For founder Jean Mackenzie and her son, president Rob DeMuch, you could say starting a family-run creamery included its share of bumps and bruises. Running any small business requires a lot of hands-on work, and when that work includes lifting heavy jugs of milk, you might tear a rotator cuff, like Jean, or a forearm muscle, like Rob.
Aside from those injuries, though, the award-winning operation they’ve built has gone as smooth as the fresh chévre they produce.
It all started in 2007 when Jean used her vacation time to take a cheesemaking class. She realized she had a passion for it, while those who tasted her early creations realized she was a natural.
“It was an epiphany,” she said, “It chose me. I finally found what I was supposed to be doing.”
A few months later, she was just the second licensed goat cheese producer in Ohio. They built a modest production facility in just seven months, and not long after that things would really get rolling.
Meanwhile, Rob was working in Florida, selling databases. Curious about his mom’s growing business, he used vacation time of his own to come home and help out for a couple weeks. On his flight back to Florida, he realized he was grinning from ear to ear. He had found what he wanted to do, too. So, he moved home and dove into the details, learning everything he could about milk quality, pasteurization and all the other science that goes into making delicious goat cheese then applying what he learned to Mackenzie’s process.
“You can’t make high-quality cheese without high-quality milk,” Rob said. “We take a sample of every load of milk and get a breakdown of the quality.”
To ensure they’re getting the best goat milk, Mackenzie Creamery works with four dairies, all within a 50-mile radius. Doing this allows them to use milk that’s typically no more two and half days old. You can’t get goat cheese much fresher than that!
Staying local also allows Rob to visit the dairies on a regular basis to see the loving treatment — from diet to days off to comfy living conditions — the farmers give their La Mancha, Nubian, Saanen and Alpine goats.
“All of our dairies have names for the goats. That shows me they’re taking care of these animals, they know their personalities,” Rob said. “A happy goat is going to produce much more milk and a higher quality milk than a stressed-out animal.”
This focus on science and sourcing is the foundation of the goat cheese you enjoy, but it’s only a small glimpse of how hands-on Mackenzie Creamery’s cheesemaking process is from start to finish.
Once steps like pasteurization, quiescence and draining are carefully completed the exciting artisanal work starts.
The creamery produced 60,000 pounds of goat cheese last year, and every single log and cup was weighed, rolled, flavored, bagged and labeled by hand by Rob and Jean’s two additional employees, Mandy and Karen.
The inventive flavor ideas are all cooked up in-house, too. Jean has come up with most of them. But, Rob and his wife, Erica, the company’s creative director, have come up with a handful, too.
"This is the best cheese we've made" always seems to be the consensus every time a new flavor is developed.
With such a small team and so much to manage, you’d think the cheese is their sole focus. But they’re also dedicated to sustainability. Insulating their production facility with blue jeans, reusing bulk packaging, giving whey to farmers to feed livestock, and working with local pharmacies to reuse insulated containers are a few of the things they do in the name of preserving the beautiful fields of Hiram, Ohio and beyond. Mackenzie Creamery even won the Portage County Environmental Foundation Green Business Award for the sustainable build-out of their production facility.
“We always try to be good stewards of the environment. Keeping our carbon footprint as small as possible is very important to us,” Rob said.
When you add it all up, the amount of work this small crew does to produce their incredibly smooth and nearly irresistible chévre is staggering. It’s a lifestyle, to be sure, and a busy one at that. As Rob pointed out, “The goats don’t take days off.” It’s a fact he and Jean wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“It’s been such a great journey,” Jean said. “It’s wonderful working with Rob and wonderful being here to help.”
“Creating something people enjoy and putting smiles on people’s faces is very satisfying,” Rob added. “Carrying on my mom’s legacy and getting to work closely with her every day is something I’m very proud of.”
Making local chévre is truly a labor of love. Love for the work. Love for home, family and community. And love for great goat cheese they produce.
Search for Mackenzie Creamery on Giant Eagle Curbside Pickup & Delivery and we’re sure you’ll love it, too.