For Jamie Fahrney, Wisconsin cheese is his heart and soul. Limburger, though, is one of his true loves.
Limburger is life
It sparks fear in the hearts of tourists. It’s been a cheese plate pariah for generations. It was Mighty Mouse’s Kryptonite. But in Monroe, Wisconsin, Limburger is life.
From honoring the heavyweight champion of stinky cheeses with its own float in the local, bi-annual Cheese Days parade, to crowning a real-life Limburger Queen, locals know that long-misunderstood Limburger is one of the cheese world’s best kept secrets.
Once you get it past your nose, you’ll discover Limburger is in fact a robust, earthy delight with notes of fresh mushrooms – perfection when sandwiched between soft, dark rye bread with sliced raw onion and pub mustard.
And for some, getting it past their nose is the best part.
“It was love at first sniff,” wrote Stephanie Klett, the Limburger Queen herself, after her coronation in 2014. “Though I’ve held many titles, from Miss Wisconsin to Secretary of Tourism, nothing compares to this honor.”
But one man has achieved an even higher honor: Limburger Master.
Protecting the legacy
Jamie Fahrney has been crafting Country Castle Limburger by hand for over 40 years at Monroe’s own Chalet Cheese Cooperative – the last Limburger factory in America. Swiss immigrants in Wisconsin were the first in America ever to make Limburger, and it was one of the top-selling cheeses in the country back in its heyday.
In the 1930s, there was even a train line nicknamed “The Limburger Special” and established solely to transport millions of pounds of pungent goodness to its far-flung fans.
Though Limburger’s widespread popularity has now faded, Wisconsinites are no fair-weather fromage-lovers, and Jamie is among the steadfast keepers of the Limburger legacy.
On a recent visit, we found him ensconced in a cloud of fog from the brine room humidifier, hand washing the rind on each creamy-white brick with a brine propagated from cultures that have been used at Chalet for over a hundred years.
The centuries old tradition, originating in Belgium, was passed down to Jamie by his mentor, Myron Olson, once America’s only certified Limburger Master Cheesemaker.
“Myron taught me the finer points of making cheese,” Jamie says of his mentor, whose passion for the infamous stinky cheese kept it going in Monroe for decades after every other Limburger factory closed its doors. “Now I just feel it’s my responsibility to carry that on.”
When Myron retired in early 2019, Jamie began his journey to become the next Limburger master.
Already a Master Cheesemaker in Baby Swiss and Brick, he loves expanding his cheese repertoire.
Not done learning
“Every Master Cheesemaker will tell you that they're not done learning yet,” Jamie says.
Despite his valiant quest to keep the Limburger tradition going, Jamie confesses that his heart actually belongs to Swiss.
“I just really love that cheese. It's like candy to me,” he says. Jamie remembers visiting Swiss cheese factories as a kid growing up in Wisconsin and wishing he could work there one day. “Well, guess what happened,” he smiles. “I think I found my calling!”
Jamie’s Swiss cheeses have taken home awards from local fairs and international competitions alike, and his baby swiss even won Best of Class in the 2006 World Championship.
More than the acclaim, Jamie loves the challenge of making Swiss, particularly the delicate art of getting its trademark holes – known as ‘eyes’ – just right.
“Contrary to popular belief, we don't have elves digging little holes,” he laughs. Nailing the perfect Swiss cheese eye calls for precision in timing, temperature, and execution. It’s a big challenge, but as Jamie says, “I like a challenge.”
Maybe that’s why, despite its reputation, Jamie has helped to keep the legacy of Limburger alive for all these years. And he says he’s ready to keep the stink going strong well into the future. “As long as we have people that will eat it, I'll keep making it.”