Every August my family travels up to Door County, Wisconsin. Located on the thumb of land emerging into Lake Michigan, Door County is a quaint island just barely separated from the mainland by Sturgeon Bay. The area is a vacation destination for us Midwesterners, famous for its shoreline beaches, scenic parks, and, of course, Door County cherries. While I’ve made the trip for the past twenty years, my last couple of visits have involved religious patronage to one business in particular, Door County Creamery.
Located in the heart of Sister Bay, Door County Creamery is the area’s first commercial goat cheese maker. Owners Jesse and Rachael Johnson began making cheese on their farm in 2011. Two years later, they opened up a retail shop and café one mile away, where they sell cheeses, soaps, and gelato, all made from their goats’ milk.
The dream began when Jesse was working as a chef in France. He was visiting a goat farm in Auvignon, sipping local wine and eating fresh chèvre on the patio and watching the goats return from pasture. In that moment, he decided to start his own farmstead goat creamery back in his hometown.
“We wanted to give the Door County community the opportunity to fall in love with fresh, local cheeses, just as we had,” says Jesse, a Sister Bay native who is also the current executive chef at both his family’s restaurants, JJ’s La Puerte and Waterfront Restaurant.
Outside of Jesse’s culinary experience, the couple is completely self-taught. Neither had ever made cheese or worked on a farm before starting their business. They learned many tricks of the trade from the local cheese community while visiting LaClare Farms, Uplands Cheese, and Cedar Grove among others. They even got their first goats from Prairie Fruits Farm down in Champagne-Urbana, Illinois.
Though Jesse and Rachael started because they wanted to give to their community, their tagline is “eat local cheese” after all, Door County and its residents have stepped up in unexpected ways. Back in August 2015, a severe thunderstorm swept the county leaving thousands without power, including Door County Creamery.
This had Jesse and Rachael in a pickle: their milking parlor requires electricity to function and their 53 goats needed to be milked. Rachael quickly hopped on the phone and called everyone she knew, rallying together a team of 22 Door County residents, ranging in age from 16 to 69. Despite the fact that many of them had never milked a goat before, the army of friends completed the task.
“I would say, we live in a unique place where when someone is in need people always just show up, says Rachael, “we refer to our team as Team Cream but this ‘team’ extends far beyond those who just work for us.“
At their storefront, expect to find fresh goat cheese available in a variety of seasonal flavors like wild ramp, a wonderful little cave-aged tomme called Falltum, squeaky cheese curds made with local cow’s milk, delicious goat milk gelato in exciting flavors like whiskey irish cream and olive oil sea salt, and some seriously tasty chocolate chip cookies. If you want the full experience, I highly recommend joining their farm tours on Thursdays and Saturdays, which includes a visit to the farm, cheese tasting, gelato, and lunch at back at their cafe for only $40.