'I would like to see it last another century:' Widmer's Cheese Cellars celebrating 100 years in business

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THERESA, Wis. (CBS 58) -- If you walk into the modest storefront of Widmer's Cheese Cellars in Theresa, just feet away you'll likely find cheesemakers hard at work, mixing or cutting the Brick or Cheddar batch of the day in one of the locations to major vats. The behind-the-scenes look is built that way by design.

"To see the pleasure on people's faces, when they come in to see Wisconsin for the first time and they come in to your plant and tour and watch what we're doing and they're fascinated," Said Joe Widmer, president and manager of Widmer's Cheese Cellars. "Wisconsin is all about cheese."

If Wisconsin is all about cheese, then the Widmer family is as Wisconsin as it gets. Joe's grandfather, John Widmer, came to the Badger State in 1905 as a Swiss immigrant. After working as an apprentice at a cheese factory, he purchased the current Widmer's location in 1922 and never looked back, passing it down to his son, John J. Widmer. The torch was eventually passed down to Joe.

"Our product is so authentic, we're using the bricks my grandfather used in 1922," said the third-generation cheese maker, Joe. "It's special, yeah. There's not many family businesses that go this long, and passed generation to generation and survive."

This year will mark 100 years in business for the Widmer family, and the family business is running strong as ever. As Joe starts to eye what he calls 'semi' retirement, his son, Joey, has returned home and is helping carry on the cheese making legacy.

"Proud to be a part of my family's business and to be carrying on that heritage into 100 years," Joey said. "I care about the Wisconsin tradition and my family's tradition of making cheese in the state of Wisconsin."

While some may expect a fourth-generation cheese maker to take over the family business and carry on the legacy, that wasn't the case for Joey. His dad, Joe, made it very clear to him that he should only come back if it's what he truly wanted to do.

"I was in the same shoes. You're expected to do it, by the community and everybody," Joe said. "You don't do it because it's in the family. You do it because you're spending your whole day doing it and you enjoy it. So make sure you enjoy it."

That choice is something his son appreciated.

"I am very grateful for the opportunity he (Joe) gave me to not, you know, have to go into the family business," Joey said of his father. "I think sometimes, if you force somebody to do something, then it might drive them away."

Now, Joey is back and hands on as ever, helping his employees mix and cut the Brick and Cheddar, and smiling when he sees customers walk out happy with their purchase.

"My favorite part about it is being able to create a product from start to finish, and see the end product and how much our customers enjoy our cheese and the compliments we get from other people and seeing some of the awards that we've won over the years and some of those accomplishments," Joey said. "Just being able to employ people that live here, locally, and being able to work with our community and support our community by having a business here. I think that's kind of what it's all about. At the end of the day, it's about the people."

The family company plans to honor those people June 20-24 with a weeklong of fun activities celebrating 100 years of business in Theresa. Folks will be able to take a trip through history while, of course, getting their hands on some tasty cheese.

"We're glad to be here," Joe said. "We have a lot of good people in the village that support us and that means a lot. A lot of history in this village. They've embraced us and we've embraced them."

A solid partnership between business and community the younger Widmer hopes will continue into the next century and beyond.

"I would like to see it last another century," Joey said. "You just have to take one day, one month, one year at a time. Every day is a challenge, but you have to kind of embrace those challenges and make adjustments as needed."

For more information on Widmer's Cheese Cellars and the century celebration, visit the company's website or Facebook page.

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