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Top-Shelf Cheesemaker: Lafayette County

The UW helped Chris Roelli become a master cheesemaker.

Chris Roelli and his cheeses

Fourth-generation cheesemaker Chris Roelli teamed up with UW–Madison’s Center for Dairy Research to make Little Mountain a big winner.

Roelli, co-owner of the Roelli Cheese Haus in Shullsburg, worked with the center’s experts to perfect Little Mountain: a hard, Alpine-style cheese similar to Appenzeller Swiss. It acquires some of its flavor from washes of brine and bacteria as it ages for at least seven months.

“I had this idea of a flavor profile and style, but I really didn’t know how to put all the pieces together to get to the end product,” Roelli says. “The center’s help was invaluable. Without its help, it would have taken years and years to get the product out.”

Roelli and the experts, including John Jaeggi and Mark Johnson from UW–Madison’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, made six batches of cheese in Madison, then helped him to adapt the cheesemaking technique to his operation. 

Roelli, who earned UW–Madison’s certification as a master cheesemaker in Cheddar, and will also finish master cheesmaker certifications in alpine cheese and Cheddar blue in 2017.

He made and sold Little Mountain for about three years before entering it in the 2016 American Cheese Society competition in Des Moines. Competing against 1,842 other cheeses, Little Mountain won the coveted Best of Show award.

“That was overwhelming,” Roelli says. “It was very emotional and the highlight of my career.”

The award triggered an avalanche of demand for the cheese, which requires a special isolated environment as it ages. “We had a lot of shops and buyers who wanted it, and we’re only now getting to the bottom of the list,” Roelli says.

“It was very emotional and the highlight of my career.”

Now he is again partnering with the university’s Center for Dairy Research to develop and produce a Havarti-style blue that could reach the marketplace late in 2017.

“This relationship has made me a better cheesemaker, and it’s taken us from a small, mediocre cheese producer to the top shelf,” Roelli adds.

Thank you to Lafayette County for Chris Roelli, who has used his cheese-making knowledge to take his business and products to new heights, dazzling connoisseurs and enhancing the reputation of the Dairy State.

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