the Merkts Story
the Merkts Story
Every good company has a story. Ours is just tastier than most.
A Family Tradition
The story of Merkts Cheese starts with Fred Merkt, the patriarch of the family. Fred recruits his seven boys to sell homemade sausage and later cheese in the Wisconsin countryside around the Hartford area. Out of all the brothers, it is George Merkt who takes to the business of cheese the best. Wearing his signature striped bib overalls, he drives in his black truck and sells sausage and cheese door to door and farmhouse to farmhouse. It is at one of these deliveries, he meets his future wife Carol.
Merkt's Homemade Sausage
Shortly after marriage, George and Carol open their first business together, Merkt’s Homemade Sausage. While George continues his farm route, Carol attends to the store selling cheese and sausage, candies and ice cream.
George turns his beloved truck in for a green sedan. He then insulates the trunk so he can drive longer routes.
A new location
Merkt’s Homemade Sausage
moves to its second location.
open for lunch
Sometime after 1943, the Merkts move to a third location on Highway 41. They open up a dining area to serve up sandwiches with their products.
The business faces family challenges and George and Carol lose it all. But that doesn’t keep George down for long, he rents the basement of a locker plant in Bristol and with the help of his brother Norbert they make and sell sausage.
In a new brick building in Salem, George develops Old Salem Butter Churn Cheese Spread, a delightful cheese spread with no preservatives. Each container is marked with a celestial cloud around a simple butter churn to highlight their heavenly product.
No Advertising Needed
In just a year, production averages 5,000 pounds of cheese a week—all due to word of mouth and by handing out samples at local and state fairs.
back and booming
Manufacturing moves back to Bristol and retail stays in Salem.
The Driving Force
George is still delivering cheese to people’s homes—but he wants to make the business big. He has “Truck Number One” painted on one side of his delivery truck and “Truck Number Two” painted on the other side so when people see him delivering, they think he has multiple trucks.
Make Cheese Tomorrow
December 5th, 1971 George leaves this earth and a great legacy behind—but Carol wants his legacy and impact to be even greater. As she mourns, she tells her employees that they will “make cheese tomorrow” because she is dedicated to doing what her husband wanted so dearly—to make the company a success.
Breaking Down Barriers
Carol knows running a business will be hard since so few women did so at the time, but that doesn’t stop her. She is a trailblazer in American business attending conferences all around the globe and securing deals to ensure her company will thrive.
Growing to Keep Up
The company expands by enlarging the plant, adding a truck dock and updating the reception area complete with an oil portrait of the man behind the cheese, George.
a new name
Old Salem Butter Churn Cheese Spread gets a new, registered tradename: Bristol Club.
Merkt Cheese Company becomes incorporated.
Flying off the shelves
Producing 60,000 pounds of cheese a month, each production is sold out with standing orders.
a new partnership
At just eight years old, Tom Merkt started making cheese with his Uncle George. After George’s death, Carol started mentoring Tom and teaching him all about the business of cheese—and in 1979 she asks him if he wanted to buy into the company.
More Freezer Space
In 1976, Carol is known as “the little woman in a small town with a big business” and while this business is growing, she needed more room, again. She purchases a five-acre parcel in an industrial park with 6,000 square feet of freezer space. That’s big enough to hold one million pounds of cold pack cheese food.
Breaking New Ground
September 14th, 1981 Carol breaks ground on a $4.5 million expansion. This will increase their working space from 4,500 to 60,00 square feet and from one packaging line to four with room for six.
Carol sells share to tom
Carol sells her remaining 51 shares to Tom but remains on the Board, advising when needed.
Carol pens and publishes That Business of Love, the true story of George W. Merkt and of Merkt Cheese Company, Inc. As one of the only true accounts of the history of Merkts, much of the information and photos here came from her book.
From 1982 to 2002, Tom produces quality Merkts Cheese Spreads and other cheese products at the Merkt’s family’s fifth and final business location. There are some good times and some not so good times but the love for George’s cheese continues to spread beyond Wisconsin.
Passing The Cheese
In April 2002, the company joins forces with Bel Brands, a company with a history of fine cheesemaking that dates back to 1865.
Today, Merkts is still made with real Wisconsin Cheese and is produced in Little Chute, Wisconsin. And the tradition of enjoying flavorful, spreadable cheeses at BBQs, gatherings and tailgates continues.