.