American Cheese Society Member Stories
We love our members at ACS and want to share their stories far and wide. Keep checking back for more of their stories!
Old Brooklyn Cheese Company
Michael Januska, founder of Old Brooklyn Cheese Company in Cleveland Ohio, made the jump to the cheese industry in the same way as many of his peers, in pursuit of a new passion discovered while on a different career path.
After graduating from the Southeastern Culinary Institute in Florida, Michael moved to London right at the beginning of a modern food explosion there. As an American chef overseas, he had a lot of diverse opportunities freelancing. “London has more Michelin Star restaurants than even NYC, it was the place to be for food and I soaked up as much as I could,” Michael recalls. During his 16 years there he met and learned from everyone he could – chefs, farmers, retailers – traveling all over Europe connecting with locals and eating in their homes. “People have different passions and it’s good to meet and learn what others are doing.”
While in London, Michael worked right around the corner from the original Neal’s Yard Dairy. He spent a lot of time there, speaking with them, buying their cheese and putting it on his menu more and more. “That’s where cheese started falling in place for me,” he says.
After moving back to his hometown of Cleveland, he decided rather than trying to restart as a chef in the U.S., he would embark on a new venture. He had already been making cheese at home as a hobby, teaching himself and absorbing as much content on the subject as possible. “Americans were making awesome cheese all over the country, but nobody was in Cleveland.” It was a gap he wanted to fill and in 2016, he opened Cleveland’s first brick and mortar cheese shop and production facility, Old Brooklyn Cheese Company.
Over last few years, Old Brooklyn Cheese Company (OBCC) has grown and evolved, partnering with local retailers to get their seasonal raw cow milk cheese in consumers’ hands. In 2018, OBCC and their neighborhood of Old Brooklyn were selected by Cleveland Chain Reaction – an organization that puts money back into Cleveland neighborhoods through investors. With that investment they moved into a larger facility, upgraded their equipment, and increased cheese production.
In 2019, OBCC joined ACS as a member and exhibited at Meet the Cheesemaker in Richmond. “We joined to get to know more people in the industry. It’s small community and meeting all the cheesemongers, producers, distributors, and retailers at conference opened a lot of doors.” For him, it was an eye-opening experience, and getting the direct feedback on their cheeses was helpful.
But cheese isn’t the only thing made by Old Brooklyn Cheese Company, they also produce the award-winning Old Brooklyn Mustards. “We can only make cheese from March-October when the cows have grass to eat, and Cleveland is way into mustards, so it was a natural addition,” Michael explained. He partners with a local brewery, infusing mustard seeds with their IPAs to create a “time-release capsule that explodes with flavor” when crushed. They now sell two flavors, one of which, Pepped Up, won Best Pantry Item at the 2020 Good Food Awards.
“Being part of something that opens up access to the people that I need to know is very beneficial and ACS has been that for me.” Taking what he’s learned, Michael is now focusing on how to market his cheeses, take advantage of the expanded facility, and put Old Brooklyn Cheese Company products in more hands. “We now have room to perfect our cheese and process, it’s time to go, go, go!”
Couët Farm & Fromagerie
Marie-Laure Couët, founder of Couët Farm & Fromagerie in Dudley, Massachusetts, didn’t begin her career wanting to start a cheesemaking business. In fact, she graduated in 2009 from Brown University with a master’s in environmental studies hoping to go into environmental policy. During college, she spent a year in the Swiss and French Alps studying the environmental impact of local farmers and cheesemakers and learning about regional policies influencing the industry.
Graduating during an economic recession meant jobs were hard to find and Marie-Laure had to think outside the box for her future. During her time in Europe, she fell in love with the goats and farms she was researching, unearthing a new passion. “I tasted a chèvre for the first time in the Alps,” Marie-Laure recalls, “and it was unlike anything I’ve ever had.” This enthusiasm resulted in Couët starting the family operated Couët Farm & Fromagerie in 2015. She joined the American Cheese Society (ACS) as a member just one year later, in 2016.
Rather than splitting their time between cheesemaking and animal-care, Couët Farm & Fromagerie sources their milk from local cow and sheep farmers. This way, Marie-Laure and her team can focus on perfecting their award-winning, specialty cheeses. Couët cheeses have won awards 11 times since opening, four of which at the ACS Judging & Competition. “We originally joined ACS to take part in the competition; we wanted that feedback from experts in the industry,” she remarks, “the recognition and exposure has been crucial.” Since then, Couët has also experienced the value and community of her ACS membership outside of competition. “The network of support ACS provides, even from across the country, is wonderful.”
