Union Star Cheese Factory
Running and growing a small business can be challenging and requires owners to wear many hats, something Jon Metzig, co-owner of the family-run Union Star Cheese Factory in Fremont, WI, looks to American Cheese Society (ACS) to help support. A member since 2011, he sees ACS resources like the Best Practices Guide for Cheesemakers and Safe Cheesemaking Hub as crucial guides for cheesemakers. “ACS puts value in the education portion to help grow the industry and guide producers both small and large, something that I love and appreciate,” Metzig says.
The Metzig family purchased the factory from a dairy cooperative in 1911 and it has been family-owned and run ever since. Jon’s parents took over in 1980, surviving an agriculture crash and industry change because of the already successful retail shop they had previously opened. “One of my earliest memories was at 6-years-old, bagging cheese curds for a penny a bag,” Jon recalls, “I was always in the factory and around cheesemaking.” In high school he worked on local dairy farms and even got his cheesemaker license in Madison. After attending the University of Wisconsin for Agriculture Business and working two years for Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Jon re-joined his family at Union Star. “When you grow up in an industry you can take it for granted, but after those experiences I realized there was so much more to food science and what it could do for our business.”
These days Union Star has increased its focus on specialty cheese, something they see a great future in for both cheese and their factory. In his experience consumers are becoming more accepting of, and willing to try specialty food as well as learn more about it. “Ten years ago, the average person wasn’t that interested in craft beer and now look at it,” he says, “It’s similar for cheese and that’s exciting!”
The industry shift towards specialty cheese often also come with new regulations. Metzig has found that it can be a challenge for producers to adjust and prepare, but reflected on how valuable their ACS membership has been during these times: “We love how ACS supports the smaller cheese organizations and the issues we face,” says Jon. “They are here for cheesemakers of all sizes.”
River Whey Creamery
The American Cheese Society team works hard to provide resources to help our members’ businesses succeed. Members like River Whey Creamery in Schertz, Texas, have used those resources to help their creamery reach the next level.
“The amount of effort ACS puts into the education side is priceless for a smaller cheesemaker like me” says founder and owner of River Whey Creamery, Susan Rigg. Susan and River Whey Creamery have been members of ACS since 2015 and resources like the Best Practices Guide for Cheesemakers and the Safe Cheesemaking Hub have been crucial tools in nurturing the exponential growth they’ve seen since then.
After working in big box retail for so long, Susan wanted a new plan for the second half of her career and signed up for a cooking bootcamp program, then attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. “I was surprised to discover how much I loved cooking but knew I didn’t want to open a restaurant.” Cheese-based travel to the Cellars at Jasper Hill in Vermont, and Gorwydd Caerphilly and Quicke’s Cheddar in the UK was also paramount in her journey. Combining her newfound enthusiasm for cheese, her love for science-based projects, and the cheesemaking blood running through her veins (she is a first generation American with roots in Wales and England) she launched River Whey Creamery.
River Whey has come a long way since Susan gutted her own dining room to develop their first three cheeses. Now, leaning on ACS resources and the talented team she’s grown and developed professionally, River Whey is better able to innovate by bringing more testing in house and putting together taste and science to make the best cheese possible. “It’s an important part of my company culture to help people grow professionally, and ACS helps with that,” says Susan. While teaching new employees safe practices for cheesemaking, those ACS resources like the Lexicon & Glossary are crucial to River Whey Creamery.
Susan also credits River Whey’s growth to the connections she has made since joining ACS and attending conference year after year. “In Texas it’s scattered and vast and ACS helps connect me with other cheesemakers that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to.” It’s those connections Susan and River Whey have forged that helped pave the way to creating an innovative and original cheese – a goal achieved when their Indigo Ridge was accepted into the ACS Judging & Competition American Original category in 2019. “Community is so valuable and the one created by ACS is helpful, sincere, and without ego.”
“I am so proud of what ACS does and represents,” says Susan. “For me, ACS is the only organization for the cheese industry.”