Cheese Counter adds another tie to historic past

THE TIES TO THE past continue to grow at the Plymouth Cheese Counter and Dairy Heritage Center.

The counter/center, open now for almost four months, celebrates the history and legacy of the industry that made Plymouth “The Cheese Capital of the World” in many different, entertaining and tasty ways.

The store/museum features many artifacts and interactive displays showcasing the history of the local cheese industry, from the early days of farm wives making cheese for their families to today’s giants of the industry based right here in Plymouth.

Soon it will be adding another item tied to the history of “The Cheese Capital of the World” — an original phone booth from the historic Wisconsin Cheese Exchange in Plymouth.

At first glance, a simple telephone booth might seem to be an insignificant relic, but this particular phone booth — along with the other dozen that were part of a phone bank at the exchange – wielded powerful influence across the entire country.

From 1918 to 1958, the cheese exchange was located right here in Plymouth and it was from there that cheese prices were set for the entire nation.

As Lee Gentine explained to the Redevelopment Authority, the exchange “determined the price of all cheese in the United States.”

And that determination was made from the bank of 13 phone booths in the exchange building. Brokers would use those phones to call buyers and sellers, haggle over prices and set the rate for buying and selling cheese all across America.

That exchange has long since moved on, first to Green Bay and then to Chicago, and the building that housed it has long since been converted to other uses while many of the items from the exchange have long since disappeared.

But it turns out that one of the original phone bank booths made its way to Northern Wisconsin Produce, a family-owned cheese and cold storage business in Manitowoc. When officials there learned about the new Cheese Counter and Dairy Heritage Center, they made a generous offer to return the booth to its original home, Plymouth, and donate it to the center.

The RDA quickly accepted the generous offer and Masters Gallery Foods will see that it is picked up and delivered to the counter/center.

It will prove a terrific addition to the collection there and serve as another connection to Plymouth’s proud cheese heritage.

Officials are weighing how best to display and utilize the new phone booth, which should certainly include some kind of telephone similar to the ones used in the original exchange.

That way, visitors who enjoyed a meal, shopped for cheese and related merchandise, and learned about the fascinating history of Plymouth’s cheese industry at the Cheese Counter and Dairy Heritage Center can cap off their visit by pretending to be a master of cheese buying and selling, wielding the power to set cheese prices for the nation.

It would be a fitting addition to the entertaining, imaginative and educational facility.

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