Ask Jean Mackenzie why she decided to open a small-batch, goat cheese creamery in 2007—long before artisan cheese-making was a thing—and she’ll respond without skipping beat: “I was put on this world to make cheese.”
Take one bite of her fresh chevre and you’ll know she’s not kidding. Her cheese is rich, creamy, and naturally tangy with a clean finish. It’s every bit as complex as a great red wine. Bottom line, it’s some of the best goat cheese we have ever tasted. (That’s just one reason why we use Mackenzie Creamery cheese as the base in our Goat Cheese with Red Cherries—an ice cream that’s all about showcasing this amazing goat cheese that turns light and ethereal, like a featherlight cheesecake, when mixed with grass-grazed milk and sugar.) And we aren’t the only ones who think so highly of this artisan creamery.
Mackenzie Creamery has earned much-deserved praise (20 awards in fact) from respected organizations including the American Cheese Society. Top chefs throughout the state feature Mackenzie’s fresh chevre on their menus. And Jean can largely be credited with kickstarting the artisan cheese movement in Ohio, laying the groundwork for a growing statewide industry.
Earlier this summer, we had a chance to visit Jean, her son Rob DeMuch, who runs day-to-day operations, and his wife, Erica, their creative director. We spent the day nerding out about dairy and science, and took a peek into their creamery operations to find out what it is that makes Mackenzie’s cheese so amazing.
The Hiram, Ohio property is like a storybook—the sort of calm-inducing landscape that could convince even the most hardened cityfolk to shed the bustle for quiet farm life. Four terraced laws are framed by 1,700 feet of stone, a pond, and woods where wild mushrooms grow, ready to be foraged every spring. It’s a peaceful 30 acres surrounded by 1,200 acres of preserved farmland.
The white-sided barn with hunter green trim has been converted into the creamery and designed with sustainability in mind, Rob says. The barn is insulated with newspapers and blue jeans, and they use a closed-loop geothermal system to heat and cool the creamery. Even the cheese-making process itself is cyclical—Rob collects goat’s milk from three area family farms, and, when their process is done, a local farmer uses Mackenzie’s whey to feed his chickens and pigs, and fertilize his fields.
As we walk up to the entrance of the creamery, Rob points to four large dairy cans near the doorway. “That’s how we started,” he says. Rob would drive to nearby goat dairies and hand-ladle milk into each container. In 2010, the year Rob joined the business, Mackenzie Creamery was churning out about 14,000 pounds of cheese. They’ve since tripled their production—a testament to their steady growth, increased demand, and a continued commitment to quality goat cheese. Fresh goat’s milk is now hauled in a small trailer, delivered to the creamery every few days.
“That’s one of our keys to success,” Rob says. “We only use fresh milk.” Every drop of milk that goes into their cheese is no more than three days old. Chevre is a relatively simple cheese, Rob adds, meaning there is nowhere to hide. Use old milk and you’ll taste it. For example, goat cheeses with an overtly gamey flavor were likely made with milk 7 to 10 days old. “That’s critical, the quality of the milk,” Rob says.
Inside the creamery, a small staff makes what they do look easy. After milk is pasteurized, curds are hand-ladled into vertically stacked bins lined with muslin. Once the snow-white cheese has drained, it’s dried and then hand-packed into containers. It’s either left as plain, traditional chevre or mixed with bright flavors like Garlic Chive, Blueberry Lemon, Herbs de Provence, and Wasabi Sesame. Mackenzie also offers ready-to-serve cheese and jam cups, like goat cheese with blackberry and habanero syrup. Just add crackers and serve.
In the future, Rob says they hope to add aged cheese to their growing line of seasonal flavors. They have a small aging room adjacent to the creamery that’s lined with stones recovered from the property—stones that would ideally impart even deeper flavor of the Ohio terrior into their cheese. We’re likely not alone when we say: We can’t wait.