SALEM, Ohio – Artisan cheese making is typically associated with dairy farms and rural culture, but the industry is changing shape as new entrepreneurs make their way into the business.
Engineers, biology professors and college students are among the ranks of people looking to try their hand at artisan cheese making.
And the industry has room for them all, according to Katherine Larson from Mill Creek Associates.
Larson recently helped organize a cheese-making workshop in Ashtabula County that drew participants from Sugarcreek, Ohio, to Annapolis, Md.
In the past year alone, Larson said she’s seen a “booming demand for quality cheese – artisan cheese.”
Local restaurants, businesses and farm markets are just waiting for someone to start producing artisan cheese.
“It’s just not there right now (artisan cheese production), but you’ve got a lot of hungry customers,” she said.
David Marrison, Ashtabula County agricultural extension educator, said endeavors like farmstead cheese making push dairy farmers to think about how they can bring more revenue to their farm.
“I think it’s important for farmers today to think that way,” he said.
Plus, with Ashtabula County’s large wine industry, Marrison said it makes sense to have artisan cheese produced in the same area.
Artisan cheese making also adds to agritourism and helps people connect to agriculture, according to Marrison.
Larson said it can be difficult to make a living as a small dairy farmer, but making cheese could help make those ends meet.
“What cheese making allows you to do is take your milk and add value to it,” she said.
Larson added that artisan cheese making is a slower, more relaxed approach than commercial production.
“You’re freed a little bit from that constant push for volume,” she said.
But farmstead cheese isn’t the only way to add value to milk. Peter Dixon, who operates the Center for Farmstead Milk Processing in Vermont and instructed the Ashtabula County workshop, said the demand for farmstead butter is on the rise, too.
“There’s a ready market for farm-made butter,” he told workshop participants.
For those who enjoy the lifestyle offered by farming, Larson said farm-made dairy products are one way to keep the farm viable.
“If you love a life of farming, this is a way to stay in the dairy farming life and add value to your product,” she said.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)