For tiny Paoli, Wisconsin, the $11.2 million project to transform a historic cooperative dairy into a 21,000-square-foot restaurant, café, eight-room boutique hotel, and creamery, is remarkable for its grand scale. Even more remarkable: Seven Acre Dairy Company co-proprietors Nic Mink and Danika Laine are doing a very brave thing. They’re refusing to serve cheddar.
“Our cheese rules here are muenster, brick, or Swiss,” says Mink, “because those were the historic cheeses of this area.” Swiss-immigrant workers also made these cheeses in what are now guestrooms, at various intervals between 1888 and 1980. Sourcing from nearby Landmark Creamery—its sheep’s milk Pecora Nocciola and Pomona won First at the 2022 American Cheese Society Judging and Competition—further expands offerings at the property’s restaurant, The Kitchen. But still, no cheddar. Here the menu riffs on Swiss-German dishes from the middle of last century, a project that has the culinary team, led by chef Ben Hunter, sifting through local church and community cookbooks for inspiration. In March, Landmark Creamery launched its first brush with butter, made at Seven Acre Dairy Company with whey cream and sold exclusively in the retail store.
“It’s about the land and the place, thinking about all the wild and indigenous foods here, and early Wisconsin agriculture through modern food,” says Mink. To that end, the soft- serve wild-rice ice cream served in the café is made with milk from a third-generation dairy farm. That same farm used to deliver to the former cheese factory. And small family farms on either side of Seven Acre Dairy Company supply beef and veal to The Kitchen.
From saving original yellow subway tiles to creating a chandelier out of vintage milk bottles, the nods to preservation are so strong that Seven Acre Dairy Company earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places a month before opening last December. The co-owners’ thoughtful approach easily opened dialogue with former plant workers and town residents who supplied the historic photos that are now framed and proudly hung. “We’ve had half a dozen families here that have been critical to supporting this project,” says Mink. Even the bar is in on the museum effect, with artifacts from butter and cheese production joining glassware and spirit bottles in back-lit cubbyholes.
Once the weather warms in late spring, an outdoor patio will open, perfect for enjoying the café’s ice cream drumsticks and “choco tacos”, signature treats courtesy of local pastry chef Samantha Kincaid. This is another one of Mink’s creative partnerships involving dairy innovation, proving it’s not just about cheddar in Wisconsin.