Dear WASCA Members,
It has been heartening to speak with many of you over my first few weeks as executive director during these uncertain times. The common refrain I’ve been hearing from our cheesemakers is that business is going well–or has even gotten better–during the pandemic.
So many of our cheesemakers have had to change the way they sell cheese to meet a drastically altered business landscape. Some are managing three or more online inventory services between their own websites and the farmers markets. Others have built a website for the first time, or have begun shipping cheese to consumers beyond their immediate area.
News from the Field:
While his day job running a wildland fire engine to fight fires in Washington has kept him very busy this summer, Lucas at Evergreen Creamery in Trout Lake found success with online sales by using one-day USPS shipping to ship cheeses to customers within Washington and Oregon. Evergreen’s wholesale cheese business has picked up from the wineries along the nearby Columbia River Gorge, who have had to find new ways of doing business with tasting rooms closed and folks staying home. Lucas is also excited to report they have purchased a new vat which will allow them to expand significantly.
Samish Bay Creamery in Bow started offering a “cheese board in a box” at their retail store. This is in addition to the Labneh cheesecake, Vache dips, and cheese balls they were already making. Roger says they have been allowing customers to stop and eat these snacks as they social distance on the lawn, or to eat and have a bottle of cider within a roped-off area outside.
Fantello Farmstead Creamery started the second REKO market in the US, using the Finnish model to create a farmers market on their farm that supports vendors with weekly sales taken directly through Facebook on the Enumclaw REKO group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/528024898100679). Paul says the market has generated over 1,500 purchases this summer, and they have found 50 customers who buy from their creamery every week. They hope to increase the number of regulars as they extend the market at least through November. Patty has also begun pasteurizing their milk and making fresh cheeses to sell at their weekly market. In addition to making butter, flavored and plain Fromage Blanc, and flavored cheese curds, they are also developing a Bleu d’Auvergne-style cheese.
Mountain Lodge Farm in Eatonville had to cancel their volunteer program in March and cease their monthly farm events this summer, but they kept busy bottle-raising the 191 kids born on the farm this year. They developed a new, all-goat cheese, Knapsack Feta, and have been able to increase sales through distribution and farmers markets. Sherwin says Mountain Lodge was also selected to provide 300 cheeses every three weeks to the Tacoma Farmers Market’s Fresh Express Mobile Market, which offers nutritious produce and proteins to needy families in Tacoma’s outlying communities.
Harmony Fields in Bow has begun slowing production early this year, because they are one of many Washington families homeschooling their children this fall as their eldest daughter begins online kindergarten. Jessica is excited to begin the lambing and cheesemaking season earlier next year. In the meantime, they are introducing a new, limited-batch, aged sheep’s milk tomme called La Bertha.
Meanwhile, Glendale Shepherd on Whidbey Island was in the process of transitioning to year-round breeding when the pandemic began. Now Lynn says they have fully transitioned, and as a result they have been able to produce plenty of sheep’s milk to make enough fresh cheeses and yogurt to sell out every week and still have hard cheeses aging out for nine months now. (When we all need a break from the daily grind, Lynn recommends checking out the Scottish TV show, “This Farming Life,” on BritBox.)
There has also been transition at Appel Farms in Ferndale, where Ruth and John’s daughter, Marlies Gill, has taken over the retail store and seen sales increase over last year’s. John is optimistic: “We are diversified enough that things are going well,” he said, adding that earlier during the pandemic, “there was sentiment enough [among retailers and consumers] to help smaller producers.”
Beyond new faces carrying the torch of Washington cheesemaking, familiar faces are adding new features. Daniel’s Artisan of Ferndale has just released Fuego, a creamy, Italian-style table cheese rubbed with Guerra’s crushed pepper blend. Daniel says the sales trajectory for their businesses (Daniel’s Artisan and Ferndale Farmstead Creamery) has been relatively unaffected by COVID, as retailers in the region have rallied to support their cheeses even as restaurants stopped buying.
And as our existing creameries have seen their customers and Northwest retailers step up to help keep them in business, new creameries are still being founded.
The aging facility and make room at Swan Valley Creamery, a 120-head La Mancha goat dairy in the Skagit Valley, are under construction. In the meantime, cheesemaker Matt Hettlinger has been getting paperwork ready so they can hopefully begin production on goat’s milk and mixed cow-and-goat’s milk cheeses in the coming spring.
I heard from some of our cheesemakers that 2020 started with a dark spot due to the loss of Mt. Townsend Creamery in January. Despite the hole their closing has left in our state’s cheese community, we have managed not to lose anyone else. It seems we have come out of this scary time a little bit stronger–even if the end is not quite in sight.
