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