What was your first job?
Bet it wasn’t as cheesy as Chris
Getting an early start
“My first job was as a four-year-old,” he
says of his earliest gig in his family’s cheese factory. “That's when milk used to come in cans, so my
job was to put the cans in the washer.”
Chris has gotten a promotion or two since
then. Today, he owns and runs Renard’s Cheese in Door County, Wisconsin
alongside his wife, Ann. Together, they keep the Renard family tradition going
strong with a range of exceptional cheeses – from a gleaming, black-waxed aged cheddar gem to an earthy morel and leek Jack.
“My wife is the glue that keeps
everything together,” Chris says of Ann, whose marketing skills helped take
Renard’s from a small town shop to a nationally known name in cheese. “I make
the cheese, but without her we wouldn't be anywhere near where we are today.”
Renard’s has come a long way indeed since
Chris’ grandpa opened their first factory back in 1961. From expanding to a
second factory location to showing up on just about every restaurant menu in
Door County, the family’s efforts over the years have taken them from small
curds to the wheel deal.
Chris says the expertise and creativity
of the Wisconsin cheese community has played a big part in their success over
“The difference in Wisconsin compared to
other states and countries is the innovation,” he says. “It's not just the
cheesemakers doing it – it's the support we get besides.”
From the hardworking dairy farmers to the
Cheesemaker Association, Chris says having an entire state dedicated to
incredible cheese is what keeps Wisconsin at the forefront. And the Master
Cheesemaker program raises the bar even higher.
“It sets Wisconsin apart from the rest –
the best of the best are in this program,” says Chris, who has Master
certifications in both cheddar and mozzarella. “I went into the Master program
thinking I knew a lot about making cheese and found out there were so much
The Master program demands over a decade
of experience before a cheesemaker can even apply. Luckily, Chris got his start
early on, thanks to his parents and grandfather.
“My dad is the one that put the Master
medals around my neck,” Chris says.
Now Chris is a dad himself. And if you
think regular dad jokes are cheesy, you haven’t heard them from a cheesemaker.
“When my daughters are making cheese
spreads, and I'll look at them and say, ‘You guys spreading the love today? Are
you guys spreading the joy?’,” laughs Chris.
The eye rolls must have been epic, but
it’s all a part of growing up in a cheese dynasty like the Renards’ – and it’s
families like theirs that make Wisconsin the cheesy wonderland we love, Dad
jokes and all.