Despite Colorado being one of the top states in the U.S. housing
microbreweries, a new “micro-market” is attempting to make some
cheddar, too. Literally.
Coined “microcheeseries,” the industry is in the business of
making regional cheeses at a small-scale level. Unknown to many,
there are four microcheeseries in Colorado, one located in Fort
Collins. Bingham Hill Cheese Co., 216 Commerce Dr., is one of the
more popular and better-known microcheeseries among artisan critics
and gourmet magazines for Colorado.
“In Europe, for centuries, individual cities or regions of
countries have developed products with their own identity that are
specific to that region,” said Bingham Hill’s co-owner, Tom
The U.S. lacks these types of regional products, especially in
the cheese industry, Johnson said. This is why he, his wife and
parents are campaigning to make a variety of cheeses traditional to
Colorado’s culture, landscape and aura.
The wine industry, especially in California, has showed that the
U.S. has the ability to blossom into the marketing of regional
products and cheese is beginning to make that same type of
“Cheese makers have shied away recently from large-scale mass
production Wisconsin cheddar, and things like that, and have said
we can do this just like they do in Europe and create cheeses with
regional identity,” Johnson said.
Dawn Thilmany is an associate professor in CSU’s department of
agriculture and resource economics and said there is a growth
movement altogether in the food and restaurant industry.
“People are really looking for unique food alternatives,”
Johnson said his cheese company was the first small producer of
cow’s milk cheese in the state and looked at the same business
techniques of Colorado’s microbreweries. Bingham Hill has been in
business for four years with just a hand full of employees churning
out all types of cheeses from the spreadables to the aged.
Bingham Hill’s first batch of cheese was the award-winning
Rustic Blue blue cheese. It took four months of aging and
experimenting, but finally Bingham Hill produced its first batch of
cheese, launching the small company to win numerous awards and
The whole microcheesery concept of the Johnson’s is built based
on Colorado’s environment and landscape.
“We started producing cheeses that were reflective of the
Colorado landscape: Rugged looking, lower moisture, harder aged
cheeses. It didn’t make any sense to us to make a cheese that is
gooey, moist and wet when the environment is so dry,” Johnson
Bingham Hill produces for many major cities like Chicago, San
Francisco and New York City for commercially owned stores and also
ships to individual gourmands. The company sells just over half of
their products to customers out of state but local stores like
Albertson’s and King Soopers sell Bingham Hill cheese.
The American Cheese Society calls Bingham Hill’s signature blue
cheese a “subtle, meltable and intriguing raw milk cheese, with
hints of nuts, chocolate and oak.” ACS awarded Bingham Hill a gold
medal for best cheese.
Executive Director of the American Cheese Society, Barry King,
believes many small cheeseries in the United States have an
advantage to draw in a customer base to those who are looking for a
more “regional taste.”
“(Those who win awards) are mostly small artisan cheese
producers,” King said.
The amount of microcheeseries in Colorado is minimal, but
growing. There are a couple producers of goat cheese in Colorado
and one smaller microcheesery in Fort Collins while there are
hundreds of microcheeseries in the U.S.
Thilmany said the microcheesery industry is obviously growing
and recently more rapidly. 10 years ago the first, small, goat’s
milk cheesery arrived then five years later another came to the
market and just recently two other small cheeseries popped up in
Colorado, Thilmany said.
“It is clear people see (microcheesery) as a profitability
center,” Thilmany said.
According to the American Cheese Society there were a reported
300 cheeses entered in 1999 for competition,550 in 2002 and over
850 in 2003.
“Just like the microbrewery industry there will be a huge influx
of new entrance in (microcheesery) and the cream of the crop will
remain and the others will not make it,” Johnson said, adding that
only one in 10 microbreweries make it the brewery market.
Johnson said that microcheeseries may be written about in
popular food and wine magazines due to the careful hand made
process of producing a cheese, but readers and customers complain
that the product is difficult to buy. Johnson said finding artisan
cheeses are easiest at Farmers’ Markets, specialty grocery stores
like Wild Oats or Whole Foods or via the Internet.
Bingham Hill was recently approached by Trader Joes, a
supermarket chain in California, and was asked to produce four
cheese products for the chain. The amount the supermarket is asking
for is five times the total volume the company did just last year,
This new client will boost the microcheeseries’ profits and will
force the company to scale things up with hiring new employees and
buying new equipment.
“It will prop up business so we can continue to make great aged
cheeses,” Johnson said, referring to their new client, Trader
Thilmany said people are starting to look for quality over
quantity with cheese. Because people should not eat a lot of
cheese, Thilmany said people seek out smaller quantities of cheese
that are unique and gourmet.
“I think cheese relates to people. There is a sense of place
with your food,” Thilmany said.