Today, Wisconsin is famous for award-winning wheels, but—believe it or not—there was a time when artisan cheese was lacking in America’s Dairyland. In 1971, most cheese was the mass-produced brick variety, of which Larry Ehlers, a grocery store owner in Milwaukee, was not a fan. Seeking an edge in the supermarket industry, he traveled to the Fancy Food Show to source some quality wheels. His budget? $100.
Upon his return to Milwaukee, Ehlers—now $100 lighter—was a converted curd-lover with a package of Europe’s finest cheeses coming his way. They arrived on a Friday and were sold out by Saturday. “He pretty much knew at that point he had something,” says daughter and current store manager Patty Ehlers Peterson.
Larry’s Market today carries an impressive 300 to 400 varieties, with Wisconsin products making up 70 percent of the selection. While the market may no longer be family-owned (it was sold to market chef Dale Curley last year), Ehlers’s quest for quality lives on. “It’s all about helping customers find the cheese that makes them go mmm!” says Ehlers Peterson.
culture: What’s your favorite local recipe using cheese?
Patty Ehlers Peterson: A fondue using three Marieke Goudas. I use pieces from a mild wheel, an aged wheel, and either a smoked one or a version with fenugreek or mustard seed.
culture: Is there a cheese you can’t get enough of?
PEP: I’m a good Wisconsin girl. A nice aged cheddar is one of those cheeses I can’t live without.
culture: What’s your cheese motto?
PEP: Life is too short to eat bad cheese!
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