Local Heroes Non-Profit: Pennsylvania Cheese Guild
The Pennsylvania Cheese Guild wants you to know that our state’s cheesemakers produce stunning cheeses that rival those of Vermont and Wisconsin. Under the Foundation for Enhancing Communities, the nonprofit supports a growing number of cheesemaker members like Shellbark Hollow Farm, Valley Milkhouse Creamery, and Clover Creek Cheese Cellar—some of our region’s top artisans.
A dedicated group of cheesemakers had formed an organization back in 2007, but it relied on volunteer time without ample support. Several years later, inspired by the crowding landscape of up-and-coming cheesemakers in the community, a group of cheesemakers, business owners and food scientists at Penn State revamped the guild.
“We felt that it was really important for the cheesemakers to have a voice and to educate themselves and the consumers collectively,” says Sue Miller, cheesemaker at Birchrun Hills Farm and one of the founding members of the guild.
Cheesemaker members get opportunities to learn and network at the guild’s educational events. Last year they organized a three-day workshop with Jim Wallace, a world traveler and cheese enthusiast who studied at the Vermont Institute of Artisan Cheese. Wallace demonstrated the preparation of six different cheeses and how to work with molds and age cheeses while providing historical background on the cheeses from his travels to Europe.
The “cheese camp,” as the members called it, was held at member Lori Sollenberger’s farm, Hidden Hills Dairy in south-central Pennsylvania. Sollenberger makes farmstead cheeses, which means she uses milk from her own herd of cows to produce cheese. It’s a highly respected category of cheese; the cheesemakers grow feed, take care of their animals and manage reproduction in the herd in addition to making, aging and marketing their cheese. With all that to do, support from the guild is particularly valuable.
Hidden Hills Dairy’s cheeses have garnered acclaim at Philly restaurants like Pizzeria Beddia (they top each pizza with a generous grating of her one-year-aged, caramel-y Old Gold), but Sollenberger seeks constant improvement. “There’s always going to be more to learn about cheese and cheesemaking,” she says. Which is why she appreciates the educational events organized by the guild. “It’s nice to be able to network with other cheesemakers and share stories and inspiration.”
That’s really the mission of the guild—to support the cheesemaker community in pursuit of better cheese and wider exposure. They offer a membership for cheese enthusiasts, who are the first to hear about the guild’s community events and opportunities to meet cheesemakers and taste their cheese. “These cheesemakers are so committed to bringing great cheeses to the community,” says Donna Levitsky, administrator of the guild. “I’d just like everyone to give them a try.”