Outside Looking In
As a young boy growing up on a dairy farm in rural Wisconsin, Randy Pitman always wondered what went on inside the cheese factory walls after his dad delivered their milk. At the age of 17, he finally got the chance to find out.
“I loved the people I worked with. I loved the plant. It just it fit me,” Randy says of his first cheesemaking gig. “It was hard, but at that time I was young and buff and it was a workout.”
Randy got his reps in making Swiss and muenster cheeses under the guidance of expert cheesemakers Jim Curran and Ivan Gobeli.
A decade later, he decided it was time to strike out on his own.
“I moved here when I was 26. That's how old I was when I bought Mill Creek,” Randy tells us from his small factory in Arena, Wisconsin, sitting at a desk in what was once his bedroom.
A Family Affair
Randy and his wife, Mary, purchased Mill Creek Cheese in 1984 and moved into the apartment above the nearly 100-year-old factory with their two kids – then just toddlers.
“They'd ride their tricycles around in the make room,” Randy laughs.
Those early days were tough – the family ran the factory by themselves, handling every step of the operation from receiving milk to packaging.
Mary often brought Randy’s dinner down to the factory so he could continue working between bites.
“I wouldn't want my kids to have to do what I had to do to get started,” he says.
The Silver Lining
But those early sacrifices paid off.
What was once the Pitman family living room is now an office lined with awards they’ve taken home from cheese competitions across the country and around the world.
“I'm not going to lie. It feels good,” says Randy.
Mill Creek now specializes in muenster, queso quesadilla, queso blanco and brick cheese – and brick is the clear favorite.
“There's lots of twists and turns I can do when I make brick,” says Randy.
Sharing The Wisdsom
He and his son Jonathan, who’s now a cheesemaker himself, have perfected their own take on the pungent, tangy Wisconsin Original. It’s a family recipe so prized that they’re the only two on Earth who know how to make it.
Randy may keep his secret recipe close to the vest, but he’s also a big proponent of sharing wisdom within the industry.
After earning Master Cheesemaker certifications in muenster, queso quesadilla, brick, and queso blanco, he says his favorite part of the program was connecting with other cheesemakers – from being able to call up industry legends for advice to swapping stories with classmates over beers.
“You got a cheesemaker, you got a cold beer, you got a friend,” Randy grins.
After decades of tough work in the cheese world, those beers are hard-earned. Randy’s come a long way from being a dairy farmer’s son on the outside of the cheese life looking in. He’s now a factory owner and one of only 69 Master Cheesemakers working in America today. We’ll drink to that!