Ten of America’s Most Influential Artisanal Cheesemakers
American cheese has come a long way in the last 25 years. The modern domestic cheese revolution began in the early 1980s, as consumers wanted more European style cheese. Today, the United States has nearly 1,000 artisan cheesemakers, with more starting up each year. Here are ten visionaries who helped put cheese on the map in America.
Alison Hooper and Bob Reese, Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery: In 1984, Alison Hooper and Bob Reese joined forces to form a cheesemaking partnership focused on crafting European-style dairy products, including butter, crème fraiche, mascarpone, and cheese.
Since that time, the company has grown into a much-loved, viable business that supports more than 20 local dairies and serves as a mentor for many cheesemakers. Their products are available nationwide and online.
Tom and Nancy Clark, Old Chatham Sheepherding Company: In 1993, Tom Clark and wife Nancy moved onto 600 acres in New York’s Hudson Valley; a year later, they started a150- sheep dairy. It was successful beyond their imagining; they now produce farmstead cheese (including a popular camembert-style and a blue cheese) and yogurt year-round, and are the largest sheep dairy in the country. Their distinctive black sheep logo with its Kelly green background is ubiquitous in cheese shops and grocery chains throughout the U.S.
Mary Keehn, Cypress Grove Chevre: Mary Keehn started raising goats in the 1970s. She began experimenting with cheesemaking in her kitchen and soon realized she had a knack for that as well; in 1983, she founded Cypress Grove Chevre. At a time when nearly all goat cheese in America was imported from France, Mary began taking her cheeses around to restaurants and stores. Acceptance was slow but steady, as the American palate began to accept the more mellow taste of domestic goat cheeses after years of strong-flavored French imports.
Cypress Grove became one of the premier producers of goat cheese in the country. Humboldt Fog and Purple Haze — the company’s most popular offerings — are known nationwide.
Judy Schad, Capriole Farmstead Goat Cheeses: In 1976, Judy Schad and her husband Larry moved with their three young children from the suburbs to 80 acres in southern Indiana. Soon Judy was experimenting with making goat cheese in her kitchen.
Today, Judy is one of the nation’s premier producers of artisan goat cheese. Her cheeses are available nationwide at grocery stores, cheese shops, and select farmers’ markets, as well as online.
Cary Bryant and David Gremmels, Rogue Creamery: Rogue Creamery was founded in southern Oregon during World War II by Italian immigrant Gaetano Tom Vella. Vella sold the creamery to Cary Bryant in 2002 — with a handshake and a promise to carry on the tradition of artisan cheesemaking.
By 2003, Cary and his business partner, David Gremmels, received a World Cheese Award for best blue. Today, the men are recognized throughout the industry as mentors and leaders in protecting and promoting the craft of artisan cheesemaking, and their products are available at cheese shops nationwide.
Cindy and Liam Callahan, Bellwether Farms: Cindy Callahan and her husband Ed relocated their family (including son Liam, who is Bellwether’s cheesemaker today) from San Francisco to rural Valley Ford, California. Their foray into dairy- and cheesemaking was inspired by a visit from a Syrian friend, who described the delicious sheep milk yogurt of his homeland. The Callahans started out making fromage blanc in 1992. Finding an enthusiastic reception, California’s first sheep dairy, was born. You can find Bellwether products in major grocery stores nationwide.
Jennifer Bice, Redwood Hill Farm: Jennifer Bice got her first goats when she was 10, after her family relocated to Sonoma County from Los Angeles. In the early 1980s, as consumer interest in goat cheese began to grow, she and her husband started making cheese. Today, Redwood Hill is a certified humane, 100 percent solar-powered dairy, and thriving business enterprise. Their cheeses (which also include goat milk feta and cheddars), kefir, fluid milk, and yogurt are available at major grocery chains nationwide.
Mike and Carol Gingrich, Uplands Cheese Company: Uplands is the result of two neighboring dairy farming families in southwest Wisconsin joining together. The move turned out to be fortuitous; the resulting spectacular milk was used to make Pleasant Ridge Reserve, a nutty, grassy raw milk cheese inspired by the hard, aged cheeses of the French and Swiss Alps. Since then, Pleasant Ridge has won Best of Show from the American Cheese Society three times. In 2003, the cheese also won Best in Show in the World Cheese Championships, making it the only cheese to hold both awards.
Getting your hands on Uplands' Rush Creek Reserve cheese is no easy feat — it sells out before it even hits the store. Do yourself a favor next winter: Ask your cheesemonger to place an order for you or get it yourself online.
Sue Conley and Peggy Smith, Cowgirl Creamery: Made with organic cow milk, Northern California’s Cowgirl Creamery cheeses have been at the forefront of the U.S. artisan cheese movement since 1997. Not only is Cowgirl one of the best-loved artisanal cheesemakers in the country, but its founders Sue Conley and Peggy Smith are also supporters and mentors for cheesemakers, restaurateurs, and others in the cheese industry. Their cheeses are widely available nationwide, as well as online.
Mateo and Andy Kehler, Jasper Hill Farm: With the milk of their own Ayrshire cows and the aid of their family and staff, brothers Mateo and Andy Kehler produce several award-winning cheeses, including Winnimere, Bayley Hazen Blue, and Constant Bliss in their rural Vermont dairy and creamery. More recently, they built an elaborate underground cave system — 22,000 square feet — to age and care for a select group of their fellow New England cheesemakers’ cheeses. Jasper Hill products are available at cheese shops nationwide.