By JESSICA CRAWFORD • Daily Leader
Dwellers of the High Plains like fresh cheese just as much as the folks in Wisconsin. However, most individuals don’t have the time or the means to travel to Wisconsin just for good cheese. Suzanne Bryan, owner of Zak’s Cheese in Guymon, Okla., has solved that problem by bringing Wisconsin to the High Plains.
“Zak’s cheese was actually started by another couple – he was raised in Wisconsin on a dairy farm and grew up working in the cheese factories,” Bryan said. “Then he met someone from Balko, so they moved here. Every time they were going back to Wisconsin, people would say, ‘oh, get me some fresh cheese’ so they were bringing home a truckload of cheese after they would bring it back for this neighbor and that neighbor. They thought that was kind of silly so they just started a cheese store.”
Bryan began working for Zak’s Cheese in 1983. Eventually, she was able to make the business her own by purchasing it in 1994.
All the cheese at Zak’s Cheese is made fresh in Wisconsin. A truck is sent up to Wisconsin every fall to pick up cheeses to be sold in Guymon.
“We call the factories and they make it to our specifications and sizes and we send a big truck up at the last of September, first of October,” Bryan said. “We have it go by to all the different factories to pick up what we have ordered then they bring it down here.
“Then usually in November and or in February we go up personally and visit with our companies and pick up what loads we have at that time,” she added.
According to Bryan, cheese is not the only food item available at Zak’s Cheese. During the holidays, she said, food makes a perfect gift.
“We have fudge that is handmade by a lady in Wisconsin, then we have summer sausage from Milwaukee as well as other gourmet food products that people like to give at Christmas time,” she said. “Food is always a good thing for Christmas, everyone likes to have food. And you are probably going to have a lot of company.”
Fund-raising has been quite a money maker for Zak’s Cheese. Bryan stated that she starts talking to schools early in the fall when school begins. She has a rather wide area to cover of schools and organizations wishing to use Zak’s as a fund-raising option.
“For fund-raisers, we go all the way to other side of Wichita on a regular basis,” Bryan said. “I have had them in Louisiana, Arkansas, California, Connecticut and Washington. We cover pretty much the entire state of Kansas and all but the southeast corner of Oklahoma.
We also cover the panhandle of Texas and about half of Colorado.”
Bryan said her business is seasonal. With school beginning in the fall, then with Christmas right around the corner, the store is open for only a portion of the year.
“It starts basically when school starts,” she said. “Then after fall break is when I open up the store for the Christmas season. Basically we are a Christmas store, that is when we open. Then it dies off after Christmas.
“We do some things for the Super Bowl parties and then we have some spring fund-raisers,” she explained. “But when school is out, basically the fund-raisers are over so I have the summer to spend with the kids.”
Bryan, whose husband was a farmer, said that throughout the season when her store was open and operating, became known as just another harvest.
“My husband was a farmer,” she said. “When we bought this we kind of looked at it as our ‘cheese harvest.’ We have wheat harvest in June, corn planting in April and corn harvest in August. This is our cheese harvest.”
Zak’s Cheese is celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. Bryan said what makes them much different from the grocery store is the fact that the cheese is extremely fresh.
“All of the cheese is fresh, that is the bonus instead of getting it at the grocery store,” she explained. “It comes straight from the factory. When you are getting mild cheddar, you are getting cheddar that is may be only a week old.”
Zak’s Cheese is located at 505 North Main in Guymon. Bryan invites anyone interested in fresh Wisconsin cheese as a possible Christmas gift for a friend or loved one to stop by the shop and enjoy a little bit of Wisconsin right here at home.