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Cheese, and wine, and goods and events – oh my!

The Milk Merchant celebrates its fifth year in business this month

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May 13, 2024

WAUSAU – Is it a cheese shop, a gift shop, a basket store, a catering business, a place to hang out and learn new skills, a deli – or all of the above?

Owner Mary Gallagher said though that may be hard to define, there’s one thing you won’t find at The Milk Merchant, and that’s milk.

Gallagher said the niche cheese shop – located at 402 N. Second St. in the City of Wausau – has gifts, home goods, specialty groceries and deli meats, and when it’s not hosting a variety of after-hours dine-and-learn events and artsy workshops, it also caters weddings and parties.

Plus, she said, it has ice cream.

Five years

Gallagher – who ran a bead and jewelry store in Chicago for 10 years before moving back home to Wausau, where she grew up – said the 1,500-square-foot specialty store marks its half-decade in business next month.

“I loved retail and wanted to do something for Wausau,” she said.

Gallagher said she purchased an existing cheese shop, Navieve Fromagerie, whose owner was looking to get out of the business.

Though small, she said, she saw potential.

“I was moving home and looking to get back into business, so it was a perfect partnership, a perfect transaction,” she said. “And Wausau needs a cheese shop in town.” 

After taking the leap, Gallagher said she rebranded the store and changed a few things around, adding her touch.

To widen the scope of The Milk Merchant’s customer base, Gallagher said she started hosting workshops, dining events and crafts classes, usually after hours and on Saturdays. 

“We’re always looking to do fun events in the store – things you can’t go to a restaurant to order,” she said.

The shop, Gallagher said, holds classes and wine and cheese sampling nights, floral arranging how-tos and other gatherings – some of which she said have no connection to milk or cheese.

“(They are) things that attract people and (opportunities) to learn something new,” she said.

In addition to the shop’s recent Cinco de Mayo event, May’s calendar, Gallagher said, features a hands-on natural wood and moss flower arrangement workshop, which uses log slices, glass test tubes and floral material to make a decorative assemblage.

No milk, but…

The Milk Merchant, Gallagher said, has a variety of products available, including: 

  • Door County Creamery chévre (goat cheese), which comes in smoked whitefish, fresh herb, wild ramp, toasted onion and cherry varieties
  • Candied pecans and walnuts from Treat (Madison)
  • Chocolates from Mayana (Spooner)
  • Potter’s Crackers (Fitchburg) in smoked applewood, caramelized onion, six-seed and Herbes de Provence flavors
  • Whiskey barrel-aged maple syrup from Tapped (Neva)
  • Toffees from Stella’s Confectionery (Oostburg)
  • Sipping vinegars, known as shrubs, in maple ginger, rhubarb, basil and currant flavors, from Siren Shrub (Stevens Point)

Many of the products, Gallagher said, come from women-owned companies.

The Milk Merchant also offers customizable gift baskets and boxes featuring an assortment of cheeses, chocolates, wines and other items.

Gallagher said some customer favorites include: A Wisconsin favorites cheese package; a goat lover’s cheese package; a meat and cheese lover’s gift box; and a chocolate and bubbly box.

A DIY cheese kit and a 10-minute pickle kit are also available.

Some of the other things Gallagher said you’ll find at The Milk Merchant are cheese-themed greeting cards, cheese sliced to order, wine, craft beers, cheese trays and charcuterie boards and gifts, such as handcrafted serving boards, hand-thrown stoneware crockery, books on cooking and entertaining, cheese knives and special bags for storing cheese.

It’s a cheese shop

Gallagher said as one would expect, the store also carries a selection of more than 40 cheeses from Wisconsin cheesemakers, including from:

  • LaClare Family Creamery of Malone
  • Nordic Creamery of Westby
  • Roth Cheese of Monroe
  • Carr Valley of La Valle
  • Uplands of Dodgeville
  • Hook’s of Mineral Point
  • Saxon Creamery of Cleveland
  • Roelli Cheese Haus of Shullsburg
  • Deer Creek of Sheboygan
  • Bleu Mont Dairy of Blue Mounds
  • La Vaca Rica of Reeseville
  • Pasture Pride of Cashton
  • Caprine Supreme of Black Creek

The store, Gallagher said, also carries dozens of imported cheeses from several countries, including the Netherlands, Spain, France, Denmark, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, Cyprus and Greece.

To complement its cheese offerings, Gallagher said The Milk Merchant offers specialty meats, such as salami and prosciutto, sliced to order.

The shop also offers several made-in-the-state options as well, including:

  • Spanish chorizo, black garlic salami, pepperoni, ghost pepperoni, finocchiona (an Italian salami with fennel) and ‘Nduja (spreadable pork sausage) from Underground Meats of Madison
  • Garlic summer sausage from Nueske’s of Wittenberg

“We’re set up with a deli slicer and knives, and we cut to order all of our cheeses – which are cut and wrapped in paper,” Gallagher said. 

Different worlds

Though Gallagher has a background in retail, she said it mostly involved art and jewelry – a far cry from cheese and meats.

Before launching her bead and jewelry store in Chicago, she said she majored in art and retail at a small private liberal arts college in Indiana.

“It’s a big jump, but I think having a retail background and being in business for 10 years helped give me a boost,” she said. “Now, I’m in a new industry, and we have a wonderful team here… It’s a fun, delicious industry to be in.”

Though the Wausau market is much smaller than what she dealt with in Chicago, Gallagher said Wausau is a comfortable size and scale for her and her young family.

“It’s a good-sized business and a good market to be in,” she said.

Gallagher said The Milk Merchant has created a loyal following, and new customers are still discovering them. 

“We have people travel from surrounding towns because they love what we have to offer, so that is reassuring and welcoming,” she said. “We love our customers.”

Milk Merchant hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. 

It is closed Sunday and Monday. 

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