Some choose the cheese life. Others are born into it. But for Bruce Workman, it was fate.
A chance meeting and the chance of a lifetime
On a Saturday night in Monticello, Wisconsin back in the 1970s, teenage Bruce ran out of gas while driving his friends around town. When he walked to the nearest house for help, the man who opened the door turned out to be a cheesemaker.
As with any conversation, topics turned to cheese—and the man offered Bruce a delicious opportunity.
“If you can be at the cheese factory Monday morning at 4 o'clock,” he told Bruce, “you got a job.”
The rest is history.
“The story says if the first drop of milk hits your shoe, you're gonna be a cheesemaker,” says Bruce.
We’re pretty sure the whole gallon spilled on him because what started as an after-school job turned into a full-blown obsession.
A mark of pride
“I just love making cheese,” he says. Today, Bruce is the most decorated Master Cheesemaker in America, with 12 Master medals signifying his expertise in 12 cheese varieties: alpine-style, baby swiss, brick, butterkäse, cheddar, emmentaler, gouda, gruyère, havarti, muenster, raclette, and of course, swiss. This might seem obvious, but that’s a lot of cheese.
“The education is unbelievable,” Bruce says of the Master Cheesemaker program—Wisconsin’s rigorous cheesemaking certification. “I've taken just about every class they've offered. And it's definitely made me better.”
The Master Cheesemaker title is more than just about taking classes though: it’s an incredible accomplishment—even an identity. “I tattooed the Master mark on my right shoulder,” Bruce says. “Because I'm proud of what I am.”
At his small artisan factory, Edelweiss Creamery, Bruce transforms fresh Wisconsin milk into award-winning cheeses. As magical—and technically refined—as that process is, Bruce’s favorite part is watching people taste his creations.
“Oh, I watch their faces,” Bruce grins. “We've got an aged gouda that's to die for. It's five years old, and there are a lot of the tyrosine crystals like you get in an aged cheddar–that nice crunch. And people say, ‘This is like crack cocaine, man. You just want to keep coming back!’” We certainly know the feeling!
Bruce is perhaps best known for bringing the lost art of classic big wheel swiss emmentaler back to Green County, Wisconsin where his creamery is located and an historic hub of Wisconsin cheesemaking. Edelweiss Creamery is one of the only factories in America that still makes these iconic wheels.
Bruce is proud to preserve ancestral Swiss cheesemaking heritage by crafting the rich, nutty emmentaler in an old-fashioned copper kettle straight from Switzerland. Each cheese weighs over 180 pounds—that’s em-mental!
Bruce’s love of cheese runs in the family. His wife and daughter run the retail shop in the charming town of New Glarus down the road, while his son works alongside him at the historic cheese factory, which started turning out curds way back in 1873.
“What I'm proud of right now is the next generation,” says Bruce. “You know, you have kids, you raise them, and you hope that somebody will want to come and follow in your footsteps."
He's so proud, in fact, that he’s got another tattoo of a swiss wheel on his forearm.
“I got the tattoo of the champion swiss cheese on my right arm and my daughter got the wedge cut from that wheel on her forearm,” he says. At the risk of being “cheesy,” Bruce explains: “She's always got a piece of me with her.”
Bruce’s work in the cheese world is far from done. He’s a lifelong student of cheesemaking; while he may have stumbled into cheesemaking by accident, it was clearly meant to be. With so many artisanal cheeses already under his belt, we can’t wait to see what Bruce does next. Whether delicately aged or a 200-pound behemoth, it’s sure to be exceptional—the creation of a true Master.
Get Bruce’s cheeses delivered to your door straight from Edelweiss Creamery through this link. Or browse our continuously updated list of Wisconsin Cheesemakers that offer online ordering.