Brennan’s Markets are a haven for fans of Wisconsin products, especially cheese. I shop at Brennan’s on a bi-weekly basis preferring their produce, especially fruit, to the flavorless, unripe crap found at most grocery stores. There isn’t a single store I have been in that lavishes the samples on their customers like Brennan’s either. You could easily make a meal by strolling through the store noshing on the fruit, vegetables, chips, dips, juices, cheeses and crackers that they have put out. Wondering if those beautiful peaches taste as good as they look, just grab a sample. Wondering how that World Champion cheese tastes before spending 8 bucks on it? Just grab a bite and see if you like it. If you have a question their employees are very knowledgeable and friendly, especially the woman who runs the cheese department at the Brookfield store (I forgot her name) As you can clearly see, I am a HUGE fan of these stores. However I have a bone to pick with them and their cheese labeling practices.
On Monday I stopped by to pick up some fruit and also needed a blue cheese for some burgers I was planning on grilling. Brennan’s has several styles of blue cheese (and its close relatives, Roquefort, Gorgonzola, and Stilton). I settled on a double cream blue from Mineral Point Wisconsin. I wanted to know more about the cheese that I purchased such as who made it and what other cheeses that company makes. It was easy to find, a quick google search using the term “double cream blue cheese Mineral Point” revealed that it was made by Hook’s Cheese Company. I then was able to read about this cheese, their other cheeses, and the history of the Company. What bothered me was that Brennan’s didn’t give the cheese makers any recognition on their label. This is not the first time I have had to decipher cheese from Brennan’s as they rarely label cheeses with the cheese makers name. For many Wisconsin cheeses they will tell you what City, which makes it easier to track down the maker but for out-of-state (or country) cheeses they just have the state (or country) name.
Which leads me to this: Why would Brennan’s, arguably one of the best cheese stores in the state, not give recognition to the excellent cheese makers that supply them with the cheese? Why wouldn’t they want to give Hook’s some credit for the superb double cream blue that made my burgers so delicious? I decided to e-mail them to find out more.
Their response was lame. They didn’t even really answer my question (at least to my satisfaction). Here is what they said: “For over 60 years, we have worked very closely with Wisconsin cheese makers, particularly in Green County, promoting and selling their cheeses, long before artisanal became the buzz word. We have also partnered with local cheese makers to create to numerous new cheeses, exclusively for Brennan’s. In addition to working with the cheese makers, we have great relationship with the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and think that we have done a lot to grow Wisconsin Cheese as a whole in our long history. Our cheese sampling program is a favorite among our customers. In addition, our cheese staff is one of the most knowledgeable and helpful around and can answer any questions about our cheese.”
I responded by writing: “But why shouldn’t customers know exactly who is making their cheese? Maybe I want other Hook’s cheeses now that I discovered their double cream blue, but cannot seek them out because they are not identified as Hooks? It would be like taking all of the labels off your beer and just saying “Pale Ale, Lake Mills, Wisconsin” and people would have to figure out that it was Tyranena Brewing and the beer is either Bitter Woman or Stone Teepee.” I have not heard back.
What makes this even more puzzling is this is not an across the board labeling policy as they actively promote some cheese makers, especially Deppler’s, makers of the best baby Swiss cheese I have tasted, with labels and a section on their website. Why does Deppler’s get recognition and not Hook’s?
Basically their argument is that because you were promoting Wisconsin Cheese long before artisanal cheese became in vogue they should continue that practice. I would think that with the increased awareness of Wisconsin’s award winning artisanal cheeses they would want to promote who makes the cheeses. Maybe 20 years ago it was okay to not tell customers who made the cheese because people didn’t seem to care. That is not the case anymore. In fact I would imagine it would actually increase sales. If someone came in and had a Carr Valley apple wood smoked cheddar maybe next time they will come in and buy some Benidictine or some Gran Canaria because they liked the cheddar so much.
I am not going to stop shopping there because if this but I am not going to mince my words either. There is no reason to continue to label their cheese this way. Its unfair to the customer and unfair to the cheese makers. Each cheese has a history and a tradition behind it and not telling who the cheese maker is robs the consumer of some of the enjoyment of discovering new cheeses and robs the hard working cheese makers (some of the best in the Country, if not the world) of the recognition they deserve. Go into Fromagination in Madison and you can pick up a card that tells you about the cheese and the cheese makers. They even have a “Featured Artisan” where they showcase a particular cheese maker and have them in the store to answer questions. I know that Fromagination and Brennan’s are two completely different stores and I am not telling Brennan’s to become Fromagination, but with the simple addition of one line on the label identifying the cheese maker they would help customers and cheese makers alike.
Perhaps Brennan’s response to not putting the cheese maker on their labels is because they consider Hook’s cheeses to be something akin to “private labeling”? Are these cheeses exclusive to Brennan’s and can’t be purchased anywhere else?
I doubt it, since you can buy Hook’s Double Cream Blue at the Dane County Farmer’s Market, directly from Hooks, and I believe at the West Allis Cheese shop
Perhaps Deppler’s is paying for their extra promotion, while others aren’t?
Either way — you had me sold on Brennan’s when you mentioned the free samples. Will definitely have to check them out!
Information is the enemy. Where will you buy Hooks cheese next time? Brennan’s? Or any other source you can google. (including the manufacturer) Without knowing who’s cheese it is there is only one place you can buy it.
They may let you tase the cheese but they have their hand in your pocket while you’re “enjoying” it. (So to speak)
Brennan’s is like that with a lot things. I worked there for a short time, and they do things their way and are unwilling to change. You are right, it’s unfair to customers and the cheese makers.
Oh those samples. I think that I gained ten pounds in the time I worked there from trying different things.
Hmm. Tradition is nice… but I do want to know where my food is coming from. Fie on Brennan’s for being stubborn!
Love the selection at Brennan’s… and they have a great beer/wine selection to go along with all those great cheeses, fruits, and veg. Unfortunately for Brennan’s, there are plenty of other places in town these days that fit the same bill.
I have unintentionally eaten a meal just from Brennan’s samples!
I have often wished they had better labeling practices, however. I like to know where my food comes from.
I agree with you on Brennan’s labeling procedure. I’ll mention something to the manager next time I am there. If enough people bring it up, perhaps they’ll consider changing.
Hook’s, by the way, are one of my favorite cheesemakers. They do a fantastic aged cheddar in addition to their double cream blue that you mentioned.