By Kristine Hansen | Photography by Hillary Schave
What makes Seven Acre Dairy Company’s arrival in Paoli a success is trying to be a lot of things — and doing each of them well.
Co-founders Nic Mink (co-founder of Sitka Salmon Shares, which brought Alaska salmon to people’s doorsteps) and Danika Laine (former communications director for River Alliance of Wisconsin) brought new life into a cheese and butter factory in business from 1888 to 1980. They’ve also helped the eight-room inn earn a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Mink schooled himself on the building’s history and is happy to dish out details. Filling in the gaps are locals sending in photos of relatives working at the factory decades ago, framed and hung proudly.
“In ’32, that’s when they really went into cheese,” says Mink, on a tour. “Butter was doing poorly.” Hiring Otto Thalmann, a Swiss man, and other Swiss employees with cheesemaking knowledge gave them the confidence to lean deeper into cheese. “They were still speaking Swiss in the factory in the ’50s,” says Mink.
In the lobby, a chandelier born out of recycled milk bottles designed by Scathain provides a source of light, but also clues you in: this is a place of innovation. In the adjacent lounge, where Mink’s dad sometimes tinkers on the piano in front of a small crowd, a timeline of the property’s history is complemented with tables and chairs made by Paul Morrison of The Wood Cycle of Wisconsin.
In this boutique inn, no two rooms are alike. There’s the Creamery Room, with a round window and where cheese was once made; and the Thalmann Suite, which at 1,000 square feet is the largest and features a kitchenette, island for dining and a soaking tub. Each room is stocked with locally-procured snacks in the mini bar, KOSA Spa toiletries and framed historical articles about the region’s dairy history.
Then, in the bar, there’s a curated lineup of spirits, beers and wines — many local. Breakfast sandwiches on biscuits with Paoli’s Landmark Creamery Brebis or Monticello’s Silver Lewis’ Muenster can be ordered in the attached pink-and-white, pin-striped Dairy Café. The creamery is also dipping into the butter game for the first time with Landmark Creamery’s Farmhouse Butter, made with whey cream, sold exclusively in the café. And no matter what time of day, you can order a cone of wild rice-flavored ice cream that’s a nod to Wisconsin’s landscape.
Ben Hunter, co-founder of Underground Food Collective, is at the helm of the property’s on-site restaurant, The Kitchen, and aims to source as locally as possible. Fischerdale Holsteins, a dairy farm in operation back when cheese was made on-site, supplies the milk that is used to make ice cream in the café. At a chef’s tasting experience in late January, Hunter’s culinary team declared they were perusing church cookbooks from the 1950s to identify what employees of the factory, who were mostly of Swiss and German heritage, ate at the time. These recreated recipes often end up on the menu, such as liver and onions or a pot roast.
While the property opened quietly in December 2022, it’s now in full swing. The outdoor patio overlooks the Sugar River, where paddlers can pull up for a meal or an ice cream cone. Samantha Kincaid (former pastry chef at the now-shuttered Nostrano) will be creating nostalgic, innovative ice cream treats, such as drumsticks and choco tacos. These will only be available at Seven Acre Dairy Company.
This concept is not cookie-cutter,” says Mink. “It’s more complex. There’s going to be some learning involved — for us and people who visit.”