The Big Cheese

The Big Cheese

At Henning’s Wisconsin Cheese, Kerry Henning is big into keeping old-school cheesemaking alive – from mammoth wheels to traditional techniques.

A Cheese Legend

Kerry Henning has a larger-than-life personality – a booming laugh, a huge grin, an endlessly cheerful attitude – and he makes larger-than-life cheddar to match.

“Mammoth cheddars are any wheel of cheese 75 pounds or bigger, but we've made them up to 12,000 pounds,” says the Master Cheesemaker.

If that sounds like your wildest cheese dream come true, get this: Kerry’s biggest mammoth wheel is just a curd compared to the 44,000 pound block his friends once toured the country with, hauling it from state to state in a glass-encased trailer (like a PopeMobile for cheese).

Henning's fourth generation, family-owned cheese factory in Kiel, Wisconsin is the last in the country making these glorious giants.

The Henning's mammoths take their mind-blowing, award-winning cheddar to epic proportions, and they've become the stuff of legend across the country –from being carved into a life-size likeness of Prince William and Kate Middleton to starring as the centerpiece of a Christmas play.

Rooted in Cheesemaking

The mammoths may be the big cheese at Henning’s, but Kerry is the one calling the shots.

And in his plant, it’s not about the size of the wheel – it’s about how you make it.

“We still do everything by hand and take our time with it,” Kerry says. “The time it takes to make cheese today is no different than a hundred years ago when my grandpa was making it.”

Kerry’s grandfather Otto started making cheese back in 1914 at a tiny wooden cheese plant just down the road. Otto’s son (Kerry’s dad) went on to build the factory Kerry leads today, where he crafts internationally celebrated cheeses like an authentic Hatch Pepper Cheddar that took home gold at the World Championship Cheese Contest in 2018. 

Kerry attributes a lot of Henning’s success to his family’s strong roots in cheesemaking.

The Cutting Edge

“My dad’s been so generous with the ownership of the company,” says Kerry, who has already passed on part ownership to his son, nieces and nephews, as his father did for him. “It’s fun to be able to do the same with that next generation.”

And keeping it in the family goes beyond the Henning name. Kerry still makes a point of supporting local family farms so he can craft his spectacular cheeses with Wisconsin’s secret weapon: the world’s greatest milk.

Kerry is a stickler for doing things the old way, but he’s also on the cutting edge of his craft as a certified, three-time Master Cheesemaker.

He was in third graduating class of the Master Cheesemaking program back in the late 90s, and continues to build on his education through the Center for Dairy Research.

“When we went through the Master Cheesemaker program we got a stack of books a foot high,” he remembers. “Those resources really help. And having the expertise [of world-class cheesemakers]  – not every state has that. It's the center of everything here.”

Honoring Tradition

Beyond the books and the experts, Kerry’s classmates became some of his greatest teachers.

“We'd always head down to the local pub and have some beers after class – that's when the learning really began!” Kerry laughs. “It's a very close knit community here in Wisconsin.”

Today, Kerry has joined the Board for the Master Cheesemaker program.

He says getting in is competitive – but for cheesemakers who don’t make the cut on their first try, he always encourages them to come back.

“We want people to succeed,” Kerry says. “And we want people to make good cheese.”

Whether he’s spreading joy with absurdly large cheese wheels or passing on the time-honored technique of traditional cheddaring, one thing is for sure: the future of Wisconsin cheesemaking is in good hands with Kerry Henning.


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