If the ups and downs of owning a business in a new town lead Mary Gallagher to want to unwind at the end of a day with some wine and fine cheeses, at least she’ll save a trip.
As the owner of The Milk Merchant cheese, wine, and goods, she’s surrounded daily by most of what one might need to host friends for a dinner party, or just end the day with a smile.
2nd Ave. In fact, hers isn’t even the first artisanal cheese shop. That was Navieve Fromagerie, which Matthew and Maggie Christians operated from October 2015 until May 2019, when they sold to Gallagher.
“I read about it being for sale in January, and we purchased it in May,” said Gallagher, whose goal was to build on the foundation that Navieve had laid. “Central Wisconsin needs a good cheese store.”
The Christians family decided to sell the shop because they didn’t have the time to build out what they felt its potential could be. So they worked to ensure the buyers could — in a sense — keep the wheel rolling.
“I trained a lot with Maggie, and she helped me with ordering different quantities; things like that,” said Gallagher, who also traveled to cheese conventions in New York to learn more about the industry. No stranger to the retail world, Gallagher owned a jewelry and bead store in Chicago for about 10 years until moving to the area with her husband, Ryan Gallagher.
Cheese and entrepreneurship run in the Gallagher DNA, as Ryan Gallagher’s grandpaents – Ray and Marie Goldbach — founded Marathon Cheese in 1952.
So, Mary Gallagher knew a business opportunity when she saw one.
“They had a liquor license and had wine and beer,” Gallagher said of Navieve, “and gift items, and some grocery items.”
So, one of her first challenges was to reshape parts of the business model to open up its possibilities without changing anything that might disappoint established clientele.
While Gallagher kept most of the types of items that had been there, she did change up some labels and sources. There are some local items on the shelves, including locally sourced maple syrup and a maple syrup from Stevens Point that’s infused with various spices.
“I had the red pepper infused maple syrup on some salmon,” Gallagher said. “Yum.”
She is focusing on catering, particularly company events, whether it be meetings or upcoming holiday gatherings.
Gallagher has something for any taste — Glacier Wildfire Blue, Cotija, Butterkase, smoked pepperjack, goat milk muenster, various BellaVitano, and many more. They’re not exactly the type one melts down for their kids’ mac and cheese. So, for those who might be intimidated by the array of options, Gallagher recognizes an opportunity to open the doors to them, too.
“We will continue to have classes where we’ll pair different wines with cheeses,” she said. “We had one class where we taught them how to make mozzarella and one about how to pair Rose and cheese.”
Gallagher is planning to host similar tastings and pairings, about once a month for now. October was “Halloween Candy, Cheese & Libations.” November will be “Craft Beer & Cheese Tasting,” and December’s date will focus on “artfully arranged cheese boards.”
While she didn’t want to dramatically alter the edible offerings, which includes a bar of oils and vinegars, Gallagher did put a personal stamp on The Milk Merchant by renovating the interior. It’s brighter, with fresh flooring, and eliminating a small office space opened up more sales floor. So far, customers have been receptive.
“Summer was pretty steady, and it’s picking up now in the fall,” Gallagher said.
” We will continue to have classes where we’ll pair different wines with cheeses. We had one class where we taught them how to make mozzarella and one about how to pair Rose and cheese. —Mary Gallagher, owner, The Milk Merchant, Wausau."
One of those customers, Sam Emro of Wausau, stopped to make preparations for the weekend.
“We just like cheese,” she said. “And we have some people coming up to visit. It’s always interesting to see the different cheeses they come out with each month.”
Gallagher’s marketing has mostly focused on social media, and The Milk Merchant’s Facebook page features a calendar of events as well as enough photos of cheeses and invitingly arranged trays to get anyone into a festive mood.