Pa. among top cheese-making states

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec Steve Loevner of Pittsburgh places samples of his prize-winning cheeses in a display case at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg.

HARRISBURG —  Penn­sylvania farmers make lots of cheese.

Pennsylvania ranks seventh in the nation in cheese production behind Wiscon­sin, California, Idaho, New York, New Mexico and Minnesota.

In 2015, Pennsylvania produced 408.6 million pounds of cheese. The state ranks third in Swiss cheese production nationally and fourth in mozzarella and Italian cheese production, said Will Nichols, state Department of Agriculture spokesman.

Many kinds of Pennsylvania cheese are on display at the 101st Pennsylvania Farm Show.

The third-annual cheese competition attracted 44 entries from 16 Pennsylvania cheesemakers. The smallest entry weighed in at 4 ounces. The largest entry weighed 200 pounds.

The entries come primarily from small cheesemakers, many of whom are members of the Pennsylvania Cheese Guild, created in October 2015 by a group of cheesemakers, retailers, scientists and supporters of the cheese community in the state.

The guild promotes the highest standards of cheesemaking and celebrates the diversity of the cheese community in Pennsylvania through partnerships, outreach and education, according to its website.

“Our purpose is to educate the public and foster new cheesemakers, the different types that people do,” said Executive Director Donna Levitsky.

Today, the guild has about 25 cheesemaker members, six associate members such as Kerry Kaylegian, dairy foods research and extension associate with the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, who is the head coordinator for the cheese competition, and about a dozen “enthusiasts” who receive the guild’s newsletter, Levitsky said.

Local guild members include Lori Sollenberger and David Rice.

“We try to educate the public about the value of cheese as a food. We support local small-scale cheesemakers and try to inspire up-and-coming cheesemakers and support artisan cheesemakers,” said Sollenberger, owner of Hidden Hills Dairy, Everett.

“We are trying to get cheesemakers to work together and to work on issues with food safety and regulations,” said Rice, co-owner of Clover Creek Cheese Cellar, Williamsburg.

The guild is open to any cheesemaker.

“We are open to anyone, but we are going in the direction of the small artisan cheesemakers, the ones who are making cheese in cellars, small cheese rooms or even refrigerators,” Levitsky said.

Sollenberger said she started making cheese in 2001 but “got serious” in 2005.

“We use raw milk and make hard aged cheeses. If you use raw milk, you need to age the cheese at least 60 days at above 35 degrees. I make Dutch-style cheeses such as goudas, alpine cheese and feta cheese,” Sollenberger said.

Sollenberger, who makes about 7,500 pounds of cheese a year, said a lot of her cheese goes to the Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Baltimore areas. Horn O’ Plenty restaurant in Bedford uses her cheese. Rice, who makes about a dozen varieties of cheese, started production in 2005 and now produces about 24,000 pounds of cheese a year.

“Gouda-style cheeses are our most popular, as well as cheddar. We use our own milk. We are one of the few 100-percent grass-fed cheesemakers around,” said Rice, who is the only farmstead artisan cheesemaker in Blair County.

Rice sells his products at local farmers markets, his farm and at Friends Farm near Williamsburg, Way Fruit Farm near Stormstown and Wholesome Living Marketplace in Bedford.

Clover Creek Cheese Cellar products are also found at several area wine tasting events.

Steve and India Loevner, owners of Goat Rodeo Farm and Dairy of Allison Park, have only been in the cheese-making business for a few years but have become successful. Goat Rodeo Farm and Dairy captured one first-place, two second-place and one third-place award at this year’s cheese competition.

“We are a farmstead cheesemaker. We have a herd of dairy goats and bring in some cows, as well. We make cheese on our farm,” Steve Loevner said. “The craft of making the cheese involves a lifetime of learning and the challenge of running a business.”

Loevner said his cheese products are sold mostly in the Pittsburgh area to local restaurants and Giant Eagle stores.

“We are also starting to sell  in the Philadelphia area,” Loevner said.

The farm show continues through Sunday at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center in Harrisburg. Admission is free and parking is $15.

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