KIEL – Living in Wisconsin, I've seen a lot of cheese. But I've never seen anything quite like Henning's in Kiel before.
Founded in 1914 by Otto Henning, Henning's Cheese, 20201 Point Creek Rd., in Kiel, is still a family affair, with Otto's grandkids Kay, Kerry and Kert and two great-grandkids, Mindy and Rebekah, still guiding the ship.
Stop in and you'll find a bright, friendly store and a mini museum of old cheesemaking gear. Windows let you see the cheesemaking in action and when we appeared in the window a group of women was extruding, cutting and brining string cheese.
The instant we were spotted, one of the women grabbed some samples and brought them out to us. That's the kind of place Henning's is.
Later, we got a tour from Kert Henning, who showed us some parts of the operations. He also told us about Henning's giant cheddar wheels. They've made them as large as 12,000 pounds.
But more common are 300-pound and 1,200-pound versions, some of which we saw in the aging room. Wheels this big are made for special orders only, of course, and Kert told us about the time a high-falutin' Texas grocery store called to ask how big a wheel they could get.
Cheesemaker Kerry Henning measured the factory's doors and decided on 12,000 pounds, reminding the Texans to take similar precautions. Texans, they assured him, do everything big. Make the wheel.
When it arrived... yup, too big for the doors. They had them removed. Too big for the door frame. They removed the front plate glass window. Too big to fit past the registers up front, so they had to remove two of those. Too big for the aisles. So, it had to sit right up there in the front of the store.
But that wasn't the last such order from the grocery. No siree. But this time, once the cheese wheel arrived, they built a new store around it.
Interesting fact: after it's made, cheddar is placed into a cooler to bring down its temperature. But it takes so long for the temperature of a huge wheel of cheese to come down that the cheese actually "ages" in advance. The higher temps cause the aging process to speed up.
Kert Henning says some cheesemakers actually fudge the aging process a bit by using this trick. They keep their coolers just a little bit warmer to help the cheese "age" faster. Henning's, he says, doesn't do that.
That might explain why the cheese at Henning's is such a treat. The curds squeak, the string cheese is sinewy and salty-good and the cheddar, especially, the six-year is delightfully snappy on the tongue.
I was especially surprised by how good the flavored cheeses are. I tend to stay away from these, preferring the classics, but Henning's makes a range of delicious options, including blueberry cobbler cheddar, creamy caramel cheddar and habanero jack, which is deceptive. It takes a minute for the heat to kick in. Be careful.
But visit Henning's, where you'll meet some great Wisconsin dairymen and women, taste some delectable cheese and, if you take Point Creek Road all the way east to get to I-43, you'll see some of the most beautiful landscapes in all the state.
I love Hennings cheese! Lucky to have found it one day at the Piggly Wiggly on Capitol, and just saw it again recently at the former Sentry on Holt in Bayview. Their extra sharp cheddar is incredible.. crumbly sharp perfection.
They have a Horseradish white cheddar I've also heard that great. Glad I can find it locally as it's the best cheese out there at a decent price, and made locally!
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