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Artisan Cheesemaker's Whey of the Future

In a surprisingly competitive world of artisanal cheesemaking, one Wisconsin producer has a taste for helping others.

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This story appears in the November 2011 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

For the first decade after Bob Wills and his wife, Beth Nachreiner, purchased her family's Plain, Wis.-based Cedar Grove Cheese in 1989, "the whole Wisconsin dairy industry seemed to be going out of business," Wills recalls. Determined to keep the 133-year-old company alive, Wills shifted Cedar Grove's focus to organic, natural, grass-based cheeses as well as artisanal cheeses made from cow, goat, water buffalo and sheep's . A key ingredient: teaming up with other small-scale cheesemakers and dairy farmers.

With the help of 35 employees, Cedar Grove produces 4 to 5 million pounds of cheese per year.

Cedar Grove Cheese's natural water-treatment system handles an average of 7,000 gallons of wash water per day.

In three to four days, the water is cleaned using natural bacteria and tropical plants, then filtered several more times, emerging pure enough to be deposited into a nearby creek. Much of the remaining solid residue is used to fertilize fields.

Wills began working with grass-based organic and Kosher farmers to create distinctive varieties for his own and private-label sales. Because of the competitive nature of commodity cheese pricing, adding limited-batch specialty cheese production helped the company grow, and pumped up the revenue for the dairy farmers who supplied his raw materials.

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