Owner & Cheese Maker Staedtlichaesi
Lichtensteig (St.Gallen canton), Switzerland
National and international cheese lovers and media call him a rare genius. He refers to himself as a farmer at heart. Both descriptions make sense. Artist would be a very appropriate term as well.
Willi Schmid was born as the fourth son of a farming family in the beautifully rough Toggenburg region of central Switzerland. All his older brothers followed their father and stayed on the farm. Willi realized that at one point there might not be enough revenue for each of the kids and that it made sense to steer towards another craft. He chose to become a cheese maker.
What in the beginning was pure rationality quickly grew into deep love and passion. Willi was fascinated by the simplicity and complexity of each single wheel. He loved to see the milk becoming curd and the curd becoming cheese. He loved the smell, the feel, the taste during every step of cheese making. He still can't stop himself once he starts talking about his beloved "bug science". He just loves those molds and strains too much. But most of all he loves the closeness to nature and farms his profession offers him.
In the tiny Staedtlichaesi - the dairy he owns in the core of the middle age small town of Lichtensteig - Willi starts each day by waiting for the farmers to bring him the milk. He smells it, drinks it and at that instant decides what cheese he will be working out of this specific batch. There's a lot of creativity going on in Schmids world (and doubtlessly much more than any one would apply to the image of a quiet farmer's son). He works with Jersey cow, goat, sheep and lately even water buffalo milk. He has seven herds in total - two of them belonging to two of his brothers - that he uses as his raw product purveyors.
These herds, their care givers (aka farmers) and Willi himself are a close knit clan. Willi knows every single animal by name. He spends (quality) time at each of "his" farms between one and five times a week. Sometimes he will do a little detour on his way home just to have a look at a herd and get some good goat or big buffalo hugs. He knows exactly what flowers and herbs the Jerseys currently are able to munch on, when ewe Lila will give birth (about and to how many babies about) or why a certain milk tasted even sweeter than usual that same morning.
The closeness to each single part of the chain of purveyors - meadows, animals and farmers - is a result of Schmids huge admiration and respect towards nature. The man who at times produces up to 20 different cheeses and lists a portfolio that consists of more than 40 crazy great products is known for his generosity. He pays his farmers up to 1/2 as much more for the milk than any other cheese maker known. Partly because he understands what it takes to produce a great product day after day. But also because his expectations are higher than any other producer's and the farmers know that they will be out the first time they do not meet Schmid's standards.
So, beyond being a genius, farmer and artist, he also is a purist. It all comes together. Many people have tried to work on his side, to learn from him. But a perfectionist and dreamer who usually after the first wave of joy over a new cheese already sees the better version of it in front of his inner eye never is satisfied for a long time. Especially not by the work ethic or quality standards of others. He prefers to work long days and nights and even weekends.
Because producing, tasting, contemplating and yes, showing around a cheese that's made of the beautiful milk of an abandoned herd of water buffalos gives Willi satisfaction. He finds joy in simple things like pure flavors. Healthy cows. Goats that had not have to get their horns cut off. Foraging and at the same time inventing a cheese to use the harvest in. Talking about the beauty of a meadow not just with the farmer but with the cheese consumer. Listening to the stories of herdsmen and getting inspired by them. Cutting bark from trees in order to hold some cheeses together like cheese makers did centuries ago when there were no plastic molds yet. Catching frogs with his son (and letting the youngster wonder where they went after having been in his fist...).
Not many geniuses are great cheese makers and farmers at heart. Or this combo in any order. Willi Schmid has and is it all. Plus a great friend just like any one should be or have. Remarkable.
Some of Schmid's outstanding products: Bergfichte, Bergmatter, Blue Buffalo, Blue Goat, Buffalo Bill, Caprinello, Jersey Blue, Millstone, Nicola, Tuma, Vivienne, Wise Buffalo, Wooden Goat.
Willi Schmid is married to his school day's love Beatrice. They have three children (of which two borrowed their first name to a cheese and one designed the labels to said cheeses).