This past November, at a preview event for Washington Place Bistro & Inn, I met Jean Mackenzie, Mackenzie Creamery, and her partner, Jim. Even better was that I had the good fortune to sit at their table that evening and enjoy dinner. Granted it was only one meeting, but it’s safe to say that this couple was one of the most delightful that I’ve met in a long time. Genuinely good people. I’ve long been a fan of their goat cheese, and now I’m a fan of them as people.
1. What prompted you to take a cheese making class and get started in this business? We had a small 30-acre farm and had been raising Boer goats for several years. The herd had grown to 30 animals twice and been sent to the slaughter house twice. Immediately after sending the last group “to camp”, my partner, Jim Zella, and I looked at each other and realized that, as cerebral as we thought we were about where our food comes from and that the animals were treated humanely while they were with us, we could not do this again. We had become attached to each and every one of the goats and sending them off to slaughter was getting harder not easier! I wanted to do something here at the farm and the idea of making goat milk cheese was much more appealing than producing goat meat. So, I did some research and found out that PASA (Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture) offered a cheese making class each year and the class was just a few weeks away and they still had room. What was your previous career? I had been in real estate for 13 years when I was hired by the then Chagrin River Land Conservancy (“CRLC”) to head up their real estate division, Conservation Buyer Program. It was during my seven years with CRLC that Jim and I found our farm in Hiram – the beginning of our love for farming, local food, goats and cheese making!
2. What’s your favorite way to enjoy goat cheese? I love our fresh chevre in so many ways that it is difficult to say which way is my favorite. I love creating our new flavors throughout the year. I love the plain chevre straight up or on eggs or in a salad. Can you share a recipe? I have attached a wonderful peach tart recipe (below).
3. Any flavors you’ve tried that weren’t quite right? Absolutely! We thought that horseradish would be wonderful . . . and then we tried it and the chevre completely “flattened” the horseradish. So, we are not giving up, but have not mastered that one yet! What flavors are you currently working on? We just introduced Apricot Ginger which is divine! We have close to 100 ideas for new flavors. Working in the test kitchen is one of my favorite tasks.
4. If you were mayor for a day in Cleveland, what law would you make or what would you change? Oh! Wow! What a great question! I would pass a law that every school have its own garden and that all the scholastic curriculum be structured around that garden, history, math, science, art, creative writing. I would also order that every school purchase their food from local producers.
5. If you could trade places with anyone in the world, who would it be? Michelle Obama. She is gracious, strong and has the opportunity to really make a difference in so many ways.
6. What book are you currently reading? Every day I work on a New York Times crossword puzzle. I just finished the Millennium Trilogy and am just beginning Six Month in Scotland, An American View of its Salmon Fishing – I’m an avid fly fisherman!
7. It’s karaoke night, what are you singing? Oh boy! You don’t want to hear me sing! I’m a dancer not a singer!
8. Favorite restaurant in Cleveland? That’s an impossible question; there are so many restaurants that are over the moon. What restaurant do you miss? Years ago there was a wonderful small French restaurant on Coventry, Cafe de Artist.
9. What are the health benefits of goat cheese? Compared to cow milk cream cheese, which is the closest to goat cheese, goat cheese is 50% lower in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. It has 20% few calories and higher in protein and Vitamin A. It is gluten-free and lactose tolerant. Just a much easier cheese to digest that cow milk cheeses.
10. What local producers and farmers do you work with? We work with both the Yoder and Hostetler dairies that milk exclusively for Mackenzie Creamery. We give all of our whey to a local organic farmer for his hogs, chickens and fertilizer. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream uses Mackenzie Creamery chevre to make their goat cheese ice cream flavors. We are working Tom Foolery, a local brandy producer, for our aged Banon-style cheese that will be available later this spring/early summer. All of our grape leaves and chestnut leaves that we use to wrap our aged cheese are from local vineyards and tree farms.
11. Is your farm open to the public? Yes, we welcome visitors but ask that they call first to assure that someone will be at the creamery. Best time to visit? The spring, summer and fall are all lovely times to visit the farm. We are closed on Sundays.
12. What are the biggest challenges with running a farm? There are always unexpected events whether it’s clever goats that jumped through the electric fence or repairs of the barn, roof, fences or hay to be brought in, vegetables to be picked, drives to be plowed and, of course, cheese to be made. It is the most rewarding lifestyle. The most important thing to face all the challenges is having the right equipment! Tractors, come-alongs, tillers, pumps, trailers, and on and on!
13. I’ve heard you say that this has been the most amazing journey. What’s next? The most exciting thing is that my son, Rob DeMuch, and my daughter, Liz Alvis, have both embraced the business. Rob joined Mackenzie Creamery last November and Liz is launching Mackenzie Creamery West in Portland, OR this March 2011. I am also working on a cookbook, which has been a very fun project.
Fresh Peach Tart with Sweetened Chevre and a Shortbread Crust
- 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
Pinch of salt
- 4 ripe but firm peaches, peeled if desired and chopped
- 8 oz Mackenzie Creamery plain chèvre
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Mix butter, sugar, vanilla, flour and salt until well combined. Press dough into a 9-inch tart pan and bake at 375 degrees for 18-20 minutes, until golden brown. Crust will puff a bit. Set aside to cool.
Whip the plain chevre with the heavy cream, honey and vanilla until fluffy and smooth. Once the crust has cooled, remove from pan. Spread from edge to edge with the fluffy chevre. Top with peaches and serve.