Marie-Laure sees a bright future for Couët Farm & Fromagerie, carving out a niche through partnerships and experiences with other local businesses. They pride themselves in helping to strengthen their community through those partnerships, providing quality, fresh, locally sourced food. “There is a big opportunity here for Couët in agritourism and events and I’m excited for us to take that next step!”
Union Star Cheese Factory
Running and growing a small business can be challenging and requires owners to wear many hats, something Jon Metzig, co-owner of the family-run Union Star Cheese Factory in Fremont, WI, looks to American Cheese Society (ACS) to help support. A member since 2011, he sees ACS resources like the Best Practices Guide for Cheesemakers and Safe Cheesemaking Hub as crucial guides for cheesemakers. “ACS puts value in the education portion to help grow the industry and guide producers both small and large, something that I love and appreciate,” Metzig says.
The Metzig family purchased the factory from a dairy cooperative in 1911 and it has been family-owned and run ever since. Jon’s parents took over in 1980, surviving an agriculture crash and industry change because of the already successful retail shop they had previously opened. “One of my earliest memories was at 6-years-old, bagging cheese curds for a penny a bag,” Jon recalls, “I was always in the factory and around cheesemaking.” In high school he worked on local dairy farms and even got his cheesemaker license in Madison. After attending the University of Wisconsin for Agriculture Business and working two years for Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Jon re-joined his family at Union Star. “When you grow up in an industry you can take it for granted, but after those experiences I realized there was so much more to food science and what it could do for our business.”
These days Union Star has increased its focus on specialty cheese, something they see a great future in for both cheese and their factory. In his experience consumers are becoming more accepting of, and willing to try specialty food as well as learn more about it. “Ten years ago, the average person wasn’t that interested in craft beer and now look at it,” he says, “It’s similar for cheese and that’s exciting!”
The industry shift towards specialty cheese often also come with new regulations. Metzig has found that it can be a challenge for producers to adjust and prepare, but reflected on how valuable their ACS membership has been during these times: “We love how ACS supports the smaller cheese organizations and the issues we face,” says Jon. “They are here for cheesemakers of all sizes.”
River Whey Creamery
The American Cheese Society team works hard to provide resources to help our members’ businesses succeed. Members like River Whey Creamery in Schertz, Texas, have used those resources to help their creamery reach the next level.
“The amount of effort ACS puts into the education side is priceless for a smaller cheesemaker like me” says founder and owner of River Whey Creamery, Susan Rigg. Susan and River Whey Creamery have been members of ACS since 2015 and resources like the Best Practices Guide for Cheesemakers and the Safe Cheesemaking Hub have been crucial tools in nurturing the exponential growth they’ve seen since then.
After working in big box retail for so long, Susan wanted a new plan for the second half of her career and signed up for a cooking bootcamp program, then attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. “I was surprised to discover how much I loved cooking but knew I didn’t want to open a restaurant.” Cheese-based travel to the Cellars at Jasper Hill in Vermont, and Gorwydd Caerphilly and Quicke’s Cheddar in the UK was also paramount in her journey. Combining her newfound enthusiasm for cheese, her love for science-based projects, and the cheesemaking blood running through her veins (she is a first generation American with roots in Wales and England) she launched River Whey Creamery.
River Whey has come a long way since Susan gutted her own dining room to develop their first three cheeses. Now, leaning on ACS resources and the talented team she’s grown and developed professionally, River Whey is better able to innovate by bringing more testing in house and putting together taste and science to make the best cheese possible. “It’s an important part of my company culture to help people grow professionally, and ACS helps with that,” says Susan. While teaching new employees safe practices for cheesemaking, those ACS resources like the Lexicon & Glossary are crucial to River Whey Creamery.
Susan also credits River Whey’s growth to the connections she has made since joining ACS and attending conference year after year. “In Texas it’s scattered and vast and ACS helps connect me with other cheesemakers that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to.” It’s those connections Susan and River Whey have forged that helped pave the way to creating an innovative and original cheese – a goal achieved when their Indigo Ridge was accepted into the ACS Judging & Competition American Original category in 2019. “Community is so valuable and the one created by ACS is helpful, sincere, and without ego.”
“I am so proud of what ACS does and represents,” says Susan. “For me, ACS is the only organization for the cheese industry.”