Ohio cheese producers, vendors and enthusiasts band together to promote Ohio cheeses
By Nancy McKibben
“The cheese stands alone/The cheese stands alone/Heigh ho the derry-o/The cheese stands alone.”
A few short years ago, the artisan cheesemakers of Ohio might have identified with that sad and solitary cheese from The Farmer in the Dell. But no longer. Today they have the 83-member Ohio Cheese Guild.
According to outgoing Guild president, Gilbert DiSanto, specialty cheese research and development director of his family’s Miceli Dairy Products in Cleveland, “The group is not just cheesemakers. We have retail, distributors, restaurants and small farmers. I see our biggest area of growth as educating people about how good cheese is in Ohio.”
The Cheese Gets Tired of Standing Alone
Jeanne Mackenzie of Mackenzie Creamery in Hiram, Ohio, is perhaps the grande dame of Ohio artisan cheesemaking. At 70, she describes herself as “slipping happily into retirement,” while her son, Rob DeMuch, heads the business.
She began making cheese in 2007 at age 61, and was one of the first to note the boom in Ohio cheesemakers. In an article for Edible Cleveland’s Spring 2013 issue, Jeanne counted six Ohio artisan cheesemakers in 2008—and 18 by 2013.
“It was an explosion of artisan creameries—goat, cow and sheep,” she recalls. “We really felt a need for networking with other cheesemakers, doing problem-solving, bringing in speakers and promoting Ohio cheeses.”
Like Jeanne, Brian Schlatter (see “The Education of a Cheesemaker,” Edible Columbus Winter 2015) was already a member of the American Cheese Society (ACS), the national cheese promotion organization.
“It seemed like a lot of us here were doing the same things, but independently. We wanted to do things as a collaborative group.”
In May of 2013, Jean and Rob met with Brian at Mohican State Lodge in Bellville to discuss launching a cheese guild in Ohio. With ACS Certified Cheese Professional Shannon Walsh of Heinen’s Grocery Store in Cleveland, Ben Baldwin of Kokoborrego Cheese and Kent Rand, fromagier for Weiland’s Market in Columbus, the seven became the Guild’s founding members.
“I’m proud to have helped start the Guild,” says Kent. He embraces the idea that “the Guild should have not just cheese making, but everything that goes with cheese—beer, wine, jam, charcuterie.”
Blazing the Ohio Cheese Trail
The Guild’s current president is John Reese of Black Radish Creamery in New Albany. His years-long dream is being realized at last this summer, when he and his wife Anne finish the creamery and begin making and selling their first fresh cheeses.
In the meantime, John has studied cheesemaking, worked as a Guild member and marketed his homemade jam at his website and local farmers markets, winning national Good Food Awards in the jam category for three consecutive years. Not coincidentally, cheese and jam make a natural pairing.
“The Guild has good momentum and an enthusiastic base,” John says. “Now we want to hold events and reach out to people.”
In the works is an Ohio Cheese Trail, similar to the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky, a “partnership between cheese-centric businesses” that would host cheese-focused tours and demos.
“A Crazy Bunch”
Who might you meet at a Guild meeting? I attended the third annual meeting in Granville on March 21 to find out.
Of course, there are cheesemakers, “a crazy bunch,” according to John. “The farmstead cheesemakers even raise their own animals. It takes a lot of dedication and sacrifice—it’s definitely a lifestyle and commitment.”
Not that the cheesemakers at the meeting were anything but cheerful about their choice of vocation.
Said Angel King of Blue Jacket Dairy, “We’re all in it together. Cheesemaking is having a real revival. Ohio has been historically strong in cheesemaking, but we’ve had no PR. I like the opportunity to network and meet people from other parts of the state.”
The morning’s program featured a presentation by Neville McNaughton, a cheese consultant to the burgeoning artisan industry. Neville spoke in a charming New Zealand accent about food safety, detailing the great lengths to which cheesemakers must be willing to go to ensure the wholesomeness of their products.
Besides cheesemakers like Blue Jacket, Black Radish, Mackenzie Creamery, Osage Lane, Miceli Dairy Products, Turkey Foot Creek, Canal Junction and Kokoborrego, I met Tim Struble, of The Butcher & Grocer, soon to open in Grandview. Tim came to “make connections and talk to producers.” Some weeks later, he began advertising for a cheesemonger for his new shop.
Bryn Bird, a self-described “farm girl” and director of the new Canal Market District in Newark, attended with her 3-week-old infant in tow. She was scouting for cheesemakers who might sell their wares at the city’s farmers market.
I met Dairy Connection sales rep Patrick Coughlin from Madison, Wisconsin, who sells bacteria and cultures to cheesemakers. “It’s amazing to see people who started their business on the kitchen stove and now have big operations,” he says.
Jake Evans, 24, of Kettering, introduced himself as the Cheese Steward at the Miamisburg Kroger deli. Jake has a 10-year plan to become a cheesemaker himself. “Cheesemaking is wholesome,” he says. “Everyone helps each other. The enthusiasm is contagious.”
Restaurateurs also have a stake here. Guild member Noah Chamberlain, sous chef at The Crest Gastropub in Clintonville, was a fromagier “in the Philly tri-state area” before moving to Columbus. “I like meeting the people involved. They have a commitment to excellent products, and this gives me an opportunity in Columbus to get networked with those products.”
Calling All Turophiles
If you’re a turophile (cheese lover), then the Guild can put you in touch with others who are crazy in love with cheese. Learn about Ohio’s cheeses. Volunteer on committees and/or boards that help promote Ohio’s cheeses through events and classes. Receive discounts for seminars and workshops. Raise cheese awareness.
Ohio cheeses are on the rise, and the Ohio Cheese Guild is leading the charge.
Jeanne Mackenzie sums it up: “We have very good energy, and people willing to give the time to make things happen. The Guild is definitely going in the right direction.”
Contact the Ohio Cheese Guild for membership and other information at ohiocheeseguild.org.
And take advantage of events and classes around town sponsored by Guild members. Weiland’s Market offers cheesemaking, cheese 101, and a cheese club with fromagier Kent Rand (email@example.com; 614-267-9878). Contact The Seasoned Farmhouse in September for a list of cheese-focused classes celebrating National Cheese Week in October (theseasonedfarmhouse.com).