Before Local Roots Market opened late last year, we expected gaps in the products offered. One specific category of products –- cheese –- kept us from limiting our definition of "local" to "within 100 miles" as we weren't sure how many cheesemakers we would find in the area.
Boy, were we wrong.
Turns out that the most recent addition to a stellar collection of Ohio artisan cheesemakers is well within that 100-mile radius, nestled into an old labor-union hall in Kent: Lucky Penny Creamery. And this spring, I eagerly accepted an invitation from Abbe Turner, the owner, to visit and help her make her fantastic goat cheese.
Turner, who farms and owns a herd of more than 160 goats, started cheesemaking in August 2006, and her plans swiftly expanded. She had hoped to open the creamery in the fall of 2008, but when the economy plunged, she lost a construction loan and needed to revisit her business plan. The business was finally funded by two dozen private investors, all friends and family and others with a deep commitment to the principles of healthy food and small green business. In January of this year, the creamery officially opened and began selling to local markets (including Local Roots).
Tucked into a quiet neighborhood street a few blocks from downtown Kent (and not far from Kent State University), the old Labor Temple, once a community space as well as union hall, houses the creamery equipment, offices, and new retail shop. Turner -- whose business card labels her as "CEO, Cheesemaker, Entrepreneur, Optimist" -– envisions the creamery as the future "center of a good food neighborhood," bringing in classes on food-related topics, cooking demonstrations, and other events.
When I arrived, Turner gave me a tour of the building, explaining the various upgrades already made (new electrical service, recycled "new" piping to recycle water for the cooling vat) and her ideas to improve the environmental impact of the business. One outdoor entrance leads directly into the room with the milk holding tank, providing ready access for the daily deliveries of goat milk from local farms and allowing for easy cleanup. From there, the milk is piped into the vat in the make room through new copper piping, and the cheesemaking process begins.
While starting with limited funds encouraged Turner to recycle as much as possible from the start, she found that considering the environmental bottom line has helped the economic one. The older equipment purchased to outfit the creamery proved to be superior (made of stainless steel) as well as cheaper than newer equipment. Even the cheesemaking process has room for her to close the loop: the whey left over from the process is fed to the pigs at Turner's own farm. As both CEO and farmer, she explained, she felt the need to "balance profitability and integrity."
Everything is done by hand, so there are limited quantities of cheese for sale, but Turner has allotted additional space in the building (and plumbed it) to expand operations in future. The creamery sits on a quiet 1.5-acre lot close to a local bike trail, and Turner has plans to create a welcoming green space and garden in the secluded yard out back.
At present, the creamery only has chèvre and feta cheeses (using pasteurized goat milk) available, but more products are in the works. Turner would like to produce a goat-milk yogurt by this summer and to offer seasonal fruit flavors. She has reserved one room in the creamery as a future drying room as well as two aging rooms so that Gouda, tomme, and Camembert can be added to the list of Lucky Penny cheeses. Another product, a richly caramel-flavored cajeta (shown here), is pending approval as well. The day of my visit, Turner expressed excitement over her recent state approval to create mixed-milk cheeses with goat, cow, and sheep milk, and she had also recently received a grant from the Ohio Sheep Milk and Cheese Initiative to develop a feasibility study for sheep dairying in Ohio.
Turner's business sense extends beyond the creamery itself, though. She stands firm on paying a fair rate to farmers for the goat milk bought by the creamery, because she wants these people to keep farming. She has found that women are well represented among the new breed of small farmers, and she believes strongly in supporting other women-owned businesses.
And she is drawing on her background in nonprofit management to ponder the development of a nonprofit organization called "Pots and Pans" that would recycle kitchen ware from restaurants and other organizations for use by people in need. Many poor families don’t eat good, healthy meals, she noted, because they don't have the equipment with which to cook. By making those tools available, this organization could encourage more families to eat together and to enjoy freshly prepared local foods.
As we waited for the chèvre in the vat to be ready for scooping, we broke bread and shared some of the creamery's cheese while Turner spun more of her vision. A year down the road, she hopes to have other products available, as well as to make progress in making sheep's-milk cheeses, all the while educating herself to become an even better cheesemaker. She would also like to develop an intern program at her farm to educate others in dairying.
"Shun idleness. It is a rust that attaches itself to the most brilliant of metals," Turner said, sharing her favorite quote from Voltaire. "It applies to cookware, it applies to us." And after an energizing and thoroughly rust-free day at Lucky Penny, I fully believe that Turner is well on her way to making brilliant contributions to local food systems in northeast Ohio.