Hometown Tourist: Leelanau Cheese Company in Suttons Bay
It’s a foodie fairy tale you’ll need to taste to believe. John and Anne Hoyt started the Leelanau Cheese Company in 1995 after meeting in the Swiss Alps, falling in love, and learning the art of handmade cheese.
Since then the husband-wife dream team has relocated to Suttons Bay in their church-turned-creamery off M22.
Every other day is a cheese-making day, and at the creamery they specialize in three cheesy choices: ricotta, fromage blanc, and today’s project, raclette.
“Raclette means to scrape in french. they would take a half wheel of cheese, put it by the fire, and when the cheese is melted scrape it down onto the potato,” Anne explains. “That is what raclette is about.”
And the process is all about labor. So much so, that only two other cheese makers in the US are crafting raclette.
It starts with raw milk from a local dairy farm, pumped into the kettle, pasteurized and cooled. Added to the milk are cultures and an enzyme called rennet, which helps to solidify the milk.
John summed up the objective of cheese making. “The whole goal here is, milk is 87 percent water and so then you’ve got about 13 percent solids. So the whole goal is to get all of those solids, into the curd with a little bit of water, which will become the whey.”
We wait until the milk turns to a stiff yogurt-like texture, and then we start cutting. When the curds look about pea-size, they’re ready for another cooking, and that’s when it officially becomes cheese.
Because the whey is so high in protein, the Hoyts feed local chicken and pig farms, plus the occasional reporter. To me, the curds tasted like a bland cottage cheese, and the whey, similar to a skim milk.
Mesh netting scoops up the curds and immediately pours into round molds, then topped with weights for the curds to consolidate.
“See there’s all these micro-perforations in here that will hold the curd in so that when the weight goes on, it presses the whey out,” John showed us the round molds.
The cheese is flipped four times throughout the day, and tomorrow, goes into the cellar. For three months the cheese is scrubbed with saltwater, slowly forming a golden crunchy rind.
From curd to wheel, you can experience the big cheese process just behind the looking glass at their Suttons Bay shop. And if you’re wondering…that absolutely includes samples.