As I begin my tenure as your executive director, my goals are to see to it that WASCA secures more funding to support our members and our organization’s mission. I am also working on developing a Washington cheese map and a Washington cheese sticker to help get the word out about the great cheeses being made in all corners of our state. Another initiative that I am passionate about is marketing, and ensuring that WASCA has a targeted online strategy to share your stories and successes. In concert with that, I am developing a holiday donation drive to help generate some money for WASCA’s 2021 initiatives through virtual fundraising.
Please always feel free to reach out if you have any questions or concerns, ideas for projects we should be working on, or new ways WASCA can support our cheesemakers. I would also urge you to become active in one of our committees, which are fueled by volunteers and are only as successful as the folks who make them.
I look forward to serving you for the rest of 2020. Thank you all for being part of WASCA–and special thanks to our cheesemaker members for making Washington more delicious!
Courtney C. Johnson, PhD, ACS CCP
Executive Director, Washington State Cheesemakers Association
Meet our newest member to join WASCA’s Board of Directors, Rachael Lucas! We are excited to welcome Rachael to the Board’s appointed position to share her passion and enthusiasm for Washington cheesemakers. Rachael will be heading up WASCA’s Marketing Committee and is looking forward to learning more about WA cheesemakers and sharing their stories.
Rachael is an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional (CCP) and Certified Cheese Sensory Evaluator (CCSE). This career turophile is a cheesemonger/buyer at The Ballinger Thriftway in Shoreline, WA, where she curates a destination specialty cheese department. As a life-long fromage devourer, she has made it her purpose to turn the masses onto artisan cheese and educate the public about the value of artisan and farmstead fromage, as well as prioritizing responsible farming practices and animal husbandry. With a flair for writing, Rachael has her cheese-related works published in Tastewashingtontravel.com every few weeks, and she maintains a strong social media presence–all in the name of spreading the good word of the curd. Our newest board member could not be more excited to partake in the goings on of our beautiful state’s artisan cheese profession, of which she is incredibly proud. She is here to support Washington’s cheesemakers to the best of her ability and being appointed to WASCA’s Board will help her continue with such an important endeavor.
The pandemic largely put a damper on many of our projects this year, but there are still projects in the works with our committees.
The Buying Committee has secured bulk-buying options for our cheesemaker members through a variety of cheesemaking equipment, ingredient, and testing companies. There are currently talks to provide discounted copy editing, copywriting, and photography services to cheesemakers for their websites, marketing materials, and social media campaigns.
The Education Committee set up a third-party audit class with Claudia Coles earlier this year. The committee hopes to book a speaker for our virtual member meeting in January, create an Ask-a-Regulator program with WSDA, and plan other educational opportunities in 2021.
The Marketing Committee has produced a beautiful, new website for WASCA. Going forward, the committee plans to share more member news on the website and develop a marketing campaign to more regularly share news about our cheesemakers on social media.
The Membership Committee ran a successful membership drive in 2020, despite the challenges of COVID-19 that set on so early in the year. Beyond beginning the membership drive for 2021, the committee will also be developing more engaging means of attracting new members.
The Grant Committee has pinpointed several grants for which to apply in the 2021 grant season. The committee has also forged relationships with the Northwest Agriculture Business Center for support in grant writing and securing funding for WASCA’s future goals.
If you are interested in taking a hands-on approach to helping our community of cheesemakers further one of our committees’ goals, please contact the committee chair to share your interest:
- Education: Chair, Meghan McKenna: email@example.com
- Marketing: Chair, Rachael Lucas: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Buying: Chair, Kallijah Paraska: email@example.com
- Membership: Chair, Patrick Bleck: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Grants: Chair, Lindsay Slevin: email@example.com
Finally, we want to know what’s new! Let us know when you receive press, if you have developed new products, or if want to share something with the rest of the members. We are stronger because of our sense of community–pandemic or not.
In the News:
- Taste of Home Magazine named Twin Sisters Creamery‘s retail store the Best Cheese Shop in Washington state: https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/best-cheese-shops-in-america/
- Harmony Fields was featured in an article on “A Day in the Life of a Farmstead Cheesemaker” in the July/August 2020 issue of Bellingham Alive! magazine: https://northsoundlife.com/dine/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-farmstead-cheesemaker/
- Back in March, enthusiast member and local cheese blogger Janee’ Muha (The Mobile Monger) created a series of interviews with cheesemakers from around the country. She interviewed our own Cascadia Creamery, Ferndale Farmstead Creamery, and Twin Sisters Creamery. You can check out the recordings on Janee’s website, The Mobile Monger: https://www.themobilemonger.com/