Company Feature: The Farm At Doe Run

 

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Major Contest Wins Add Up For Farm At Doe Run; Company Will Stay Small, Sustainable

The combined talents and imagination of two Pennsylvania cheese makers has elevated a historic farmstead operation into an award-winning, nationally-recognized artisan cheese company.

Cheese makers Matthew Hettlinger and Samuel Kennedy lead operations at Doe Run. Hettlinger learned cheesemaking at Ohio State University and before joining Doe Run in 2013, worked for Canal Junction Farmstead Cheese in Defiance, OH.

With a background in culinary arts, Kennedy has a four-year degree from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. He’s been making cheese for roughly a decade, starting in New Jersey at grass-based farmstead facility Cherry Grove Farm.

The historic, 700-acre Doe Run Farm was purchased in 2008 by Richard Hayne, Pennsylvania native and founder of trendy clothing retailer Urban Outfitters.

Originally settled in the 1920s, it wasn’t until two years later that the Farm at Doe Run creamery was built from the ground up. Since then, the company has added larger equipment like bulk milk tanks and bigger cheese vats, and increased aging capacity with renovated caves and more shelving, creating better humidity and aging conditions for the cheese.

“Throughout the years, we’ve really streamlined the operation so we’re able to produce high-quality cheese as efficiently as possible with the staff we’ve got,” Kennedy said.

Owner Richard Hayne is primarily hands-off when it comes to cheesemaking, “allowing us to do what we do,” Kennedy said. “He doesn’t stifle our creativity.”

Hayne does have input into who we might sell to or new regions to sell into if he sees a void, or knows a customer base that’s desiring of our product and the market is there, he said.

Awards and Successes
The number of customers familiar with and desiring of Doe Run cheeses continues to grow with the company’s accumulation of awards.
For the past five years, Doe Run has earned consecutive Best in Show honors at the

Pennsylvania Farm Show Cheese Competition. The fifth annual contest took place earlier this month in Harrisburg.

Along with high honors at the American Cheese Society (ACS) Cheese Competition over the past few years, demand for Doe Run cheeses has pretty much exploded.

“Everything is sold out within a week,” Kennedy said. “We could absolutely produce more cheese, but we really want to make sure we’re not losing quality if we do that. Right now, we’re kind of holding steady, and we’ve got a really great team in place that’s producing high-quality cheese.”

 
Cheese makers Matthew Hettlinger (left) and Samuel Kennedy (right) head up artisan cheesemaking operations at Pennsylvania’s Farm at Doe Run.  

“The demand is there to produce more cheese, but we’re probably not going to do it,” he continued.

“We attribute a lot of our success to is the cows and the land,” Hettlinger said. “Being grass-fed in a classic, grass-growing region is a huge benefit.”

The area has quite a lineage of growing high-quality grass. That’s a huge contributor to our success and flavor profile.

Doe Run’s farmstead operation features a herd of roughly 20 cows, primarily Jersey with four or five Normande cows.

The cheese company makes between 40,000 to 45,000 pounds of cheese each year, selling its artisan cheese to local specialty retailers – places where the cheese isn’t going to get lost on the shelf and there’s staff on hand to share our story, Kennedy said.

Philadelphia is a major focus, but we’re also in New York, Nashville, in the South, and lately along the West Coast, he continued. Retailers that offer Doe Run cheeses online are Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine in Chicago; Philadelphia’s DiBruno Bros.; and Murray’s Cheese in New York.

Doe Run is staffed by Hettlinger and Kennedy, along with two part-time staffers that help with makes, sanitation and affinage responsibilities, as well as a sales manager, full-time sales assistant and a whole dairy crew outside the plant.

Hettlinger and Kennedy work together to develop new recipes and variations on Doe Run’s award-winning flagship cheeses: St. Malachi, Seven Sisters and Hummingbird.

“Between the two of us, we’ve probably got a cheese line that’s at least 13 or 14 varieties deep, and we’ve probably got the knowledge base to make about 20 or so total,” Kennedy said.

Over the years, the cheesemaking duo has dealt with a lot of challenges – renovations and expansion, upgrading the company’s affinage program – and through these hurdles the team has discovered what's necessary and what's not necessary.

"There’s so many variables in cheesemaking, it’s hard to see the forest from the trees,” Hettlinger said. “But as you understand your facility and gain more experience, all that starts to narrow and you begin to realize the things you need to focus on to make the best possible cheese. It’s a continuing process.”

Luckily, both Matt and I are extremely interested in food safety and food science, so we had that ground floor, base knowledge needed to be able to swim in those waters of the FDA, Kennedy said.

“It’s been a constant effort to try and keep ourselves highly educated, whether it be through classes at Penn State Extension or the American Cheese Society – everything that’s needed to keep this facility run as something that’s much larger than it really is,” Kennedy said. “We run like we’re making 100,000 pounds of cheese as far as food safety goes, but we’re really only making 45,000 pounds.”

“We could absolutely produce more cheese, but we really want to make sure we’re not losing quality.”
—Samuel Kennedy, Farm at Doe Run

Pennsylvania is a tough state for artisan cheesemaking, Kennedy continued. There’s not as much camaraderie, but with the formation of the Pennsylvania Cheese Guild and Chester County Cheese Artisans, it’s definitely helped to level the field as well as spread the idea that the rising tide raises all boats.

“We’re all trying to obtain a goal to better the industry and as long as that’s on the forefront, the competition stays a little for fun,” Kennedy said.

We’d also like to continue to streamline operations to be more efficient, and just bringing more recognition to smaller cheese makers, he said.

“We want to try and make the best possible cheese, and in five years I’d like to see us at the top of our game, producing some of the highest quality cheeses in the US,” Hettlinger said. “I think the US and Pennsylvania are on the verge of really great things in the cheese industry.”

For more information, contact Farm at Doe Run at (610) 384-1900 or visit www.facebook.com/TheFarmAtDoeRun.

 

 

 

St. Malachi is one of Farm at Doe Run's award-winning cheeses.