Photographed by Nina Gallant | Styled by Elle Simone Scott
Deer Creek Cheese in Sheboygan, Wisconsin turns out a range of flavorful riffs on cheddar, Colby, and blue cheese styles. Most of these handmade, cow’s milk cheeses feature pretty watercolor-like package designs that reflect their names, including The Fawn, The Robin, The Doe, The Blue Jay, and Moon Rabbit—the last a sweet-finish cheddar washed in green Chartreuse. And then there’s The Rattlesnake, dramatically illustrated with a Wisconsin Timber Rattler slithering through a skull. While it’s a departure from the gentle drawings of woodland creatures, the label is apt for a cheddar spiked with tequila and habanero peppers, which Deer Creek Founder and President Chris Gentine had a direct hand in creating. “I like tequila a little bit—sometimes a lot a bit,” he jokes.
Working with his friend, cheesemaker Kerry Henning of Henning’s Wisconsin Cheese, Gentine spent about a year developing The Rattlesnake. “We tried all different types of tequila and liked the flavor that came off the Cuervo Gold—it really seemed to work with the balance of other flavors we had,” he says. The color of the dried habaneros is important too; Gentine insists on “red-orange, bright, fresh-looking peppers,” which are reconstituted in the tequila and added to the cheese finishing table late in the process. “When we do the whey drain, we go over and catch some in a red Solo cup; we call it ‘drinking the venom.’” The resulting cheese has a definite kick with a blend of flavors that’s nicely balanced. It’s been the Deer Creek cheese of choice during the pandemic, and it shines in recipes, including the signature Cabo Corn Dip—in which The Robin (a buttery Colby) tempers but doesn’t dull The Rattlesnake’s bit.
“You get the tequila aroma off the cheese as you open it. When you taste it, you get the sweet of the tequila, then you get the cheddar, then just as you’re saying, ‘it’s not that hot,’ you get the knife blade of the pepper.”
“My wife designs some of the cheeses, like The Doe, an aged cheddar infused with bourbon vanilla. The ones with them are more me.”