Cheese Makers Spot Light – Blue Jacket Dairy Ohio
The Buckeye State is rich in history, dairy farming and, as a connection between the Northeast and Midwest, commerce. Angel and Jim King are two proud Ohioans with a blossoming cheese business that has helped grow the local economy, local dairy industry and promote their love of local history. Blue Jacket Dairy, situated in Bellefontaine, Logan County, was named in memory of the Shawnee war leader whose original settlement, Blue Jacket’s Town, preceded the current population. Although railroading helped build Bellefontaine, new waves of economic growth are appearing- and none more so than entrepreneurs taking the state’s steady supply of milk and making artisan cheese.
Angel and Jim grew up with dairy farming, spending decades producing milk at Gretna View Dairy. Angel, a history buff and food expert, began toying with the idea of cheese making after digging out an antique press. “The old press was passed down through the family and I finally got around to using it. I bought a cheese making book and made a start. My first cheese didn’t work out- it was horrible! I realized I must have done something terribly wrong.” Angel waited a couple of years before trying a pressed cheese again, instead developing her skills as a soft cheese maker. Together, the King family decided to go commercial around 2007.
Building the plant started that fall, while Angel and Jim begun learning all areas of cheese making. “Jim and I researched together. We visited a lot of farms in the south and brought in a consultant. We kept a narrow focus so we could make sure we produced a quality final product. The feedback we were getting was positive and we stuck to what we liked. For example, Jim doesn’t like blue cheese so we didn’t start out making it. We made what we loved and our customers did too.” Angel attended a class in Vermont and conferences held by the American Cheese Society. “I’m not just an avid reader of history books. I spent a lot of time reading a lot of technical books on cheese making.” The dedication paid off and the new plant and cheese making business opened in 2008.
Originally a farmstead operation, Blue Jacket Dairy now purchases milk from five local dairies, all within a ten mile radius. Angel said, “We have this natural commodity at our fingertips and it has allowed us to expand. For a while we had sheep milk too but for now we have around a quarter of our milk coming from goats and the remainder, around three quarters, from cows.” The animals are pasture-fed, something that remains important to the dairy. “We can’t get pasture milk all year round in this climate, unfortunately. We prefer to use pasture-fed milk because of the quality. Our goal is to make great cheese and fortunately we live in a state with great milk.”
The whole family likes to get involved. Angel said, “Sometimes our customers might get a crooked label because some little fingers like to help out labeling our cheeses. They also help us out at our farmers’ markets. It’s a great way to raise a family.” There are now a wide range of goat and cow milk cheeses for sale at Blue Jacket Dairy, giving Angel an opportunity to revive local history. “We use names connected to the region and our past. This is a great thing about our cheese making business. We have the flexibility to do that.”
Gretna Grillin’ is a delicious halloumi-style cows’ milk cheese, buttery in flavor and non-melting- as is demonstrated at local farmers’ markets. Angel said, “We bring a grill with us so customers can try it grilled. I think we are the only people in the state making this type of cheese.” The cheese gets its name from the small hamlet of Gretna just outside Bellefontaine. Their range of chèvre cheeses also contains Ohio place names. Silver Lake is plain chèvre and the Arrowhead is made with herbs and garlic. The goat milk feta, ‘Fabulous Feta’, is proving another popular cheese. “Local chefs are using the goat feta on pizza- it’s amazing.”
Angel and Jim make another aged cheese using an identical method but with two different milks. Houtz is a mildly sharp aged goat milk cheese, typically aged for two to four months and made in 15lb wheels. John Houtz founded the property back in the 19th century where Blue Jacket Dairy sits today. Ludlow, aged longer to around six months, is a slightly nuttier cow milk version and comes in 20lb wheels. Israel Ludlow was a surveyor and town planner in the Northwest Territory in the late 18th century when the state of Ohio was first opening up. Which is better? Angel wasn’t sure. “That’s difficult to say right now, I think both equally if I’m honest- actually they both sell out fast.”
The Blue Jacket Dairy range of quarks also proves popular with the locals, especially with the German tradition remaining strong in the state. The Lemon Jewell is their most popular breakfast cheese, mild and creamy and perfect with toast or a bagel. The King family also produce two seasonal quarks- a pumpkin spice for fall and cranberry nut for winter.
The other big hit, and bestseller, is Cheddar curds. The curds come in a variety of flavors and have attracted a loyal following. Angel loves to see them in restaurants. “Lots of chefs have our curds on their menu. Poutine, the Canadian dish, deep-fries the curds- that is very popular and delicious.” The range of all the cheeses is because Angel and Jim remain receptive to customer demand. “We brought out a horseradish curd that was in response to customer wishes. People were also asking for a hot and spicy option so we added chipotle peppers Cheddar too.” This newest cheese is Roundhouse Cheddar, aged for three months in 15lb wheels. It has not too much heat but with a slightly smoky flavor. The name reflects the railway roundhouse that was operating in Bellefontaine to help route the trains passing through Ohio.
Blue Jacket Dairy is able to stay close to the demands of their customers thanks to the huge amount of farmers’ markets they attend- up to ten different locations. They cover the local area as well as larger cities such as Columbus and Dayton. They also welcome visitors who can see Jim and Angel in action. Angel said, “It’s better to come and see us at work in the afternoons as we are normally pasteurizing in the morning.” Many people are so desperate for their wonderful curds they text ahead so they can get them before they are chilled- that’s dedication to good cheese!
The resurgence of artisan cheese in the state is welcomed by Angel and her family. “We are excited to be a part of the growth of cheese making in Ohio. Most of it is taking place in the north and center of the state- its top heavy! We are proud to be a part of the Ohio Cheese Guild too and I like to help work with others to help educate people about cheese making in this area.”
For visiting, placing and order or to find out more, log onto www.bluejacketdairy.com