Ohio Urban Creameries We Love
At these urban creameries, cheese is never just cheese. It’s also a window into the relationship between artisans and small farms.
When you think of Ohio cheese, large, respected producers in Amish Country that specialize in Swiss cheese probably come to mind. Yet a tiny fleet of dynamic cheesemakers is forging its own path. They’re Ohio’s urban creameries, and they don’t just make cheese. They’re linking city dwellers with rural family farms, making artisanal products and running exquisite shops that showcase one another’s cheeses, all while advocating for other community food producers.
Technically, a creamery is a place where milk is transformed into other dairy products, but Anne Reese of Black Radish Creamery in Columbus feels the definition is still a little vague.
“My soul wants to say a creamery makes a handcrafted product,” she says, “essentially a piece of art — passion that has been translated into food.”
A crucial piece of that process is the relationship between a cheesemaker and the dairy farms that supply its milk.
“We pay our farmers almost double what they would make selling to dairy co-ops,” says Cecilia Garmendia of Lamp Post Cheese in Lebanon. “We believe we need to pay a fair price, and I know they depend on my check to pay the bills.”
The cheesemakers, in turn, rely on high-quality milk and farmers who can reliably supply it. For large dairies, the minute scale of an artisanal cheesemaker isn’t worth their time. So it makes sense for creameries to work with small, nearby farms — the kind having an increasingly difficult time making it.
“When you’re here to purchase cheese, you’re not just supporting a cheesemaker. You’re supporting a local dairy farmer,” says Andrea Robbins of Urban Stead Cheese in Cincinnati.
The work of urban creameries brings the farm to you. If you’re used to picking up a rectangle of cheese in the dairy aisle and tossing it into your cart, a visit to a cheesemonger is a revelation. Informed, dedicated people will produce a gorgeous wheel and cleave off just the amount you want while telling you all about it.
Because cheese is alive. That’s why it has a story. Small changes from batch to batch mean it’s real food, from real animals, cared for by real people.
“It’s a lifestyle, not just a career,” says Reese. “Ohio cheesemakers know we need to bond together to make it better, bigger and more well known.”
Black Radish Creamery, Columbus
Anne and John Reese are Ohio natives who moved back after spending time in New York’s Hudson Valley, site of their alma mater, The Culinary Institute of America. John studied cheesemaking in Vermont, and when an established cheese counter became available in Columbus’ North Market, he and Anne jumped, making it their own.
Framed photos of cows from farmer-partners Stone Wall Dairy in Cambridge greet customers at Black Radish Creamery. It’s a showcase for many cheeses, as well as their own, which John makes off-site at a custom-built facility in Granville. At North Market since 2016, Black Radish Creamery is just beginning to release its own aged cheeses.
Anne’s genius is visual. She’s a commercial food photographer with editorial flair, and she built the whole tone of Black Radish: branding, social media, merchandising. The welcoming array at their North Market stall invites interactions.
“The educational piece to this shop is invaluable to what we do,” John Reese says. “There are some people who don’t realize cheese is from milk. And I tell them the whole story of how cheese is made.” 59 Spruce St., Columbus 43215, 614/517-9520, blackradishcreamery.com
Try This: Raclette, a version of the famed smooth-melting cheese of Switzerland, has a nutty edge and hint of earthiness.
Old Brooklyn Cheese Co., Cleveland
Cleveland has seen old-school specialty food shops come and go. Not long ago, chef Michael Januska, who grew up there, had freshly returned after 16 years of running high-end restaurants in London.
“I thought, we’re missing out on having cool cheese shops, nobody’s doing it anymore,” Januska says. “It’s the information, the one-on-one.”
His Old Brooklyn Cheese Co. is named after the neighborhood where the shop is located and where Januska resides. He makes the cheese at a separate production facility that’s also in Cleveland, and the milk is from Hartzler Family Dairy in Wooster.
Januska has a chef-like approach to cheesemaking, married with pragmatism. He infuses the curds for his O’Toole’s with Cleveland-brewed porter, and he adds dill pickle aromatics to Pickle in the Middle. But it’s about the process, not the add-ins. He’s excited about a large-format, hard grating cheese (110-pound wheels!) he has aging now, and a short-term project: raw milk camembert, which he’ll make around the holidays.
“I still have that creativity as I did with unlimited amounts of foods in restaurant venues,” Januska says. “It’s the same thing, but with milk. I find that even more interesting.” 4138 Pearl Rd., Cleveland 44109, 216/860-4000, oldbrooklyncheesecompany.com
Try This: Treadway Creek, a semi-soft, tomme-style cheese
Lamp Post Cheese, Lebanon
Charming downtown Lebanon splits the distance between Cincinnati and Dayton, and Lamp Post Cheese is a new anchor on Mulberry Street.
“We wanted to be the bridge between the rural and the urban communities,” says owner and cheesemaker Cecilia Garmendia. “I buy the milk, I see the farmer. I feel confident they treat the animals well.”
Originally from Spain, Garmendia has a background in microbiology and cell biology. When she came to America, the cheese she found in stores here left her cold.
“I went to buy groceries and I came home complaining, ‘I don’t understand the cheese here.’ ”
Undeterred, she taught herself to make it. She and her husband Ryan opened their creamery in 2018, but Garmendia had been making cheese on a smaller scale, renting space and equipment from My Artisano in Cincinnati. Now she makes and ages all of Lamp Post’s cheeses on Mulberry Street, where they frequently host tastings, live music and board-game nights.
Garmendia would also like to put a regional spin on the creamery’s Apollo cheese. “I am trying to think of what is typical of Ohio that would have a strong connection, and I could put it in the cheese.” She’s open to ideas, by the way. 107 E. Mulberry St., Lebanon 45036, 513/934-7376, lamppostcheese.com
Try This: Apollo, a buttery, semi-firm cheese in the style of Spain’s Mahon
RECIPE: Here's how to make Lamp Post Cheese’s El Pescador Grilled Cheese
Urban Stead Cheese, Cincinnati
Urban Stead isn’t just a creamery. It’s also a tasting room and learning hub.
“We wanted to bring visibility and knowledge and transparency to cheesemaking,” says Andrea Robbins, who founded Urban Stead Cheese with her husband, Scott. (Scott is a certified sommelier, and Andrea’s background is in finance.) We spoke on a Wednesday, the day they make Street Ched, their cloth-bound cheddar.
But some of those curds were not destined for the aging room. “Tonight at 5:30, we’ll bring warm, squeaky curds out to our tasting room. Those curds were milk at seven o’clock this morning, and that milk was picked up from a local farm two days ago.”
Both Scott and Andrea are grandchildren of dairy farmers, and their deep commitment to Ohio’s small farms drives the creamery’s mission.
“A farmer comes once a week and we give her our liquid whey. She then takes it to her farm to feed her pigs,” Andrea says. The reason we’re Urban Stead is we’re completing the farmstead cheesemaking circle in an urban environment.” 3036 Woodburn Ave., Cincinnati 45206, 513/828-0830, urbansteadcheese.com
Try This: Quark, a creamy farmer’s cheese common in Eastern Europe