ARENA (WKOW) -- Arena, Wisconsin is not a very big town. In fact this is about as busy as it gets on Main Street.
This small town, however, does has a big claim to fame. It is home to the Arena Cheese Factory. The place where Co-Jack cheese was invented back in the 1970's.
You see, Colby is a yellow cheese and Monterrey Jack is a white cheese. Back in the day, they made both here.
Well, someone, somehow back in the '70's decided to mix a small batch of those two cheeses together.
"As a result of that, they started making it in large quantities for the customer and they came up with the name of Co-Jack," explained Bill Hanson of Arena Cheese Factory.
There is an official version of how the Arena Cheese Factory workers really invented Co-Jack, but the unofficial, off the record version is a little more fun to hear. It's starts at the saloon that used to be across the street from the factory.
"The people that were running the business at that time liked to frequent there quite often, and I think one night they stayed in there a little too long and they came up with this grand scheme of 'How do I make two-colored cheese and the result probably was Co-Jack," said Hanson. "But that's only rumor."
Rumor or not, Co-Jack put the Arena Cheese Factory on the world cheese map. It has won several international awards.
Believe it or not, about ten years ago this building had been sold and was in danger of being torn down taken off the world cheese map for good. That was something Bill Hanson just couldn't let happen. Bill's been in cheesemaking his entire life, but about ten years ago he gave up the corporate cheese life and decided to be the big cheese of his own factory. Now he comes to work every day and makes Colby Jack.
Bill, his son, and a handful of locals churn out a few thousand pounds of that cheese at a time. It remains famous to this day. Had Bill Hanson not stepped in to buy the place who know what would have happened.
While cheesemaking has changed through the years, the Arena Cheese Factory still makes much of its cheese with old world TLC. They do everything here. Make it, cut it, bag it, package it and ship it around the world.
Of course they sell it here too. So, the next time you're zipping by on Highway 14, it might just be worth stopping in for a slice of the cheese that made Arena famous.