A recipe reboot births a star
Indiana’s Tulip Tree Creamery is known by turophiles everywhere for Trillium, a bloomy-rind cow’s milk square pillow that has won multiple awards—most recently Gold at the 2021–2022 World Cheese Awards in Spain. One of Tulip Tree’s newest cheeses—Milkweed—has also arrived on the national scene; it won a 2021 Good Food Award after being reworked and renamed.
Milkweed started as Haymaid, an Alpine-style cheese that Tulip Tree initially made in response to customer requests. “We didn’t think it was the best, so we said, ‘let’s stop making it and reevaluate,’” says Laura Davenport, who owns the creamery with business partner and cheesemaker Fons Smits.
“It came back as a slightly different format, and we’re now washing the rind, so it has more character. It’s such a beautiful cheese, and the washing gives it a patina.”
The four-pound wheels of Milkweed have a basket weave pattern on the rind, and like all of Tulip Tree’s cheeses, are made with pasteurized cow’s milk from family-owned Country Meadows Farm in Hudson, Indiana. “They have a mixture of Jersey and Holstein cows, so they get the volume and the high butterfat,” says Davenport. Founded in 1879, Country Meadows Farm tries to grow as much of their own grass and hay as they can, and they let the animals graze on pasture whenever possible.
Davenport turned to cheese after a career as an infection control practitioner and met Smits when they were both working at another creamery in 2005. A native of the Netherlands, he has worked in cheesemaking operations or as a consultant for about 25 years, including at Cowgirl Creamery in California. “We helped launch a creamery in Illinois for a family that had lost their cheesemaker abruptly,” says Davenport. “We did that for three years, but it was a 90-minute drive each way, so we decided to launch something in Indiana. In January 2014 we left that job and in June 2014 we started selling Tulip Tree’s cheese at the farmers’ market.”
Maintaining a presence at the farmers’ market is still important to Davenport, who left medicine because she was interested in real food, sustainable agriculture, and educating the public about the importance of both. “We don’t have a retail shop, but we knew we wanted to stay connected with the community and not shove all the cheese out the back door on a pallet,” she says. “We continue to sell at farmers’ markets because it allows us to have face-to-face interactions with our customers and get immediate feedback on our new products.” She and Smits are working on increasing production of Milkweed, which saw accelerated demand after winning the award. “It’s such an easy-to- eat cheese, mild with a slight sweetness and nuttiness,” she says. “It makes the best grilled cheese or fondue.” Her favorite way to enjoy it? “In a grilled cheese with apples and blackberry ginger jam on local bread.”