Benoit Cheese is cheese lover's dream come true
Served the area fine fromage for 37 yearsArticle published in Ashland Daily PressPublished: By RICK OLIVO, Daily Press Staff Writer
Since 1973, the Benoit Reload and Livestock Corporation's store has been a fixture in "downtown Benoit" a tiny community on County Highway "F" just off State Highway 63 in central Bayfield County.
For decades it was known simply as "The Benoit NFO Reload Center," and if you thought about it at all, it was as a place that provided goods and services to area farmers. However, those familiar with the operation have always known better and have avidly sought out the wonderful cheeses and other great dairy products to be had there.
Of late the store has begun to emphasize their the fine Wisconsin cheeses they offer, and have even renamed the operation with a title more appropriate of their flagship products — Benoit Cheese.
According to General Manager David Johnson, Benoit Cheese has striven to provide high-quality cheeses at outstanding value for consumers.
"We buy direct from about 10 manufacturers," Johnson said. "We go where we have to find the more exotic cheeses that people might not know about. We basically go find what the best people do and that's what we buy.”
That commitment to quality and willingness to go looking for the best quality is what has brought Benoit Cheese a loyal following, said Johnson.
"It's an almost cult-like following," he said. "You stick around another 15 minutes and all this will be gone, he said, pointing at a freshly arrived shipment of cheese curds.
"That cheese was liquid milk this morning," he said.
The shop also features Colby Cheese from Cady Creek Farms, which was also produced fresh that day.
"It will still be warm when it gets to the store," he said.
Not every cheese is fresh from the cow; one of the most sublime cheeses available at Benoit Cheese is their eight-year-old cheddar, which, for a cheddar fan, is a near-religious melt-in-your-mouth experience.
"It's fun when you have a great product," he said enthusiastically. "When you have a commitment to providing great service, you can do great things."
It's not just cheese that keeps Benoit Cheese devotees coming back. The store's products also include many other items with a Wisconsin flavor, including locally produced honey, maple syrup, Tetzner's Milk, summer sausage, fresh brats, bacon, snack sticks, and a full line of Dean's foods and related dairy products.
The farmer's group, which owns the store, is a non-profit organization that exists to encourage the sale and consumption of regionally produced dairy and other agricultural products. Because of this, the store is able to offer an unparalleled line of products at excellent prices.
"We do a fair amount of market research, and people don't beat us," he said.
The business also ships cheese around the nation.
"We just shipped 17 pounds of cheddar to Baton Rouge, Louisiana yesterday. We've shipped to 25 states; it's just moving. We have a bunch of people in Chicago who call us for blue cheese wheels."
One of the unique aspects about the operation is their policy of allowing customers to sample the cheeses before they buy.
"We'll sample anything at any time," Johnson.
Johnson said that attention to customer wants is key to growing the business.
"I see a day when we have cheese being delivered by the semi load," he said. "We are not going to change our mission; farmers want to move product, to sell milk. The best way to do that is to give the customer great product at a great price," he said.
Benoit Cheese employee Jill Jones slices chunks of cheese off rounds at the retail operation. Located next to the Avalon Bar in Benoit, the operation has sold cheese for decades, but recently began to emphasize it with a new name and a facelift at the facility. Rick Olivo/Daily Press Staff Photo