Photo by John D. Ivanko/farmsteadchef.com
Because we’re immersed Wisconsin’s cheese-making heritage (our Green County is the highest cheese-producing county in the nation), you can see why we often celebrate all things cheese in our blog posts. From simple cheese plates to Cornucopia Beer-and-Cheese soup or cheese curds, we do love our cheese here in America’s dairyland.
Our cheese-head loyalty grew even deeper when our friend Anna Landmark officially launched her artisan sheep’s milk cheese business, Landmark Creamery. Landmark joins a new generation of cheese-inspired food entrepreneurs, like Martha Davis Kipcak with Martha’s Pimento Cheese, who are adding their own fresh spin to a traditional process.
Whatever your food passion, if the vision of running your own food-based business sets your mind happily churning, here are some nuggets of advice from Landmark’s recent start-up venture.
1. Keep an Open Mind
"All growing up, I never once imagined becoming a cheesemaker,” Landmark confesses.
Even through her family has strong Swiss roots—her great-great-grandfather was one of Wisconsin’s original Swiss settlers in in 1853—and brought their beloved Swiss cows and cheese recipes with them, Landmark’s original career path was political campaign work.
"When I made a batch of 30-Minute Mozzarella back in 2007 during my ‘make-everything-from-scratch’ kick, it was so terrible and mushy that it scared me off from making cheese for another three years,” she says.
Fortunately, Landmark kept an open mind. Fast-forward to the fall of 2009, when she and her family bought a small property in rural southwestern Wisconsin and acquired a family cow.
"That cow, a Milking Shorthorn named Freckles, produced so much milk—5 gallons a day—that I had to quickly learn how to make cheese in order to free up some space in our refrigerator,” Landmark says. "This time the cheese started tasting really good and cheese making turned into a favorite hobby.”
After a stint with goats, Landmark realized her love of sheep.
"Because there are so few U.S.-made sheep’s milk cheeses on the market, a seed took root in my brain that I could start a farmstead dairy and make sheep’s milk cheese,” she says.
2. Know When to Leap
In conjunction with writing a business plan, Landmark then started what in Wisconsin is a two-year process to get your cheese-making license. In August of 2013, she left her other job in political advocacy work to become a fulltime cheese maker.
"I was starting to feel like if I don’t just jump in right now, I’m never going to have the courage to do it,” Landmark says. "I knew I was making a really nice cheese, Petit Nuage, and so I did a soft launch late in the sheep’s milk season with around six weeks of production ahead of me. This way, I could work out any production or packaging issues, start building a market and some brand awareness and be on much stronger footing for an aggressive start in the spring when sheep’s milk is available again.”
3. Share your Knowledge
Traditional business models would advise against teaching your potential customers how to make your product, but Landmark champions the opposite and finds that sharing her cheese-making experience builds interest and loyalty. Always willing to spark cheese-making interest in someone, she has hosted several cheese-making demos for the local Green County Women in Sustainable Agriculture group.
Landmark also finds education an important component of her marketing plan, as people often do not know what sheep’s milk cheese is.
"I hear from so many people when doing tasting demos that they’ve never had sheep milk cheese, so there really is a need to educate customers.” To Landmark, it boils down to getting more sheep milk cheese on the shelves so people are exposed to it, which is a big reason why she decided to specialize in the niche of sheep milk cheese.
"I just love the flavors in sheep’s milk cheese,” Landmark says. "There’s a richness and nuttiness that comes with the higher fat and protein content. I’m also convinced that if you’re concerned about sustainability, like me, sheep are the way to go. They are much lighter on the land, consume less feed, you don't have the huge manure issues, and they require significantly less land than cows for grazing and feed production.”
4. Provide Cooking Tips to Customers
Haven’t tried sheep’s milk cheese yet?
"While you can use sheep’s milk cheese just as you would cow’s or goat’s milk cheese, I tend to snack on my cheese or use it for hors d’oeuvres, paired with something, rather than cook with them,” Landmark shares.
Petit Nuage sheep’s milk cheese works wonderfully in pairings. Some of Landmark’s favorite pairings include:
- with fresh heirloom tomatoes and a splash of vinaigrette
- on bruchetta with pesto
- on a bagel drizzled with honey for a sweet taste
Landmark also recommends using sheep’s milk cheese to make a cheese-ball trio: Take three balls of cheese, and roll one in smoked paprika (her personal favorite), dust the second with a mix of seeds (sesame, poppy, coriander, dill and peppercorn) and coat the third with tabil, a Tunisian spice blend of ground coriander, caraway, red pepper flakes and cumin.
Savoring the good life,
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