The 2024 Hot List: Holly Aker | culture: the word on cheese
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The 2024 Hot List: Holly Aker

This story is part of culture’s 2024 Hot List. Click here to learn more about the selection process and to see the entire list of recipients.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Johnson at Harbor Light Studio

Holly Aker

Founder, Local Goods Gathered
Portland, Maine

Holly Aker credits her mother for never knowing a day without cheese. Aker founded Local Goods Gathered, a platform designed to build sustainable relationships in the supply chain, with a focus on curating Maine dairy products and fostering a direct connection between maker and consumer. Aker, who is certified in food safety control, assists creameries with their food safety plans to effectively access markets. She also served as the president of the Maine Cheese Guild from 2020 to 2023.

Who is your biggest inspiration in the cheese world?

American Cheese Society Lifetime Achievement winner Debra Dickerson. After hearing her speak, I loved the way she advocated for cheesemakers. She also listened and helped identify ways I could support Maine creameries in an industry I was still trying to understand. She shared her motto “do no harm” with me, and I live by that in my business.

What’s your number one goal for your career in the cheese industry?

Maine cheese everywhere! A roadmap! Or access to channels for small American producers to scale their products. My goal is to make it a little easier for the person who has the skill and talent to make the thing we love so much. And I want the consumer to get the cheese exactly as the maker intended it.

Pair a celebrity with a cheese.

Stephen King with Balfour Farm Smokey Ghost. Intriguing, spicy, suspenseful, and addictive.

What is an underrated cheese that everyone should know about?

I want to say all Maine cheese! But it’s not underrated to those who have discovered it. It’s fabulous—it’s the highest-quality cheese from artisans who care about their craft and put the love of their farm and herd into every bite. There are too many to name, but: Kennebec Cheesery, Balfour Farm, Crooked Face Creamery, Winter Hill Farm, Josh Pond Farm, Spring Day Creamery, Springdale Farm Creamery, and Fuzzy Udder Creamery, to name a few.

What is a pairing you’re ashamed to love?

If I was going to be ashamed, and it’s hard to be ashamed of anything that involves cheese, it’s the ridiculous amount of jalapeño-stuffed olives I eat while raining cheese shreds into my mouth.

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