Wisconsin is cold. Just the name of the state conjures images of snow, ice fishing and other cold stuff. And perhaps due to this extreme temperature, the people of Wisconsin know how to be warm. Their homes are cozy and you will instantly be offered a blanket and the story of how the owner’s favorite aunt knitted it for the arrival of a grandnephew.
Wisconsinites always have a story
Stepping into the charming NorthWoods Cheese Haus in Papillion is very similar to stepping into your aunt’s home. I was almost surprised not to find a fat cat and a giant over-stuffed couch on which to sit while chatting with the owners, sisters Diana Rayment and Darleene Evitch.
The interior is composed of wood brought in from Wisconsin, with shelves of oils, fresh pretzels, and a family photo above the back table. There is a very distinct, pleasant (and strong) aroma of meats and cheese. Darleene explains that this is entirely thanks to their 48 hour turnaround on their product. They close every Monday and Tuesday to make sure that product moves from their distributors to their shelves as fast as possible. You’ll never find processed ‘cheese product’ in their shop. Every item has been tasted and chosen by a member of the family over years of travel and through the development of some very discerning palates.
The displays boast everything a cheese lover could want, from a strong limburger to a kitschy-cute husker helmet cheese cutout. The cutouts are specially made for the shop and would look perfect on a game day tray – which, incidentally, they immediately offer to help prepare. They have worked hard to become experts in the pairing of their fresh sausages, cheeses, crackers, and pretzels and can help with presentation as well as flavor combinations.
Their wild game sausages are a bit outside of my expertise, and so I leave the elk and venison in their capable hands.
Diana hands me a bite of pleasantly sharp cheddar as we discuss their many trips up north to develop relationships with their suppliers. She tells me about Joe Widmer, a 3rd generation artisan who specializes in 10 year and old world brick cheddars. He has so finely honed his craft that he competes in Europe.
I am offered a piece of chocolate cheese as a young man behind the counter exclaims “You’re going to love it!”
The cheese is creamy, a bit tangy, and delicately sweet with a crunch of walnut. He was not at all incorrect, and is then introduced as a nephew and one of the many members of the family whom I can expect to see helping out at the family run and cared-for establishment.
“This isn’t our livelihood," Diana explains. “It’s simply what we love and we want to share the things that make us happy.”
A happy cheesy mouth
The samples they have been feeding me have been more than enough for them to accomplish this goal, and my mouth is utterly content with the flavor of the roasted pepper cheese whip I was just served on a crunchy, lightly salted pretzel. I am shown a table of ‘squeaky cheese curds’, a staple of the Northwoods, and it’s all I can do to smile at the thought of my Wisconsin-born boyfriend refusing to eat a local cheese curd, as it wasn’t “squeaky” enough. I am excited to let these charming women prepare a gift basket for him this holiday season! (Don’t tell him!)
They are just a family, hoping to be part of your family.
Stop in and say hi to your new favorite aunts. You’re always welcome into this extension of their home for a bite to eat, and you might just find that it’s exactly what you needed to warm up a little.
Northwoods Cheese Haus
310 N Washington in Papillion