July 14, 2014 -
Mackenzie Creamery has been churning out award winning goat cheese for seven years. It all began with a cheesemaking course taken by Jean while on vacation. It was then that she found her calling and got down to business (literally!) on launching her own. In less than six months, Mackenzie Creamery was born in the lower level of her barn in Hiram, Ohio. Since then, Jean has not only grown a successful business and national reputation; she’s also taken her love for the industry to new heights by founding the Ohio Cheese Guild.
The farm itself has provided a beautiful backdrop for many Plated Landscape dinners over the years, with equally beautiful dishes inspired by the creamery’s distinctive flavor profiles. Below we interview Jean on what makes her cheeses so special, some fun recipes to try and her mission as a local producer.
Q. Mackenzie Creamery is one of the most popular farms of the Plated Landscape season. What makes this dinner so special and what might a first timer expect?
A. I think that the farm setting is one of the main qualities that makes the Plated Landscape dinner so special. Our 30-acre farm is set on a gently sloping hill facing south and has a real sense of southern France with rolling pastures and mature woods. We have created trails throughout the woods and take our Plated Landscape guests on a hay wagon ride though the woods before dinner. It’s great fun for all.
Q. You have such unique flavors. What’s your all time favorite?
A. I tell people that my favorite flavor is the one I’m talking about! But, I would have to say that our most popular flavor is the Cognac Fig, which has won five national awards! We use Courvoisier cognac and Dalmatia figs – nothing but the best ingredients! – to make our sauce that is poured over the top of the cheese. It’s delicious!
Q. What are your favorite ways to incorporate your goat cheeses into your own dishes at home?
A. I love adding our plain or honey chevre to my roasted beet salad that is then tossed with a balsamic glaze and olive oil. I also enjoy making sauces and salad dressings with the cheese. I take ¼ log of our Wasabi Sesame Chèvre, thin it with 2% milk and use it as a salad dressing.
Q. You founded the Ohio Cheese Guild. Tell us about the genesis of that idea and what your vision is for the future.
A. When I was licensed in 2007 there were only a handful of creameries in Ohio and virtually no resources for cheesemakers. Today there are over twenty creameries in Ohio making cheese from cow, goat and sheep milk! At the American Cheese Society’s (ACS) annual conventions, I’ve met leaders from cheese guilds from across the country. These guilds serve as a critical link for cheesemakers to one another and provide a way to promote local cheeses and an avenue to disperse important and ever-changing information from the FDA. Each year, small-scale creameries are held to higher and higher standards and it’s critical that each cheesemaker is aware of changes in the laws.
The Ohio Cheese Guild membership is made up of people from across Ohio – makers, buyers, chefs, cheese enthusiasts – who love Ohio cheeses. We’re working on an Ohio Cheese Trail and an annual cheese event.
Q. How did you come to meet the Bebenroths?
A. I first met Ben when I brought him a sample of Mackenzie Creamery chevre for him to try and hopefully incorporate into his menu at Spice of Life Catering. I then met Jackie and the children at the Shaker farmers’ market and fell in love with the entire family! Jackie and I then served together on the Cuyahoga Valley Countryside Conservancy Board of Directors. When the Ohio Cheese Guild was founded, Jackie was at the top of our list for the board and she’s now heading up the Marketing and Communications Committee.
Q. What is your mission as a local producer and how does it align with Spice Companies sourcing philosophy?
A. Our mission and business philosophy is very closely aligned with Spice Companies. Buying local ingredients, supporting and promoting local businesses and incorporating sustainable practices are key.
Posted in: Spice of Life Catering Co.
Tags: Chef Ben Bebenroth, Farmers, Ohio Cheese, Plated Landscapes
June 9, 2014 -
Next up on the Plated Landscape schedule is Yellow House Cheese, a farm specializing in artisan-style aged cheeses that are handmade in their creamery in Seville, Ohio. We chatted with main “milk maid” Kristyn Henslee about what makes this family-operated farm so special.
Q. Yellow House Cheese is certainly making a name for itself. How do you set yourselves apart from other cheese producers?
A. We work hard and do everything ourselves. We milk our own animals. Everything is done by hand. We are genuine. And I think that it really comes out in our product. My girls and I laugh that “It’s made with love in Seville.” But it’s true.
Q. What are some of your specialty cheeses? Which ones will be making an appearance on the the Spice menu at this month’s Plated Landscape dinner?
A. When we started out, we were committed to making only blues because no one else is doing it in Ohio. So our farmstead sheep’s milk blue is our Yellow House Blue. It won an American Cheese Society Award in 2013, so that was pretty fun. We also make Wooster Pike Blue, a cow’s milk creamy blue cheese. Then I got bored and wanted to try something that wasn’t blue. So I crafted Kendall, a bloomy rind cow sheep milk blend that’s like a Camembert. And for those who don’t like a blue, I made Sunshine Gold that’s Wooster Pike minus the blue. It has a feta-like texture but also melts down really nicely in cheese sauces.
Q. Tell us about the art of making blue cheese.
A. It’s mostly magic. We’re still learning ourselves. The blue mold is directly inoculated into the milk at the start of the process. After it goes to the cave, we poke the cheeses with skewers to get oxygen into the cheese for the mold to bloom. Voodoo magic mostly. But temperature and humidity have a lot to do with it too. And lots of luck.
