I had the privilege of being able to ask our veteran Master Cheesemaker Paul Reigle a little about how he got in to the cheese industry, what this job entails and where he thinks the industry will go.
Paul grew up in Brodhead, WI—just a short drive from our factory. He knows this area well, and knows the community of people even better. He is a member of this community you can definitely rely on—he always tries to help anyone in any way that he can; from assisting with a flat tire, or a dead battery, to helping a stuck truck in the snow. Paul is an integral part of the Maple Leaf Team, usually being the first one in the office and the last one to leave. It was a pleasure learning more about him.
How did you get started in the cheese industry?
Paul: I started with Maple Leaf in March of 1983, about one year out of high school. At this point, I had no idea what I was doing. I started out boxing cheese, scrubbing floors, and cleaning equipment. Inside of about two years, with Jeff Wideman as my teacher, I became a licensed Cheesemaker. I now have 30+ years in the industry.
What was your role in bringing Maple Leaf to where it is now?
Paul: As the years went on, I became a cheesemaker, maintenance man, production supervisor, plant manager and now part owner. With hard work, long hours, and a good team backing me up, we took care of problems when they came up, and made the best quality cheese that we could make.
What project(s) or accomplishment(s) do you consider to be the most significant in your career?
Paul: Getting my Masters (Master Cheesemaker). It takes 10 years in the business plus an interview, a verbal test, 8 classes, 6 samplings, and a written test that is referenced. This takes about 40 hours to write. This is all done inside a three year period.
Also, being part of moving the business, and then starting to make cheese within a week. It seemed to be an impossible task when we were first planning it.
You’re a Master Cheesemaker…what does that mean?
Paul: You have to have dedication, hard work, and you end up with a great sense of accomplishment. It is the highest achievement that a cheesemaker can obtain, only in Wisconsin. You join an elite group of cheesemakers. With cheeses being made by a master, our customers know they are getting the highest quality cheese possible.
When did you get your first Master Cheesemaker title? What was it?
Paul: I received my first master in Yogurt Cheese in 2008. I received my masters in Monterey Jack and Cheddar in 2011, and Gouda in 2014.
If you could give advice to someone entering the cheese industry right now hoping to someday be in a position like yours, what would you say?
Paul: It is not an 8 hour day. It takes dedication, hard work, long hours, and pride in what you are doing. Pay attention, learn from the veteran cheesemakers, and believe that every little thing matters.
What do you enjoy doing while off the clock?
Paul: I enjoy serving the community as a fire fighter/first responder for the last 20+ years. I also like camping, boating, and a little fishing.
Seeing the changes that Maple Leaf and the cheese industry has made in the last few years, especially the growth of artisanal cheese, where do you think the cheese industry is headed in the coming years?
Paul: I think you will see more specialized cheese being made. It will be at the highest quality possible. Even on the farm, the quality of the milk is better, and getting more stringent. The technology is changing all the time. If you look at the scores from judges at contests in the past few years, the scores are higher and closer together from one piece of cheese to another.
With the years of experience and knowledge Paul has in this industry, I have no doubt that he has an accurate idea of where the cheese industry is headed. We’ve already seen artisan and specialty cheeses making a huge mark on the industry; you can order online, find a specialty cheese shop, even your everyday grocer is carrying a larger variety of artisan cheeses.
The generation of the “foodie” is infatuated with the specialty cheese market. There’s increased focus on hosting friends and family with beautiful cheese boards, and there are certainly more products to help create the most unique display you can imagine. The demand for specialty cheeses makes the competition among cheesemakers at cheese competitions exciting. Being able to see what cheesemakers have created, and being able to talk to them about the process is a fantastic experience. As Paul mentioned, we are seeing much higher scores, closer to perfection, and the scores in each category are closer to each other.
We can all appreciate the amount of time, devotion, and level of commitment that Paul has put into making the best quality cheese he can; that represents Maple Leaf at local, national, and global competitions. He ensures that our customers are getting that same, great product for consumers to enjoy.
As always, keep an eye out to meet more of our amazing Maple Leaf Team in the future!
Until next time,
Peace, love and grilled cheese!