After some phone tag back and forth, I was finally able to talk with the man himself…Bruce Workman, Master Cheesemaker at Edelweiss Creamery.
Bruce started in the industry when he needed a job in high school. He started with packing cheese, washing forms, and doing clean up. In the summertime, the cheesemakers took advantage of him being out of school and started to teach Bruce how to make cheese.
Bruce was licensed as a cheesemaker in 1972, 1 year after graduation. He was at that first plant for 18 years; 9 of these he was an owner. He sold that factory and went on to work in non-dairy related fields, but it only took him 7 months to realize cheesemaking was where his heart was.
Bruce has valued his experience working in different factories and with different cheesemakers throughout his career. He has been able to learn on many different formats and types of cheese. This experience and knowledge that he has gained has led him to hold 11 Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker titles, the most held by one person. He got his first titles in 1999 with Gruyere and Baby Swiss. His most recent titles were in 2013 with Cheddar and Gouda.
Bruce started Edelweiss Creamery August 1, 2003 and the factory started making cheese April 2, 2004. He said building it from the ground up, and transforming what he had to work with was “pretty cool.’ He is especially proud of being able to see his vision come to light–starting with only 4 people in the plant when they opened, and growing to 12 currently. One person that has been added to the crew over the years is Bruce’s son, Ben Workman. When I asked Bruce how he felt to have Ben working with him at Edelweiss he said, “it’s awesome to know that you have someone who has the passion to make good quality product everyday.” Ben has microbiology and chemistry degrees and Bruce said it was a “definite plus” having someone at his plant with that knowledge. He also notes that being able to talk to Ben on a daily basis and know he loves the whole process as much as Bruce does was great. He said that it’s every parent’s dream to have a child follow in their footsteps; adding they do have to go out on their own first, to the outside world, and make their way back.
He does have some advice on entering this industry as a career. He said to make sure you’re open to retaining new knowledge and to new experiences. You also need a good work ethic, and knowing you’re headed for some long days. He also advised having the ability to reach out and try new things when you have the chance. Experiement with new cheese varieties, take classes through UW, etc. His final note was to mention the importance that this industry/career is not a one person job. Everyone is a critical part of the team from sanitation to the cheesemaker. A good cheesemaker works his way from the bottom to the top.
I ended my conversation with Bruce on how he measures his success. He said his success is dependent upon his happiness. If he is happy, he is successful. He followed that up with, “They day I don’t like coming to work to make cheese, is the day I retire. Life’s too short not to enjoy it as it should be.”
It was a nice note to end the conversation with, and definitely one I took to heart. One that most people could relate to; life really is too short, as cliche as it may sound, and every minute of it counts. I know one thing for sure about Bruce; his experience and knowledge is greater than I could ever imagine having. He must be a pretty happy guy most days, as he is still showing up to work!
Until next time,
Peace, love, and grilled cheese!