I have had a crush on these women for years now. Ever since the first time I picked up an elegant round of Petit Nuage during a shift at Cow & Quince in New Glarus. I knew right away I was experiencing something different: something special.
Anna Landmark and Anna Thomas Bates, fondly known simply as the “Annas” in my circle of farming women, are the power houses behind Landmark Creamery.
The story of their partnership is a beautiful one, beginning as organically as they come. After both moving to rural Albany, Wisconsin the Annas found each other through a local women in sustainable agriculture group. With similar interests and kids in the same 4K class, they bonded quickly. Landmark was working towards getting her cheesemaker’s license and Thomas Bates was a food writer falling in love with the local food scene emerging in Wisconsin.
Over homemade Old Fashioneds one evening, the women plotted a partnership that would pair Landmark’s cheesemaking skills with Thomas Bates’ marketing and communications expertise to develop a brand of carefully handcrafted cheese made with creamy sheep milk and buttery, pasture-grazed cow milk.
And over the past four years they have done just that. They have developed a range of cheeses that are equal parts beautiful, delicious and unique earning them numerous awards at the national and world cheese championships. Petit Nuage, a French-style, soft sheep milk cheese (and my personal favorite), has won two gold medals at the United States Cheese Championship and two ribbons from the American Cheese Society. Last year, all the Landmark Creamery cheeses placed in the top 10 of their categories at the 2016 World Cheese Championships.
And through it all, these two women have remained great friends. It’s not easy working with a business partner and can be even more difficult to turn a friendship into a thriving business relationship, but they have done just that.
“When you work this closely together, you have to be honest, quickly forgive any mistakes and always have each other’s back,” Thomas Bates shares.
Their ability to collaborate with one another and the broader food community is part of what makes their cheese so fun. The Annas decided early on that they didn’t want to do farmstead cheese, meaning produce all of the milk for their cheeses on-farm themselves. Instead, they work hard to build lasting relationships with the farmers who produce milk for them. The diet of the animals has a strong impact on the flavor of the cheese so a deep understanding of farmers’ practices and good communication is essential.
All of the sheep milk for their cheeses comes from Rewey, Wisconsin on the farm of Abe and Sam Enloe. These two brothers started their farming operation during the same year that Landmark Creamery began to take shape. The businesses launched together and have grown beside each other over the years. The grass-fed cow milk for Tallgrass Reserve comes from the farm of Burt & Trish Paris in Belleville.
Landmark Creamery is just as innovative when it comes to collaborating with local companies and chefs. They work with other local artisans like Quince & Apple preserves and Treat Bakeshop‘s spiced nuts to create dynamic cheese pairings sold in gift boxes on their website. When it comes to working with restaurants, chefs always seem excited to highlight their cheese.
Landmark Creamery products can be found on menus all over Madison and Milwaukee. Oliver’s Public House has gone so far as to name an omelette featuring their cheese The Anna. If you’re lucky, you may stumble upon an event highlighting their cheese specifically. Last year Cow & Quince did a whole four course meal featuring their cheeses. Osteria Papavero has done a brunch with one of their cheeses in each menu item.
National distribution is another aspect of their business managed through carefully nurtured relationships.
“Cheese people are the best people. We have found other artisan cheesemakers to be exceptionally generous with their time and knowledge. We are able to work with Uplands, Hook’s and Roelli’s to put together pallets of cheese that get shipped across the country. Without that opportunity, it would be hard to get a distributor to just pick up our cheese alone,” Thomas Bates explains.
But perhaps most impressive, Landmark Creamery has grown their entire cheese business to this point without their own processing or aging facility, working through partnerships and rented space. The business began at Clockshadow Creamery in Milwaukee in 2014 until moving to Cedar Grove’s facility in Plain, Wisconsin in 2015. They now make cheese at both Cedar Grove and Thuli Family Creamery in Darlington. The cheese is aged at Bear Valley Affinage outside Richland Center.
This helped them get off the ground without having to make the major investment in a production facility, but driving across the state everyday is beginning to limit the growth of their business. They are ready to invest in major infrastructure that will make them more efficient and able to buy more milk from Wisconsin farmers.
On April 11th the Annas launched a Kickstarter for the funds needed to “purchase block molds for bloomy rind cheeses (think camembert), a small machine to help [them] produce fresh cheese with a longer shelf-life, and [seed money for] the construction of a small aging facility where [they] can age cheeses.” They’re hoping to have their own plant by 2019. In five years, they’d love for their sheep milk cheese to be a household name, as much of a Wisconsin classic as Hook’s Cheddar, Pleasant Ridge Reserve or Dunbarton Blue.
Seeing what they’ve been able to accomplish in these past three years, I have no doubt in my mind that they’ll be able to achieve anything they set out to do.
When this was originally published, Landmark Creamery had just 12 days left and $11,069 to raise to meet their goal on Kickstarter and take their cheese business to the next level! Head to their page and donate today! Pledgers will join in the fun of Landmark Creamery with exciting rewards of beautiful swag, cheese samples, membership in an exclusive cheese of the month club and admission to spectacular culinary events in Madison or Milwaukee.
You can also meet the Annas during the annual Soil Sisters celebration taking place on farms in the Monroe and Brodhead areas over the first weekend of August. You can taste Landmark Creamery cheese at The Taste of Place event at Cow & Quince on Friday, August 4th or learn home cheesemaking with them on Saturday, August 5th from 9-11 a.m.
Stay tuned for a tasty recipe featuring Landmark Creamery cheese on the blog soon!
Happy spring ya’ll. May your flowers be blooming, your days sunny and your hearts full.
All images used in this blog are the property of Landmark Creamery and not taken by me, but by some very talented photographers.
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