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Grantsville, MD—Construction on a new Maryland artisan cheese company here is slated for completion by the end of winter.
High Country Creamery and Market has been making cheese at a rented facility for the past year, and has already established a loyal customer base from sales at farmers’ markets, local groceries and restaurants.
The genesis for the three-generation, family-owned cheese operation was decades in the making, according to manager Linda Kling.
Kling’s father, a former milk hauler, spent years mulling over the idea of starting a cheese plant.
“The year he turned 70, he was still discussing the idea with my mother,” Kling said. “So he encouraged my son, Brandon, to become a cheese maker and approached me about the marketing and managing side.”
We both decided we would love to join a three-generation cheesemaking venture, Kling said.
Brandon Kling trained at Firefly Farms in Accident, MD, for two years. He made his own first batch of cheese a year ago.
Milk for High Country Creamery is sourced from a local Amish farm in Grantsville, and the family is renting a facility in Terra Alta, WV, to make cheese while the plant is under construction. Right now, cheese is made three days a week.
Construction on the Grantsville building was recently completed and we’re hoping to have it finished – with the processing plant and the market – by late winter, Kling said.
“We just released our Aged Cheddar and
we’re really excited about that, having been
making cheese for only a year.”
— Linda Kling, High Country Creamery
The plant will feature a mix of new and used equipment, and the pipeline will be Grade A.
“We have a Mozzarella machine that came from Italy – one of three in the US,” Kling said. “It’s pretty incredible.”
Construction plans also include a processing area and aging room in the back of the facility, with a large viewing window for visitors. A market and eatery will be at the front of the 3,500 square-foot structure.
When the plant is up and running, cheese maker Brandon Kling expects to initially manufacture about 600 pounds of cheese per week. Staff will include a mix of roughly 10 part-time and full-time employees.
“One of our huge goals is to
help the community, help our local farmers and provide jobs,” Kling said. “Oh, and make amazing cheese.”
Cheeses include fresh Mozzarella, Feta, Cheddar, Havarti and fresh curds. The company hopes to add raw milk cheese to its product line once correct aging space is secured.
“We just released our Aged Cheddar and we’re really excited about that, having been making cheese for only a year,” Kling said.
Best-sellers are dependent on the season, with Mozzarella leading sales this summer. Now, Feta sales have picked up at restaurants, Kling said.
“We sell between 20 to 30 pounds of Feta a week just to restaurants,” she said. “That’s really good for our small area, especially since we’re a small business just starting out.”
Cheese curds are also a popular item, although they often require an explanation.
“Curds are brand new to our area,” Kling said. “People were like, ‘Curds are from Wisconsin,’ but now they’re also from Maryland.”
High Country Creamery sells both plain and flavored curds, and the local favorite is, unsurprisingly, the seafood-seasoned Crabby Curd.
Cheese will be sold on-site when the retail store is up and running. Currently, High Country Creamery products are available at local groceries and restaurants within an hour’s drive of the plant.
Cheese is also sold in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and the New York Tri-State Area, and the creamery is just coming off a busy farmers’ market season, setting up at six markets per week.
Maryland Consumers Becoming More Educated, Appreciative Of Artisan Cheese
With events like the first-ever Maryland Artisanal Cheese Contest and creation of the Maryland Cheese Guild, consumers are slowly becoming more educated regarding artisanal cheese production.
The more we talk about the handmade aspect of artisan cheese, the more consumers understand the price, Kling said.
“We still need to explain why Cheddar isn’t yellow,” Kling said. “With education, however, more people are starting to appreciate the quality and health benefits of not having all the additives and colorings.”
“It’s taking time. Once we have our plant up it’s going to be a lot easier because the customers can come to us,” she said.
“Now, we count on the stores to educate consumers, and that doesn’t always happen,” Kling continued.
“Farmers markets have always been very good because we’re one-on-one with our customers, and we have plenty of opportunity to talk about the cheese,” she said.
For more information on High Country Dairy, visit: http://www.highcountrycreameryandmarket.com/