Idaho is the third largest cheese producing state in the nation, trailing only California and Wisconsin in production. In 2010, Idaho factories produced more than 800 million pounds of cheese. In addition to, or perhaps in spite of, the rapidly expanding commodity cheese industry in the state, Idaho also has a small but growing artisan cheesemaking community. One of the state’s newest small cheesemakers is Teton Valley Creamery, located in Driggs, Idaho in the eastern part of the state near the entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Teton Valley Creamery represents the intersection of visions of Lauren Hokin, who along with her family owns the operation, as well as that of Illinois cheesemaker Fons Smits. As it happens, Hokin’s cousin is married to Smits, who is well known in the cheese industry as a consultant and makes cheese at Ludwig Farmstead Creamery in Illinois. Smits visited Driggs while on vacation and immediately saw the potential for making cheese. “Fons looked around and saw that our area some of the key variables you need, including a handful of small family run dairies, good pasture, and an incredibly beautiful scenic place,” says Hokin. At the same time, Lauren had just gotten her MBA and was interested in starting a business. Her family had been coming to the area for years and already owned several buildings in downtown Driggs. One idea led to another, and that’s how this small Idaho artisan cheese company was born.
Driggs, Idaho is a small town (population 1,439) that relies heavily on the tourist trade, with thousands of visitors passing through annually on their way to Yellowstone National Park during the summer or Grand Targhee Ski Resort during the winter. In that way, a cheese factory was an added stimulus to the local economy. Hokin says that the community was very enthusiastic about the creamery startup. “They saw it as an economic development project.” Old timers remember when the valley had a number of creameries including the Nelson-Ricks plants in Driggs and nearby Victor. “The revival of an old tradition was exciting for them.”
Hokin found a source of milk from the Wrights, a fourth generation dairy family in the valley with a herd of about 100 Holsteins. The Wrights are one of only about five dairy farms left in the area that once supported over thirty. Teton Valley Creamery uses the milk to produce three varieties of cheese: Sapphire Blue is a mold ripened cheese produced in small 2 pound wheels; Alpine-style Yellowstone, made in 5 pound wheels and washed with a local beer and Haystack, a creamy, mellow cheese, aged two months and produced in ten pound wheels. The creamery also makes cheese curds and ice cream in a variety of flavors, both of which are especially popular during the summer tourist season at the creamery's storefront in downtown Driggs.
Teton Valley’s cheeses are currently available mostly in Wyoming, Idaho and Utah, as well as at restaurants in Jackson Hole and Sun Valley. You can also find them at farmers markets in Driggs, Idaho and Jackson Hole, Wyoming during the season.
(photo courtesy Lauren Hokin)
Teton Valley Creamery 80 North Main St. Driggs, Idaho 208-354-0404