A few short years ago, nobody knew what a microbrew was. These days, you can’t swing a growler in the Grand Traverse region without hitting a microbrewery. So what’s the next food trend going to be? Judging from the attention it has been getting lately, we’re thinking cheese. Consider:
Boss Mouse Cheese, Kingsley
Located 20 minutes south of Traverse City, Boss Mouse Cheese is producing natural rind cheeses, aged at least 60 days. The cheese is made from milk purchased from Moomer’s and Shetler Family Dairy.
Sue Kurta, head cheese at Boss Mouse Cheese, claims that cheese is beer’s cool cousin.
“Actually beer and cheese making are a lot alike,” says Kurta. “There is a lot of chemistry and love involved in both.” Boss Mouse works with local purveyors such as Right Brain Brewery and Left Foot Charley to craft specialty cheeses using their libations.
“Artisan (small batch) cheese making is complex, but everyone can enjoy it,” advises Kurta. “Cheese is a positive experience. Cheese is real food; not too many years ago everyone made it. We need to go back to simpler pleasures - that’s the only way to go forward.”
Leelanau Cheese Co., Suttons Bay
Leelanau Cheese is the pioneer of cheese in northern Michigan. Started in 1995, John and Anne Hoyt are known for their Raclette, a semi-hard variety, and their Fromage Blanc, a soft cheese blended with different herbs. Currently producing at Black Star Farms, the couple is excited about their upcoming move to their own space in the fall, which will allow them to increase production to meet their sell-out demand.
“Eating local cheese, or any other local food in general, is just the way to go,” says Anne Hoyt. “When we started in 1995, imported cheeses and food were in fashion, and some restaurants would prefer serving a cheese from France over a local cheese, but now it is just the opposite.”
Hoyt credits groups such as the American Cheese Society and the Michigan Cheese Makers Cooperative for helping promote quality cheese making and supporting the industry.
“I think for many years, good cheese making was being replaced by industrial cheese making, offering a poor selection of cheeses with little flavor… but now there is a comeback of artisanal cheese making, and I think it will keep going that way, as long as people are looking for quality cheese with interesting flavors.”
Idyll Farms, Northport
This dairy is bringing new life to a 150 year-old farm. Idyll will begin selling farmstead French-style fresh and aged goat cheese this year.
“Americans are appreciating truly authentic cheeses made from techniques refined over thousands of years (as opposed to the bland, processed cheese normally found in grocery store chains) and want to know their food comes from happy, healthy animals grazing on natural pastures,” says Amy Spitznagel, owner and president. “We’re making world class goat cheese up here, and we think people will appreciate what we’re doing.”
As more northern Michigan cheese shows up in restaurants, stores and farmers markets, Stuart Mitchell, cheese buyer at Cherry Capital Foods, explains why eating this local food makes so much sense.
“Terrior is the expression of a particular place and time (geology, climate, and geography) in a product and is traditionally applied to wine production, but certainly applies to many agricultural products and cheese naturally slips into that category. The vast majority of our cheese makers use milk produced on site or within a very close distance and this produces a unique and very local, handmade product.”