American Cheese Month in the Mitten State!
Leelanau Cheese Company, Suttons Bay, Michigan
Don & Mary Lou Coe’s Black Star Farms in Suttons Bay, Michigan is well known for their on site wineries. But they are also home to the Leelanau Cheese Company, started in 1995 by John and Anne Hoyt. John is a Michigan native, growing up in Detroit, with degrees in marketing and French. After college he moved to Switzerland to attend the Chateauneuf School of Agriculture, followed by a traditional four month cheesemaking internship. Meanwhile Anne grew up in France and was working in agriculture and making chevre in the Roquefort region in southern France. They met at Eison alpage (cheesemakers) in Switzerland where John was making cheese. In the early 1980s they moved back to Michigan, and began making cheese twelve years later. Today they are renowned for their Swiss style raclette (as opposed to the French style), a creamy traditional mountain cheese with notes of dark chocolate and some mild stinkiness closer to the rind. This cheese is known for its starring role in the dish of the same name, melted over a roasted potato or crusty bread with cornichons (tiny pickles) and pickled onions. Tradition has it that at the end of the grape harvest a harvester took his cheese from a satchel on a buck knife. As he approached the fire and the cheese began to melt he scraped it onto his crust of bread. The word “raclette” is a derivative of the French “racler”, to scrape. The Hoyts gather milk from nearby Garvin Farms in central Leelanau Peninsula. The Holstein milk is transferred in their milk truck, “The Milky Way”.
They utilize a microbial rennet (Anne is vegetarian) in all of their cheeses. The more traditional wheel size is 10-12#, but they also make their raclette in an 8# and 2.5# wheel. The wheels age in their own aging cave across from the creamery, where they are cared for, washed and turned for anywhere from three months to two years. They make cheese ten to twelve times a month, year round, and are still struggling to meet demands as they sell at farmer’s markets and to wholesale restaurant accounts throughout the area. Their small staff consists of the 2 of them, with 1 additional full time and 1 additional part time employee, but they are pretty happy where they are.
These wheels have been the recipients of many awards at home and abroad. In 2005 they received a Best in Show blue ribbon at the American Cheese Society awards. Along the way they have been awarded accolades in the US Cheese Championships, World Cheese Championships and Michigan State Fair, to name a few. Pairing is easy when your creamery shares a winery. After a meal of raclette in Switzerland a glass of Kirsch, the savory cherry liquor, or Fendant, a local wine, would be enjoyed. I agree with Anne Hoyt that a glass of a white wine with good acidity would match beautifully, particularly a dry riesling or pinot gris.
Upcoming American Cheese Month events…
IT’S NOT TOO LATE!: Wednesday 10/24, 7-9pm
Dinner: Pastoral’s “Meet the Cheesemaker” dinner with Jerry Heimerl of Saxon Creamery at Nightwood Restaurant (click link to buy tickets: $90). A ticket includes 4 courses with wine pairings, gratuity and a donation to the Daphne Zepos Teaching Award.
Thursday 10/25, 4:30-6:30pm
Friday 10/26, 4:30-6:30pm
Tasting: Upland’s Cheese Company @ Pastoral Loop: 53 E Lake St
Tasting: 11:30-1:30 Consider Bardwell Farms @ Pastoral Loop
Tasting: 5-6:30pm Consider Barwell Farms @ Pastoral Lakeview: 2945 N Broadway