2010 saw the death of two important cheese people who I knew: Jim Boyce, who reenergized Marin French Cheese, the oldest continually operating cheese plant in the country and Kathy Obringer who was making great cheese at Ancient Heritage Dairy in Oregon. Though both these folks died before their time, it’s a sad fact that many of the folks who started the reinvigoration of small cheese production in this country are aging.
Cheesemaking is a vocation for the patient. Many of the folks who began reigniting this tradition of started their work in the ‘70s or early ‘80s. That means they’ve been at it for 30 years or so. A number of them, especially the goat folks, were back-to-landers who do not have children who wish to carry on their cheese legacy. What’s going to happen?
What will happen in the future is an open question. Some, like Sally Jackson will sell their animals and equipment and retire. Some, like the Gingriches of Uplands Cheese passed on the cheesemaking mantle to a younger generation. Others, like Mary Keehn of Cypress Grove will keep their legacy – and rural jobs – alive by selling their companies. That these companies may get sold to companies not rooted in the local area may change the nature of the new American cheese business.
When one looks at the pictures of the first years of the American Cheese Society conferences it’s clear that those folks were in it for the passion, obsession, love of the animals or completely by accident. There were no flighty sales reps in those pictures, no one in suits (except for possibly a European guest or dairy science professor here and there). The ACS was an organization of mutual aid in large part. The only people crazy enough to try to make small production cheese had to stick together.
Those days are long gone, as days tend to be, but a lot of the original folk are still around right now. You can still meet them at conferences and bask in the oral tradition of craft cheesemaking history around the bar! However, the way the math works out, we are looking at the last remaining years of this generation actively working in the business. I have my worries about the future,* but either way this era of the cheese world is ending and a new one beginning.
I just want to take this opportunity to say thanks to all the original cheese visionaries in this country. You’ve changed our agricultural world.
*I am a worrier by nature. That’s why my girlfriend insisted we get a terrier because we’d be so well suited for each other.
**ha. My auto correct changed a typo in the title from “another beginning” to “nothing beginning” . I wasn’t trying to be so negative! I corrected it above.