culture: How did you discover your love of cheese?
Andy Kehler: We didn’t necessarily get into cheese because of some desire – the love for cheese came much later. We do what, we do because we love the place that we live in. In 1998, our little town lost 30% of its dairy farms. The loss of those farms had a huge impact on our communities. We realized that there was an opportunity to help develop a model that would allow dairy farming to live on in our community for generations.
Mateo Kehler: We backed into it, really. Cheese for us is a lever for social change in our community, and we’re yanking on it. My love of cheese has developed as it becomes clearer how we can use it as a means of transforming this beautiful place we live in. We’re a mission-based business, and conservation of the working landscape is how we accomplish the social and economic goals for the community at large. Cheese is the answer.
culture: What do you love about living in Greensboro?
AK: It’s the people, the community. Before we started, I had never even milked cows. When I was having problems, our neighbor would stop milking his cows and come help me. It’s an amazing community, and we wanted to figure out how to eke out a living up here and help make it a wonderful place to live.
MK: Greensboro is a happy place of our collective family childhood. Our family has been summering on Caspian Lake for almost 100 years. Andy and I were both born in Bogotá, Columbia. We left in the 80s, but we spent every summer of our lives in Greensboro. This place has a special lock on our imaginations. We’ve had so many great summer experiences here; when we thought about what home was, we gravitated here. The connection to this place is what has driven a lot of what has happened in our lives.
culture: You guys have always been huge champions of raw milk cheese. Why is preserving that tradition so important to you?
AK: We milk cows, but we farm microbes. It’s really about tying a product to a place – how do we keep our products tied to the community that we’re trying to support? Raw milk is the most effective way to tie the cheese not just to the location but the practices of the farm. It leads to more complex and potentially delicious cheese – and that’s what we’re all about.
MK: In order to make a great raw milk cheese, you have to manage an entire agricultural system. If you’re going to pasteurize milk, it doesn’t matter what your farming system looks like. In a way, raw milk cheesemaking links us to the land and to the agricultural practices on our farms. It’s bottled up in a raw milk cheese.
culture: How does cheese keep you in shape?
AK: It’s a lot of work. We’re an artisan company, so everything is pretty much done by hand. One of the questions we ask ourselves is, how much does our body need to hurt in order to be able to call your cheese an artisan cheese? We’re putting in long days, usually on our feet, and going to bed tired and satisfied. We also eat a lot of cheese.
MK: Cheese changed my shape. I used to be a scrawny little stick figure. I think I weighed 160 lbs when I started making cheese, and obviously I’ve grown up a little since then. The farming and cheesemaking completely changed my body shape, it’s crazy. I didn’t have shoulders before, and I’ve grown up a bit since then.
culture: What’s the sexiest cheese you make?
AK: That’s like asking me to pick my favorite child. But you know what? Sometimes children act out more than others. It changes, but there is always a cheese in our collection that is shining particularly brightly. I have to say, when Bayley Hazen is spot on, it has to be my favorite cheese.
MK: It’s gotta be Harbison. I think that the texture of that cheese when it’s perfectly ripe is irresistible and conjures up all kinds of notions.
culture: Is there a particular pairing with Bayley Hazen Blue that really gets you going?
AK: I’m a beer guy – so probably a double IPA. It always makes me eat more cheese.
MK: I’m a big fan of blue cheese and honey. My favorite pairing is one that Mike White, a cheesemonger at Zingerman’s, put together for the Cheesemonger Invitational. It was Bayley Hazen Blue with chestnut honey. Simple, just simple.
culture: Whom do you have a cheese crush on?
AK: I’d have to say it would be Dr.Catherine Donnelly and Dr. Paul Kindstedt, both professors of Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Vermont. They’ve spent a whole lifetime advocating for an industry that has been under fire for a long time. They understand the importance of what small cheesemakers contribute to their communities and work tirelessly to help provide the resources to help this industry survive. I have a huge appreciation for them.
MK: My cheese crush is on a French cheese microbiologist, Dr. Marie-Christine Montel. She has done a huge amount of work in the Auvergne on traditional cheeses. She’s really helped build out the link between traditional practices and the microbiological complexity and safety of raw milk cheese. She has been a champion for defending wood boards and raw milk cheese, too.
culture: If you could spend Valentine’s Day with any cheese, which would it be?
AK: I would choose a Comté, because it’s one of those cheeses that lasts forever. Take a bite and you can savor it for hours.
MK: Oh boy. My heart has always gone pitter-pat for a perfectly ripened and selected Colston Bassett Stilton. Love that cheese.
Photo of Andy and Mateo Kehler by Credit Colin Clark