My good friend Nevin Byler, manager and cheese maker at the Middlefield Original Cheese Cooperative, called the other day. He was excited to tell me that the cheddar cheese they make had been entered in competition at the Ohio State Fair, and it had won reserve champion. That speaks well for the quality of cheese Nevin and his crew make at their cheese house on state Route 87 east of Middlefield.
The Middlefield Original Cheese Cooperative is an Amish organization, and the cheeses they make are truly Amish products. They make several different kinds of American cheeses, such as the cheddars, Colby, Monterey Jack, brick and their own Swiss, which is more difficult to make.
They also have a group of farmers that produce milk from cows that are grass-fed only, which includes pastures in the summer and hay in the winter. No grain or corn is fed. This milk is made into a specialty cheese that is in demand in some health food stores and also available at the cheese house store. Grass-fed cheese is reported to be higher in some of the beneficial fatty acids than regular cheese.
Since grass-fed cows produce less than those fed grains and corn silage, their cheese has to bring a higher price.
A few farmers who produce organic milk also ship to the co-op, and Nevin makes organic cheese that can be bought at the co-op store on Route 87. It is also sold through some health food stores.
They also make goat cheese for a group of goat farmers.
You will find a visit to the Middlefield Original Cheese co-op on Route 87 an interesting one. They have a viewing window where you can watch cheese being made - if you are there at the right time.
This organization is an example of a small business that has diversified to develop a market for their products. The business was started to provide a market for Grade B milk produced on Amish farms and shipped in 10-gallon cans to the co-op back in the mid-1990s, some from Trumbull County.
Early cheese makers that were employed by the cooperative wanted to make just the American types of cheeses, such as cheddar, Colby, brick and others. They were easier and quicker to make. However, they were competing with the big cheese makers in the country, and prices they received for their cheeses were not good enough to provide the best income to their producers.
So to stay in business and improve member incomes, the co-op has diversified and been making specialized types of cheese along with their quality American types and, more recently, their own Swiss. They also have a salesman who is out making contacts with retail outlets helping to strengthen that part of their market.
Direct marketing through their own store, along with selling to retail outlets, helps improve the income for producers shipping to the co-op. Nevin says their store has been doing exceptionally well with retail sales reaching new levels some months.
An elected Amish Board of Directors makes the policies for this organization. These policies are then carried out by Nevin, the manager and cheese maker, and his employees.
When I was on a special assignment with the Ohio State University Extension Service back in the 1990s, I worked with this group to get their co-op reorganized and the cheese house in operation. It was an interesting and enjoyable experience.
Before the cheese house was built, we met in Amish homes, some times during the day and other times at night. Cheese and crackers were always served as snacks and our meetings ended with either a great piece of pie or a delicious sweet roll. They were hard on my diet.
Parker is retired from the Ohio State University and an independent writer for the Tribune.