Behind the Brand: How Cheese Brothers Innovates on a Family Tradition
Eric Ludy, the cofounder of Cheese Brothers, comes from a long line of cheesemakers. His great-grandfather, Frederick “Fritz” Ludy, was a Swiss cheesemaker who emigrated to the United States in 1919. Every generation since has been involved in the cheese business with various cheese factories and stores over the years. Yet, Eric never planned to follow his family’s path. He studied journalism in college and worked as a reporter for a number of newspapers before a layoff sent him in search of a new career. During this time, he reconnected with an old family friend in the cheese business, Gene Graf, who was already handling production at a dairy plant in Wisconsin.
“Gene was looking for new ideas at the time, so I set out to use my creative energies to create a new brand,” Eric says. “We saw a niche for bold marketing, presentation, and flavors in the selection of cheeses that were then out there.”
So in 2015, Gene and Eric teamed up and started Cheese Brothers.
Bold Cheese for a Bold Experience
At Cheese Brothers, they’re often inspired by craft brewers and their innovations in colors, flavors, and presentation. “They completely remade an industry in under a decade,” Eric says.
In this vein, they produce cheeses in bold flavors, such as Bourbon Gouda, Dill Havarti, and Mango Habanero Gouda. One of the first flavors they created was 3 Amigos Gouda, made with Chipotle, Habanero, and Jalapeño peppers. They still sell it today across festivals, their website, and in their Fourpost shop.
“We called it Spiced Gouda initially, but at festivals Gene would say in his sales pitchman voice ‘we call this one three amigos’ because of the three peppers and the name stuck,” Eric says.
Besides adventurous (and delicious) flavors, Cheese Brothers stands out in the cheesemaking industry for their marketing and presentation. Eric notes that they strive to create packaging and products that are visually eye-catching and tell their brand story. “Cheesemakers have traditionally been pretty conservative in these avenues, though that is changing,” he says.
They also create unique gift collections. “My vision is for a new take on classic gift box providers like Hickory Farms or Harry & David. I envision cool gift boxes, assortments, and cheeses with a unique attitude and presentation, sold online and at small retail pop-ups around the country,” Eric continues.
However, their cheese isn’t the only part of the business that makes an impact on people. “We’ve received hundreds of reviews online and almost all of them mention great customer service first before anything else. Many don’t even mention the cheese!” he says. “We set out from the beginning to make trying and buying our cheeses a fun and engaging experience and I’m proud that we succeeded.”
From Festival to Fourpost
Cheese Brothers produces their cheese at a partner dairy plant in Barron, Wisconsin, and first began selling at the Bayfield Apple Festival in the northern part of the state. From there, they quickly expanded to festivals and craft fairs throughout the country. Unlike most cheese producers, they don’t do very much wholesale. This way, they can connect with their customers directly both on and offline.
After selling their products successfully at festivals, they decided to open a permanent location at Mall of America (MOA). However, their first store was too big for their purposes. They had to sell a variety of products that they don’t specialize in to fill the space. So they transitioned to a Studio Shop at Fourpost’s MOA location.
“We felt it was important to have a permanent base in a high traffic area; a place where we could point people to year round and meet new customers,” Eric says. “Fourpost gave us the opportunity to consolidate our offerings to our core products in a space much more tailored to our needs and strengths as a company.”
The main goal of their Fourpost shop is to drive traffic to their online store. Since 2018, Eric says they’ve made online a primary focus of their business—and it’s also one of their biggest challenges. People hesitate to purchase perishables without first trying the product. However, at Fourpost, they can try cheese samples and know right away whether they want to buy.
“Selling at events throughout the country and at MOA, where customers come from throughout the country, has allowed us to build a steady base of nationwide customers for our online store,” he says.
Beyond their Fourpost shop driving sales online, Cheese Brothers hired a dedicated staff to run it. This, in turn, has helped them to continue to innovate and grow as a company.