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Love permeates handcrafted cheese

OCONTO COUNTY, Wis. – Grandpa milked the cows by hand. The warm milk was poured into cans that cooled in a concrete tank filled with cold well water. He harnessed the horses, loaded the cans on the wagon and took them to the factory at the crossroads a couple of miles away. The result was a small milk check that kept the farm from foreclosure, and produced cheese for town folks. In those days everybody knew where the cheese, and the milk in it, came from. Small dairy farms as well as small cheese factories and creameries dotted the countryside all across the state of Wisconsin. But those days are long gone.

Elders teach that things made with love, especially food, have special qualities. Love is most concentrated in close relationships. Families, best friends, small groups of workers or soldiers, and a person with the Creator can have that mutual love. As organizations grow large, love tends to dissipate. Often it’s replaced with pursuit of money, power and profit. In the modern world we are often left longing for a time when love dominated the countryside.

At the crossroad of Arndt Road and Oconto County Highway B between Klondike and Oconto Falls, Wisconsin, there are farm fields as far as the eye can see. Stand on the corner and turn around to see fields, farms and a small cheese factory. A large sign out front proclaims, “Open.”

A steady stream of cars passes through the parking lot. Some stop at a drive-up window. Others park and occupants enter the sales room, emerging later heavily laden with fresh cheese.

On an early-summer afternoon Wayne Hintz, cheesemaker and co-owner of Springside Cheese, paused in the factory on Arndt Road for a conversation.

“Springside Cheese dates back at least to 1908,” he said. “The location was about 5 miles north of here. Ownership went back and forth between a farmer-owned co-op and a cheesemaker. In the late 1940s a family bought it; they ran it until 1973. At the time I was working for the National Farmers Organization. I had married into a cheesemaking family. I had worked in a cheese factory starting at age 15, and I loved it. I always had in the back of my mind that I would farm or get into a cheese factory. When the offer of the factory came, I accepted. That was Oct. 1, 1973.

“We ran the old plant 5 miles north of here, and lived above it. We ran it for about 10 years. Nine years in we started to build this new plant. We moved here (Arndt Road) in 1983; farmers wanted us to stay in the area. I like what I’m doing – we process about 20,000 pounds of milk a day. We always hope to keep our customers happy, to keep them coming back. There are third-generation customers coming here who first came with their grandparents as little toddlers.

“We have routes for cheese curds and block cheese. Most convenience stores carry our curds. We go south as far as Appleton (Wisconsin). We go north to Marinette (Wisconsin) and Menominee (Michigan). We cover Crivitz, Lakewood and Shawano. Now we have online ordering too. That makes it easy to order cheese and have it sent out.

“We have really good employees. We have always had good dedicated people; we have about 25 employees now. We are doing more things – our cut and wrap operation employs four people. We have more people in production. And some of our staff are at our store in Pueblo, Colorado.

“We’ve had experience making a lot of different cheese. We are getting hot peppers that are grown by Pantaleo Farms in Pueblo, making cheese with them and shipping the cheese back to Pueblo. They roast the peppers right on the farm. We make cheddar and cheddar curd, Monterey jack, Colby, and we have a new one that is a standout, Krakow.

“Krakow Cheese is where I went to work at age 15. I worked there through high school and periodically after. We made a lot of different English cheeses in small amounts. I wanted to make a Polish cheese. Polaski looked like a good cheese to make; for a while we made it. When my son Keith came aboard he wanted to bring it back. When we did we named it Krakow. It’s unique and when people try it, they like it. We make a lot of flavors of cheese. When we started in 1973 all we made was 40-pound blocks of Cheddar. But over the years we went to making smaller batches of other cheeses, like I learned to do back at Krakow (the cheese factory).”

Wayne Hintz owns Springside Cheese with his sons Keith and Nathan. Keith Hintz is president of the firm and lives in Pueblo, Colorado.

In the northeastern part of America’s Dairyland there is a little cheese factory among the farms of Oconto County. A family and a small band of dedicated employees are crafting batches of artisanal cheese from the milk of nearby farms.

The people at Springside Cheese love what they are doing. Visitors can see the love reflected in the care used in crafting and handling the milk as it becomes cheese. The love in the cheese at Springside isn’t a secret ingredient, but in our modern world that sort of love is too rare.

Taste the love at Springside Cheese, 7989 Arndt Road, Oconto Falls, or the Springside store in Pueblo, Colorado. Visit springsidecheese.com for more information.

This is an original article written for Agri-View, a Lee Enterprises agricultural publication based in Madison, Wisconsin. Visit AgriView.com for more information.

Jason Maloney is an “elderly” farm boy from Marinette County, Wisconsin. He’s a retired educator, a retired soldier and a lifelong Wisconsin resident. He lives on the shore of Lake Superior with his wife, Cindy Dillenschneider, and Red, a sturdy loyal Australian Shepherd. 

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