Blue Jacket Dairy
Have you ever wondered why is it tradition to shout the word “cheese” moments before you get your picture taken? Maybe, simply because uttering the word forces the ends of your mouth to turn up ever so slightly. Or could it be that it quickly serves as your final warning that the camera is about to go click. For me, it is not merely a coincidence that every time I think of creamy, salty, gooey cheese I can’t help but smile. I traveled to Blue Jacket Dairy, 60 miles northwest of Columbus, in search of some answers and delicious homemade artisan-style cheese.
As I entered the through the door of the quaint Blue Jacket Dairy retail store, I was surprised to be greeted with a plethora of cheese samples. Like many of you, I have a distinct weakness for cheese, so I happily began sampling as owner Angel King walked me through the founding of this small, family run business. Over four years prior, Angel and her husband Jim were raising dairy cows and were uncertain of what to do with the abundance of milk being produced. Angel’s creativity and patience led her to start experimenting with the art and science of cheese making. After a few failed attempts, she succeeded with a beautiful fresh mozzarella. Because of the high demand of their mouth-watering product, the Kings decided to focus all of their efforts on their craft and built a space that serves as both the retail store and production facility. They began sourcing their milk from Jim’s brother to keep the business within the family. They even enlisted all nine of their children to help with everything from production to packaging. If you notice a label a little askew, chances are it was placed there by one of their little helpers.
At the same time that Angel described to me the process of making cheese, I was lucky enough to shadow Jim and their employee Julie as they carefully separated the curds (solid) from the whey (liquid) and then immediately hand cut each hunk of curd creating their unique one-of-a-kind bite size shape. Even though things seemed a little hectic between cheese making and customers coming in and out of the retail store, Angel explained this is their slow time of year where they are only producing cheese once a week or so. During the busy season, which starts in the spring, they are making cheese up to six times a week, sometimes multiple batches a day!
Blue Jacket Dairy has been commercially producing several varieties of cow’s and goat’s milk cheeses which they distribute across Ohio, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. They sell fresh (non-aged) cheese as well as a few aged varieties described below. They pay attention to every detail down to the unique names that decorate each package. The Kings are proud of where they are from and some of their product names such as the Gretna Grilling, Arrowhead Herb Chevre, and Ludlow give a nod to the surrounding area. Also, contrary to what residents of Columbus might assume, the creamery does not get its name from the Columbus NHL Team, but rather from the Blue Jacket Creek that winds through their property. Below is a list of the current Blue Jacket Dairy products:
Cheddar Curds - this natural fresh cheddar cheese is not orange, meaning there are no dyes or chemicals added (see Reference section below). It is made from cow’s milk in small batches and available in Plain, Dill, Chipotle, Ranch or Garlic.
Quark - similar to cream cheese, this cow’s milk variety is mild and creamy and is available in Cornelia’s Lemon Jewel, Cranberry Nut, Sure Shot Garlic, and Mountain Mist.
Chevre - this cheese is produced from goat’s milk and available in two varieties: Silver Lake and Arrowhead Herb. It is a creamy cheese with a mild tangy flavor.
Mozzarella - this creamy smooth cheese is produced when tomatoes are in season so you can enjoy the perfect Caprese salad.
Gretna Grilling - this halloumi-style cow’s milk cheese is similar to eating a grilled cheese sandwich without the bread! It is non-melting and forms a yummy crust after it is browned in a hot skillet.
Farmstead Feta - a goat’s milk cheese that is sliced into cakes after being pickled and kept in brine until it is served.
Ludlow - a semi-hard aged cow’s milk cheese that is aged in 20-pound wheels. It is sharp and nutty in flavor.
Houtz - an aged goat’s milk cheese that is tangy, smooth and mildly sharp in flavor.
The Blue Jacket Dairy cheese (pictured left) traveled 60 miles to Columbus. The cheese (pictured right) traveled from Kiel, Wisconsin which is roughly 509 miles from Columbus.
To make cheese, regardless of type, you follow the same basic steps:
- First, Blue Jacket Dairy takes raw milk and pasteurizes it according to USDA regulations. (See Snowville Creamery post about milk pasteurization)
- Then, they add starter cultures to the pasteurized milk to start the acidification process
- Next, the enzyme rennet is added to begin the separation of the curds (solid) from the whey (liquid). At Blue Jacket Dairy they use a vegetarian enzyme. (If you thought all cheeses were vegetarian friendly and want to learn more, please refer to the References below)
- Finally, the curd is cut with knives known as harps to remove the liquid whey
- After the whey is completely drained off, the curds are cut and salted. Then they are either sold fresh, aged, or put in brine until they are ready for market
- The type of milk, culture, enzyme and final steps will designate the style of cheese that is produced
Roughly 200 gallons of raw milk will turn into 200-240 pounds of fresh delicious Blue Jacket cheese. Amazingly, when the cheese is complete, there is approximately the same amount of liquid whey leftover as the amount of milk they started the process with. So what does Blue Jacket do with all the leftover whey? They feed this protein packed food to their very happy hogs and sell their pork in the form of chops, bulk sausage and whey-good brats. Blue Jacket Dairy’s mission is to make great-tasting, farm-fresh artisan and farmstead cheeses. After tasting as many little pieces of handmade salty goodness as possible, I can attest to the fact that they have succeeded.
ReferencesWhy is Cheddar Cheese Orange? Vegetarian Rennet
Grandpa’s Mac & Cheese
Grandpa John always used a combination of cheeses, elbow macaroni and a can of tomato soup in his recipe. It sounds unusual, but it tastes like combining the classic comfort food combination of grilled cheese and tomato soup. PS it is even better the next day!
Click on the recipe cards to print your copy: