Westby cheesemaker competes in World Championship Cheese Contest

Brenda Jensen owns Hidden Springs Creamery in Westby

Many people dream of leaving the corporate world to follow their dreams but one woman in Westby made that decision and found her passion as the leader of her own flock.

Here in the dairy state, most of us speak the language of cheese but for Brenda Jensen, that language sounds more like “baa.”

Jensen is the owner and cheesemaker of Hidden Springs Creamery.

“The feeling of raising your sheep, taking good care of them, having great milk and turning that into cheese is just fantastic,” said Jensen.

However, making cheese with sheeps’ milk was never part of Jensen’s future.

“I was doing that corporate ladder. My next thing was to be VP of manufacturing for a big company, to drink coffee and talk smart, right, that was the plan,” said Jensen.

But when her husband decided to bring 50 sheep home, something changed.

“What happened was I became passionate about something,” said Jensen.

So Jensen decided to start running with a different flock.

“When I told my children, who knew me as the MBA and in the corporate world, I am going to quit that, milk sheep and make cheese, it got quiet, real quiet because it wasn’t me. They thought what in the world — but it’s that passion and that’s what it takes,” said Jensen.

And Jensen’s passion takes her through the entire process of cheese making, starting with the sheep.

“We are in what we call the nursery, the lamb nursery. This is where they go when they are first off their mothers,” said Jensen.

The lambs usually stay in the heated environment for about 10 days and then they move to what Jensen calls the tween barn.

‘’The teenager life of the sheep,” said Jensen. “They are going to drink milk replacer over here, start to eat pellets and socialize with others.”

The sheep spend about 30 days in the tween barn and then move to a bigger pen, where they will eventually become the new dairy flock.

“They live the life of leisure for a year, then they will meet the rams of their dreams, have babies and join the milking group,” said Jensen.

The sheep are milked two times a day in the dairy parlor and then that milk is transferred to the creamery.

“I still get those goosebumps when the milk is warming,” said Jensen.

Once the cheese is complete, it is taken into underground caves to age.

“We age them there because of the constant temperatures and high humidity, a lot of moisture there,” said Jensen.

After aging it for a few weeks or even up to a year depending on the cheese, it is ready for packaging and eating.

“I eat my own cheese every single day,” said Jensen.

But next week, Jensen isn’t the only one that is going to eating her cheese.

“Next week is the world cheese championship contest and we do have some entries,” said Jensen.

In fact, at the event two years ago, one of Jensen’s cheeses was in the top 16 in the world.

“I think that is a once in a lifetime thing right there,” said Jensen.

Jensen said the awards and recognition is nice, but it’s about more than that: it’s about finding a passion in life and it’s only going to get better with age.

“Every cheese I make, I want to make the best batch I have ever made and I haven’t lost that feeling,” said Jensen. “There is no better feeling in the world.”

The World Championship Cheese Contest is next week in Madison. Jensen’s cheese entries are just a few of the almost 3,000 submissions this year. The competition includes entries from 23 countries and 31 different states.