One could say cheese runs in Tim Merkt’s blood. Actually, make that cheese AND sausage. It’s been a Merkt family tradition since 1915. Since he was five years old, Tim has been working in the business; he got his start folding boxes. The family once produced cheese in Kenosha County and to this day, while more than 300 Wisconsin-made cheeses are available at Tim & Tom’s Cheeses, it’s still the Merkts Cheese Spreads that are the most popular.
Tim is one of seven kids. His grandfather Fredrick Merkt was a dairy farmer in Hartford, Wisconsin and his hobby was sausage making. He taught sausage making to Tim’s father Herbert and Tim’s five uncles, who would then sell the homemade summer sausage. From that experience, they would all go on to become sausage and cheese makers or salespersons, either part time or full time. Some would move on to other occupations, returning to sausage and cheese in retirement. Tim’s father was the creator of the bratwurst steak patty.
Tim’s uncle George Merkt started selling cheese door to door in Kenosha County in 1930. He started producing Merkts Cheese Spread here in 1959; first in Salem, and then in Bristol. While the Merkts company has since been sold out of the family, the cheese shop remains with Tim at the helm. Tim’s brother Tom has retired from the shop.
Tim’s parents have owned cheese stores and a sausage company in Milwaukee and Waukesha County. The family sold cheese at the Wisconsin State Fair for over 30 years. A big part of that gig, and his parents’ stores, was providing samples for the customers. Tim learned that from his mom, and he continues that tradition at Tim & Tom’s Cheeses. Free samples are set out every day.
Tim & Tom’s Cheeses is located at the southwest corner of Hwy. 158 and I-94 in the Rustic Dairyland Antique Mall. (The entrance is off the west frontage road on the west side of the building.) The shop offers more than 300 Wisconsin-made cheeses, including many varieties of cheese spreads, string cheese, cheese curds, and blocks of cheese. The best selling Merkts Cheese Spreads come in such flavors as Sharp Cheddar, Port Wine Cheddar, Swiss Almond, Horseradish Cheddar, and Beer Cheddar. Cow shaped cheese, Gouda, Jalapeno Pepper Jack, 12-year Super Sharp Cheddar (it develops more flavor as time goes by), Colby Block, Smoked Baby Swiss, and Blueberry Cheddar are among the shop’s cheese offerings.
Cheese curds are very popular among Tim’s traveling customers. Described as pieces of Cheddar Cheese that haven’t been pressed into a block, curds are most often found near cheese factories. Travelers usually don’t find the curds after they leave Wisconsin, according to Tim.
We all know that Wisconsin is more than a dairy state. Likewise, Tim & Tom’s Cheeses isn’t just a cheese shop! Many Wisconsin-made sausages are available at the store. Tim credits Wisconsin’s German heritage for the large sausage industry the state has. He notes Oscar Meyer, Johnsonville, Old Wisconsin, Usinger’s, and Klement’s as being “good, quality companies” with a Wisconsin presence.
The shop also sells many other items. Tim’s family has been doing business with the Slack’s company out of Lodi, Wisconsin, for 50 years for jams and jellies. Canned pickle products from Door County are popular. Candies, chocolate covered cranberries (with Wisconsin being the largest producer of cranberries), cheese popcorns made in Milwaukee, and Door County cherry products are also available. Antiques are for sale, as two of Tim’s brothers are antique hobbyists.
And, of course, Wisconsin souvenirs are for sale, including the infamous cheese heads, which were invented by a Wisconsin man. Tim wasn’t so sure about those cheese heads when they first came out, but he could see the value in making his tourists laugh, which is what they want to do. Families love to grab different style hats and pose for photos in the middle of the shop!
During the busy Christmas season, gift boxes are very popular. And the recipients of the gift boxes “know Wisconsin makes a lot of good cheese so they are well received, always,” Tim says. About half of their gift box orders are shipped, while the other half are picked up. Gift boxes come in different sizes, and can be customized, with various cheeses, sausages, crackers, and the like. In addition to stopping in the store, customers may call, fax, or purchase their Tim & Tom’s order online.
Being in the business he’s in, and given his location on the busy Interstate, Tim gets the importance of the tourism industry as tourists are his primary customer base. He can count actor Dennis Franz as one of those tourist customers. Dennis and his wife stopped in once for a gift box on their way to visit family in Chicago. Tim said he was a very down-to-earth man.
Tim finds that tourists “love coming to Wisconsin, to see the dairy state, the cows, the farmland.” They find it to be peaceful here and are always telling him how friendly Wisconsin residents are to them. Tim welcomes tourist groups of all sizes, including motorcoach buses.
By partnering with the Kenosha Area Convention & Visitors Bureau in 2013, Tim is able to further reach the tourism market by having his information at the I-94 Visitor Information Center. He will use the Kenosha Area Visitors Guide to do what he’s already been doing: sending his customers to our I-94 Center, to Pleasant Prairie Premium Outlets, to Jelly Belly Visitor Center, to the Civil War Museum, to the Kenosha Public Museum, and more. He likes to tell his customers how the Kenosha Public Museum’s mammoths were excavated not too far from his shop, and to head straight east to the museum. He greatly enjoys his role as a tourism ambassador.
(262) 857-4606, www.timandtomscheeses.com