By Anne Brennan
Watch out, Wisconsin.
Ohio has become a land for cheese lovers and cheeses that make a big impact worldwide.
Consider the baby Swiss. This popular brand, officially known as the Original Baby Swiss cheese, often imitated and known for its mild, nutty flavor, was the brainchild of an Ohio family of cheesemakers, the Guggisbergs, in the Doughty Valley. And it’s just one example; from gorgonzola to grand champion cheese winners, this state has cheesy offerings for every palate.
“Ohio cheeses can be and are very diverse because of the different geographical areas from which the milk is produced to make the cheeses,” explains Ralph Schlatter, lead cheesemaker of Canal Junction Farmstead Cheeses in Defiance.
Ohio cheese producers range from large operations to labors of love. If you’re ever been at a farmer’s market and had sticker shock at the cost of some locally products, there are reasons why these artisan cheeses sometimes appear to be worth their weight in gold. Artisan cheeses are completely hand-made, from the milking to the recipes, all the way to the cheesemakers themselves selling their wares at your local farmers market.
“We’d like to be able to charge less. We charge at the low-end just to keep going,” says Ben Baldwin of Kokoborrego Cheese in Mount Gilead. “[Cheesemaking] is not a lavish lifestyle. We’re just scraping by, but it’s worth it.”
While cheesemaking is an Old World tradition, there are trends in the industry.
“The raw milk cheeses are becoming more popular,” Ralph Schlatter says. “Currently, one of the hottest types of cheese to make is the washed rind, like our Charloe. Not only does it give the cheese a very distinctive aroma, it adds flavor that you do not get anywhere else. With time and experience and knowledge we are seeing more diverse cheeses on the market, and the quality is continuing to rise.”
Ultimately, there’s more to your local Swiss, cheddar and goat cheeses than science. “It’s an art; it can’t be 100 percent taught,” says Ursula Guggisberg of Guggisberg Cheese in Millersburg. If you’d like to taste-test local award-winners, you’re in luck. Many Ohio cheese producers include tours, retail shops and restaurants on-site.
Check out these farmstead, craft and artisan cheesemakers located throughout the state, from Cincinnati to Amish country:
Guggisberg – Enjoying almost 70 years of tradition, Guggisberg is one of the biggest manufacturers of Swiss cheese. The gift shop features cheeses, European-style meats and even authentic Black Forest cuckoo clocks. Indulge in Swiss-style fondues and wiener schnitzel at their restaurant, Chalet in the Valley, just across the street. www.babyswiss.com
Heini’s – Short for Heinrich, Heini’s in Millersburg is a large family-owned and operated business since 1935, when the Swiss family of master cheesemakers immigrated to the U.S. Heini’s offers 35 varieties of cheese as well as imported cheeses, meats, fudge, jams and jellies. Shop at the store or order online. Check online for Heini’s special events. www.heinis.com
JZN Goat Farm – Enjoy natural, creamy goat cheese from the only licensed natural cheese manufacturer in the area. This sustainably-owned farm in Cherry Fork, west of Cincinnati, is run by Gayla Fritzhand, aka “Chief Goat Officer.” Only 14 percent of US farms are owned by women. Educational farm tours of goat husbandry on the 126 acres are by appointment only. www.jzngoatfarm.com
Kokoborrego Cheese Co. – This company, located between Mansfield and Columbus, has been producing cow and sheep milk cheese since 2011. The sheep milk comes from the Sippel Family Farm. The cow milk comes from neighbor farmers, literally down the road. They first specialized in raw milk cheese, but have since incorporated pasteurization to produce Whetstone, Morrow and Gilead. www.kokoborrego.com
Canal Junction Farmstead Cheese – Along with the popular Charloe, Canal Junction offers cow’s-milk cheeses such as the gruyere-like Wabash Erie Canal and Black Swamp gouda, among others. Cheeses are available at the farm store, some farmers markets and online. www.canaljunctioncheese.com