Q. What are some great ways we can integrate your cheese into our own dishes at home?
A. I’m not a cook. So I like to say that our cheeses are best enjoyed with some company and your favorite wine. But you can eat our cheeses on their own, burgers, salads… however you like!
Q. Where can we buy Yellow House Cheese?
A. We are now in select Heinen’s stores. That just started this month. And we are also at the North Union Shaker Square market, Chagrin Falls Market, Medina Farmer’s Market and the Countryside Conservancy Market in Akron. You can also find us in some pretty cool restaurants on the cheese plate.
(Editor’s Note: Yellow House Cheese is currently featured on the all-Ohio cheese plate at Spice Kitchen + Bar.)
Q. What is your mission as a local producer and how does it align with the Spice Companies sourcing philosophy?
A. Our mission was pretty well planned and to summarize, it’s to produce high quality, handmade, small batch cheeses focusing on high animal care standards while upholding the tradition on the family farm in local agriculture. Really, we just want to do the best we can with what we have and share it with others. We produce products with a value that is appreciated by the Spice philosophy. I really appreciate that Ben is a chef who does what he says he does. That doesn’t always happen in the local food movement.
Editor’s Note: The Yellow House Cheese Plated Landscape dinner will be hosted at the Henslee’s farm on Thursday, June 14th, 2014. Can’t make the event? Look for pictures to come!
Posted in: Spice Kitchen+Bar
Tags: Farmers, Plated Landscapes
May 14, 2014 -
Chef Ben first met Monique of Muddy Fork Farm more than 7 years ago at the Shaker Square Farmers Market and have since put on several (as in too many to count for Monica!) Plated Landscape Dinners at the colorful farm teeming with wildlife. On June 1st, they’ll host one of many more dinners highlighting Monica’s favorite vegetable of the season.
Read on to learn more about this sustainable farm that’s tucked along the Mohican River in Wooster, Ohio and how Monica is doing her part to bring local produce and agriculture to consumers in Wooster and beyond.
Q. Muddy Fork Farm, what’s the story behind the name?
A. Our farm overlooks the beautiful valley of the Muddy Fork of the Mohican River. Also, forks and food just go together.
Q. Did the farm life choose you, or did you choose the farm life?
A. I’d say both. I grew up in a rural area in Colombia. My grandfather had a coffee farm and I’ve always been interested in agriculture and farming. The way the farm chose me is when we moved to Ohio from Davis, California, we were looking for housing in Wooster. My husband had gotten a job at OSU, but there wasn’t a job for me in the same field of science. When I found the farm, I said, “That’s going to be my job!” I’ve been running it since 1996.
Q. Set the table, so to speak, for us of what one can expect from a Spice-catered Plated Landscape Dinner at Muddy Fork Farm.
A. I can tell you that one of the highlights on the menu will be a purple asparagus. Ben chooses the menu of course. But you can also expect rhubarb, salad greens, and green shallots. We have a beautiful colony of Purple Martin birds that have moved in. They’re a migratory bird and they establish residence here every year. They’re delightful songbirds and insect eaters.
Q. What kind of preparation is involved leading up to an event like this?
A. We spend a lot of time keeping the grounds looking nice in preparation – weeding, mulching, and general maintenance. The day of the dinner, we’ll harvest our crops, just like any other day.
Q. What produce grows best at Muddy Fork Farms? How do you practice sustainability in your growing techniques?
A. We have a big summer season with peppers, tomatoes, eggplants and that sort of stuff. We grow from asparagus to zucchini, as I like to say. We do root – crops, beets, carrots and things like sweet potatoes, onions, leeks, specialty potatoes (purple, red, fingerling). I probably have about 40 different of varieties of tomatoes, 20 varieties of peppers, and 10 varieties of eggplants. I’m also a painter so I like to have very pretty and diverse vegetables. I look for different colors, shapes, and flavors.
At Muddy Fork Farm, we try to grow without generating any waste products. We don’t throw anything away. We recycle, reuse, and reclaim everything we can. We don’t use any toxic chemicals or pesticides. We’re certified organic and use a lot of water conservation techniques and barrier methods to prevent insects and weeds. We also try to conserve wildlife areas by making this a very beautiful place with native plants and by making sure it is ecologically healthy and diverse. One of the reasons I have attracted the Purple Martins is because they eat mosquitos, so we contain that with live things that are appropriate rather than with chemicals.
Q. Is Muddy Fork Farm involved in any community-centric initiatives?
A. I manage two CSA’s, one for Muddy Fork Farm, which is already filled for the summer, but the other is a cooperative I started with a grant last year called Farm Roots Connections. The point of the co-op is to get multiple farmers to collaborate on a CSA and to give back the distribution to the farms by eliminating the middle-man.
I’m also a founding member and board president of Local Roots Market and Café, a local food hub we started here in Wooster four years ago to connect local producers with consumers.
Q. What’s your favorite farm-fresh seasonal dish to make right now?
A. I like to take some purple asparagus, slice it diagonally, and slightly sautee it with a little bit of salt and olive oil. And that’s it! It’s a great compliment to any meal.
*Monica will be giving a talk on nutrition on May 19th at the Cleveland Clinic’s Lyndhurst campus.
**If you’ve never ventured this far South, note that Wooster is a large farming community with plenty to do and see. If you’re making the trek, you may want to consider staying at one of the local bed and breakfasts and a visit to Amish Country while you’re in the heart of Ohio’s farmlands.