Sippel Family Farm
The coldest winter I ever spent was every winter I lived in Chicago! It is true Chicago originally became known as the Windy City because of its full-of-hot-air politicians (not its fierce and brutally bone chilling winds that dance across Lake Michigan), but it’s easy to understand how those who visit there believe the weather is responsible for the popular nickname. Chicagoans realize that if they are brave enough to tough out nine months of seemingly never ending winter, they will be rewarded with three glorious months of transient summer. Unfortunately for those of us in the Midwest, summer seemed an eternity away when last week the polar vortex dipped temperatures lower than those being recorded in Antarctica. I was too quickly reminded what it felt like to be bitterly cold and I’m not sure about you, but when the thermometer is recording numbers lower than 30°F, all I want to do is consume not exactly good-for-me comfort food. Any recipe that includes melted cheese is a must, and lucky for me I recalled seeing an unusually named, brightly labeled brand of cheese at the farmers market that would be perfect for my next destination visit.
Nearly ten years ago, Ben and Lisa Sippel purchased 77 acres of farmland north of Columbus and started Sippel Family Farm when they were only 23! Ben had obtained degrees in Environmental Studies and Geography from Ohio Wesleyan University and was on a mission to prove you could solve problems through sustainable agriculture. In the beginning, the couple grew a vast variety of vegetables and set up a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, but after years of working the fields (and having two children) they realized they needed to offer a product to their customers with a longer shelf life that would also supplement their income during the chilly winter months. Ben and Lisa’s love of cheese led them to research and eventually open their own creamery, producing small batches of locally made sheep and cow’s milk cheeses. In 2011, the Sippels became the first dairy sheep farm in the state of Ohio and it wasn’t long before they were making their popular brand of cheese they named Kokoborrego Cheese Company.
With the new product came a new list of demands for these full time farmers. Lisa enlisted her brother (also named Ben) to help with the cheese production, and on the day of my visit Ben was busy making their seasonal Walhonding cheese; an aged cow’s milk cheese with a rind that is washed in their homemade apple cider. Before Ben walked me through the process which he described as a combination of “art, magic, science, and dishwashing”, I needed to know why they chose the name Kokoborrego and more importantly how to pronounce it! Uncovering the mystery behind the name, Lisa told me that koko comes from the Kokosing River (a tributary of the Walhonding River) which runs through their property and borrego means sheep in Spanish. The combination is a unique way of telling their customers where they are located and what they do. Lisa explained how the first year of being new sheep owners were spent building their current facility, milking their 35 sheep, and experimenting with small batches of cheese in her kitchen until they got it right. Because Kokoborrego cheeses are made with raw milk and are not pasteurized, they need to be aged a minimum of 60 days. This natural aging process gives their cheese a distinct flavor that makes it a perfect ingredient in any recipe or great right out of the package.
2014 brings a new pasteurizer to Kokoborrego Cheese Company and Sippel Family Farm, which means Lisa and Ben are back in the kitchen whipping up and testing some delicious fresh varieties to comfort even the most formidable of winter blues. Feta, mozzarella, camembert and a variety of fresh cheeses will soon sit alongside the standard aged lineup at the Clintonville, Worthington, New Albany and Shaker Heights farmers markets. It is important to the Sippel’s to teach their children not only where food comes from, but prove to them that they can make a living being a farmer in Central Ohio. Their hope is to be diverse and profitable enough that their children will see the importance of growing and producing food and will want to follow in their footsteps.
The Kokoborrego cheese (pictured left) traveled 56 miles to Columbus, while the cheese (pictured right) traveled thousands of miles from Italy to Columbus.
A female sheep is a ewe, a male sheep is a ram, and a sheep less than a year old is known as a lamb. Currently, over 100 ewes and three rams call Sippel Family Farm home.
ReferencesSix Important Steps in Cheesemaking
Black Pepper Risotto
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