“Club Cheese” Chronicles: If You Think That Sounds Grate, Just Wait, It Gets Cheddar

“Club Cheese” Chronicles: If You Think That Sounds Grate, Just Wait, It Gets Cheddar
Kaukauna Cheese Crock from the Brody/Emmons site
Kaukauna Cheese Crock from the Brody/Emmons site

While a great many treasures have come from the Brody/Emmons complex (aka the East Lansing dump), the one that spoke to my heart will be of little surprise to our regular readers. It is a small stoneware crock with blue lettering that says “Kaukauna Klub, Man’f’d By South Kaukauna Dairy Company, Kaukauna, Wisconsin.” Since I grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, I have written extensively about the history of dairy at MSU and other products historically imported from my home state to campus, but this artifact combined all the things I love into one li’l crock o’ creamy joy.

Peter Fassbender moved to the United States from Prussia in 1856, and, after settling in Kaukauna, a city located between Green Bay and Appleton, WI, he slowly grew his dairy and built a cheese factory in 1887. His son, Hubert, inherited the factory in 1901, thereafter expanding it into one of the largest creameries and cheese factories in the region. In 1918 he officially founded the South Kaukauna Dairy Company, which facilitated nation-wide distribution of his factory’s products.

Hubert Fassbender (left) with his brother Henry ca. 1930
Hubert Fassbender (left) with his brother Henry ca. 1930. Image source
Kaukauna crock with original wire bail lid
Kaukauna crock with original wire bail lid. Image source

Hubert invented cold pack cheese, a spreadable cheese made by combining finely ground cheese with whey solids, dry milk, and flavorings. After the end of Prohibition, Fassbender got into the beer distribution game as well, and offered businesses, such as taverns, clubs, and hotels, free cold pack cheese with substantial beer purchases. The cheese become popular among patrons, who began to refer to it as “club cheese.” Thus, in 1933, Fassbender began mass-marketing the product in its signature gray crock with a wire bail lid. Kaukauna Klub cheese became a nationwide model for other spreadable cheese products due to It popularity.

Kaukauna cheese spread on crackers still makes a tasty snack (and yes, I did use this blog as an excuse to eat cheese)
Kaukauna cheese spread on crackers still makes a tasty snack (and yes, I did use this blog as an excuse to eat cheese)

In 1973, the operation moved to a larger factory in nearby Little Chute, WI, and expanded business by adding cheese balls and cheese logs to its repertoire. After changing hands between several parent companies in subsequent decades, Kaukauna was purchased by Bel Cheese USA, the American subsidiary of Fromageries Bel, a Paris-based company. Today, Bel Brands also sells the popular Babybel and Laughing Cow cheeses, cornering the market on spreadable cheese snacks.

So, when was our li’l crock of joy originally enjoyed by some lucky East Lansing resident? The original 1930s crocks were labeled with the motto “It Spreads Like Butter” and featured a diagonal placement of the brand name. The crock discovered by CAP at the Brody Dump most likely was manufactured a bit later, probably in the late 1930s, with more embellished crocks used in later decades. And how can you get your hands on Kaukauna cheese today? Their products are currently available in Meijer and Kroger stores in East Lansing and Lansing. The original cheese spread is still sold in flavors like sharp cheddar, port wine, and garden vegetable (although now in plastic tubs rather than crocks) and cheese balls and logs likewise come in a variety of flavors. So if you want to be a member of Club Cheese like East Lansing residents of the past, buy your own li’l crock of joy today.

Cheese balls and cheese logs are other delicious Kaukauna products​
Cheese balls and cheese logs are other delicious Kaukauna products​. Image source

Sources:

http://www.kaukaunacheese.com/About-Our-Company.aspx

https://www.encyclopedia.com/books/politics-and-business-magazines/belkaukauna-usa

http://www.belbrandsusa.com/our-brands/



3 thoughts on ““Club Cheese” Chronicles: If You Think That Sounds Grate, Just Wait, It Gets Cheddar”

  • I just found a shard of one of these crocks in a local river I go to often to mudlarking — came across your article looking up the name! I live in Hatfield Massachusetts, the Mill river (flows through nearby Northampton) mostly yields stuff from the 1930s to the 1950s although there was a famous dam burst and flood there in the 1870s that occasionally brings forth earlier stuff, almost always shards and not whole pieces. Thanks for a great reference!!!

  • I just read your article and found it to be very interesting. I life in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and just purchased a a Kaukauna Klub crock for $5 like you described in your article. Initially, I wasn’t sure if it was a remake or not. When I turned it around, the original label is still there. As my significant other works in Kaukauna, I was thrilled to have found this! I them decided to research the Kaukana Dairy Company and found your article. I would love to send you a picture of it if possible to see when it may have been made approximately. This crock pretty big and held 2 lbs 8 ounces of cheese.

  • Hi Letitia,

    We are glad that you found the blog helpful and thank you for reaching out to us, We would love to see a photo! Feel free to email us at capmsu@msu.edu. Hope your research is going well and let us know if we can be of any further assistance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *