Oct 282003
 
Authors: James Baetke

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

Johnson.

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

progress.

“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,”

Thilmany said.

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

recognition.

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

said.

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,

Johnson said.

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

Joe’s.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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