The Original Wisconsin Cheese Gifts Company
Wisconsin makes more cheese—and more different types of cheese—than any other state. No wonder The Swiss Colony is America’s original source for gourmet cheese gift baskets.
There’s no question about it: America loves cheese. Cheese pizza, macaroni and cheese, the cheeseburger, cheese curds, potatoes au gratin, and good old grilled cheese sandwiches…all have their rightful place in the pantheon of American foods. And, in no place is cheese mania more fervent than in Wisconsin, “America’s Dairyland!”
It’s no surprise, of course. With over 2 billion pounds of cheese produced per year, Wisconsin leads the United States in cheese production, producing around 25% of the nation’s cheese, and its cheesemakers routinely dominate the national cheese awards in a dizzying array of styles – ranging from favorites (like Baby Swiss and Cheddar) to unique artisanal award-winners (like Grand Cru, Emmentaler, and Limberger). Some 60 artisans produce more than 600 different Wisconsin cheese types, and Wisconsin has won more awards than any other state…or nation. In the 2014 World Championship Cheese Contest, Wisconsin won 39% of the awards—more than five times as many as the nearest competitor, Switzerland. If Wisconsin were a separate nation, it would rank fourth in the world in cheese production, behind the remaining U.S., Germany, and France, and ahead of Italy and the Netherlands.
What California is to wine in the America, Wisconsin is to cheese. And, what the Napa Valley is to California, Green County is to Wisconsin. About a quarter of the state’s Master Cheesemakers are in this rural county just south of the state capital of Madison. Wisconsin’s climate and low-acidity grass are perfect for raising dairy cattle, and the rolling hills and limestone-filtered water of Green County, in the southernmost tier of the state, complete the ideal terroir for producing milk of exceptional quality. Monroe is the county seat of Green County and home to the largest Cheese Festival in the World, “Cheese Days!” You can’t drive through Monroe or the surrounding towns without seeing several family-owned cheese stores and cheese factories.
It was in this idyllic locale that a young man would make Wisconsin cheese gifts available to a nation of customers through what may have been America’s first food catalog.
The Origin of Wisconsin Cheese Gift Catalogs
Ray Kubly grew up in Monroe, Wisconsin, the seat of Green County and Wisconsin’s unofficial cheese capital. As a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Ray wrote up an advertising campaign promoting a business that sold cheese by mail. In 1926, after graduating, Ray turned his class project into reality. He designed and mailed out his own handbills advertising cuts of Wisconsin-made cheeses. He bought the huge wheels of cheese in bulk, cut them by hand as orders came in, and wrapped and shipped them himself. Kubly sold 50 packages of cheese by mail order in his first year. Even today, the cheese gift company mails thousands of food gift catalogs to homes across the country.
Largely founded and populated by Swiss immigrants who established a cheese factory seemingly every square mile, Green County is known as “America’s Little Switzerland” and is considered by many to be the Swiss cheese capital of the world (or at least of the United States). Being of Swiss descent himself, Kubly named his fledgling company The Swiss Colony. His enterprise grew over the years—during which Kubly still worked a regular day job—and his product line grew to include some of Wisconsin’s finest cured hams and sausages.
The Swiss Colony’s client list also grew to include Eleanor Roosevelt, Bud Abbott (of Abbott and Costello), Senator J. William Fulbright, James Stewart, Ginger Rogers, Ronald Reagan, and other celebrities wanting to give gourmet cheese gift baskets and boxes (mostly boxes, as they were much more stable for shipping). Wisconsin cheese had hit the big time.
In 1959, The Swiss Colony established its own bakery staffed by a team of master pastry chefs brought in from Austria. (The hard-working Kubly finally quit his day job in 1961.) The company’s food gift baskets grew, too, incorporating gourmet pastries along with the traditional meats and cheeses.
Today, viewing the Swiss Colony offerings online will inspire dozens of gift ideas. The food gift company sells far more handcrafted baked goods than it does cheese (the bakery is still America’s largest hand-decorating bakery), but its origins have never been forgotten: world-class Wisconsin cheese gifts.