Nikolaus & Lucy (Fuerst) Pauly
Pauly & Pauly Cheese Tradition
By: Helen Pauly Shiely, 2010
The history of cheese making in Wisconsin dates back nearly 160 years and for many of those years, the name Pauly has been an integral part of that history in the dairy state. The weather conditions of the area allowed for the growing of wheat, hops and other grains. They were also favorable for the growth of the dairy farming industry. In order to preserve excess milk, farmers often made cheese. By the 1840s and 1850s, small commercial one-vat cheese businesses were already in operation.
It all started in Ozaukee County, Wisconsin in 1878, when a Luxembourg immigrant wagon maker, his wife, and sons began a cheese making enterprise. That company would eventually become one of the largest in the state. Nikolaus (Nicholas) Pauly came to Wisconsin in 1866 from Nommern, Luxembourg as an experienced carriage maker. He settled in Knellsville, near Port Washington where he exercised his trade. In 1871 he married Lucy Fuerst and the couple had 11 children, eight of whom lived to adulthood.
Although he had a thriving custom carriage making business, Pauly saw potential in the cheese making business. In 1878, he contracted an experienced cheese maker so that he and his wife, Lucy, could learn the technique of cheese-making. While Nicholas prepared the ingredients, Lucy took charge of the one-vat, one press cheese factory. She did that in addition to keeping the house in order and raising the family’s growing brood of seven sons and one daughter.
Nicholas continued to run his profitable carriage business until his retirement in 1910, when his sons took over and continued to expand the cheese business. At some point in the company’s history each of the seven brothers Felix, Frank, Charles, William, Emil, John and Peter were involved in some aspect of the business. But it was primarily Felix, Frank, Charles, William and later Emil who were involved in the running of the business which was incorporated in 1908 as Pauly & Pauly Cheese Company. The eldest brother, John, learned the art of cheese making, but he left for a while to California where he panned for gold. The second youngest brother, Peter, became the owner of one of the largest stables of harness racing horses in Slinger, Wisconsin.
During the early part of the 20th century the business expanded significantly, mostly due to the company’s product distribution throughout the southern United States. In 1915, the firm was selling 10 million pounds of cheese and by 1950, it was producing 50 million pounds– approximately 10 percent of all cheese produced by Wisconsin’s 1,500 cheese factories.
The company vastly expanded its production capacity over the years. It erected warehouses throughout Wisconsin and operated numerous cheese factories in Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan. In 1948, Pauly transferred all of its processing operations and its headquarters from Manitowoc to the Standard Brands in Green Bay that it had purchased.
The Pauly Cheese Company was a leader in the development of processed cheese manufacturing, first introducing the process in 1917. Processed cheese is typically found on the top of fast food hamburgers and is made by blending natural cheese with other ingredients and then heating the mixture to pasteurization temperatures. Pauly was also an innovator in the area of individually wrapped slices of processed cheese.
Pauly Cheese Company was sold to Swift & Co. in the 1950s, although second and third generation members of the Pauly family, Frank Pauly Jr., Ralph Pauly and his son, Lee Pauly, continued to serve in executive positions at the company. Over the years, Swift sold the business to Beatrice Foods, which later became a division of food industry giant Con Agra. In 2000 Schreiber Foods bought the firm’s processed cheese plants in Waukesha and Monroe. Schreiber continues to make the Pauly brand processed cheese, which is in turn sold back to Beatrice.
Members of the Pauly extended family continue to live in Wisconsin and throughout the United States. They remain proud of their cheese making tradition and their Luxembourg heritage.