Kickstarting Artisan Cheese

Now trending in the world of artisan cheese: Kickstarter. That is, the social media funding platform that allows entrepreneurs of all kinds to fundraise by tapping into the wallets of essentially anyone on the internet. There are actually a number of these funding websites (Indiegogo, etc) but the premise is simple - they allow you to raise money by tapping into the power of social networking. Dozens, even hundreds or thousands of people give amounts as small as $10 or $20 and it all adds up to funding for your project. This method has risen to prominence in recent years as independent people without easy access to venture capital or other big pots of money look for ways to fund their ideas. And for many, it has worked: the creators of the Pebble E-Paper Watch raised an astounding $10,000,000 on Kickstarter to support the development of their product. In the food world, a number of cheese-based businesses have successfully attracted funds using this method, for example, Portland's Cheese and Crack Food Cart and Mission Cheese in San Francisco.

Artisan cheesemakers are just starting to take advantage of this trend. Vicky Brown of Little Brown Farm on Whidbey Island in Washington recently raised over $20,000 to add a cheese cave and a space where she can hold classes. Hawaii's Naked Cow Dairy successfully raised $18,000 to start a cheesemaking operation on their dairy farm on the island of Oahu. Others, it must be said, have tried and failed (see here and here).

Cheesemakers who choose to attempt raising money this way seem to be doing it a little differently than your average tech entrepreneur. Most of the time the cheesemakers using Kickstarter, et. al. already have a customer base and are known on some level in their communities or regions. Thus, they presumably have a ready source of supporters who are already interested in supporting local farmers. Rather than dazzling you with a shiny new toy like the tech guys, they are essentially sending a message that says - support local food, local farms and help us grow.

This type of social media funding holds great potential for entrepreneurs of all kinds, including cheesemakers as well as cheesemongers and other types of food purveyors and chefs. Still, there can be pitfalls. The latest buzz about social media funding (see, for example, this article) asks the question - what happens when a recipient of Kickstarter funds doesn't do what they said they were going to do with their money, or despite their efforts, the idea fails? Those who use the platform to tap into a pool of supporters can easily alienate those supporters. This could create a difficult situation for a cheesemaker that relies on community support to sell their products.

It will be interesting to see how -and if - this trend continues to develop within the artisan cheese world in the next year or so. Stay tuned!

Feeling in the mood? Here are two cheesemakers on Kickstarter RIGHT NOW who could use your help!

Bonnyclabber Cheese Co.  Pine Top, VA  (update: did not succeed in raising desired funds) Marfa Maid Dairy   Marfa, TX  (update: success!)


Little Cheesemaker Surprises

If you frequent farmers markets you have probably already discovered this - many times cheesemakers sell products at farmers markets that you won't find anywhere else. Today's featured surprise is cajeta, or goat's milk caramel, a traditional Mexican confection. Portland Creamery is well known around Portland for its great plain and flavored chevrés, but if you frequent the local markets you'll find this gem of a cajeta. Little Brown Farm, a small goat dairy on Whidbey Island near Seattle, makes a number of styles of goat's milk cheeses but at Seattle area farmers markets you can buy not one but two kinds of cajeta, regular and chocolate, which is a rare sort of double deliciousness.

In order to make cajeta, cheesemakers combine goat's milk with sugar and heat the mixture low and slow until it gets gooey, thick and caramelized. As you might expect, the results are fantastic. Because it's made with milk (unlike straight caramel, which is made with just sugar), cajeta has a depth of flavor and gorgeous richness that takes caramel to the next level. There's also a just a hint of cinnamon. Cajeta is perfect for drizzling over ice cream, fresh chevre, fromage blanc...or just use your imagination. Check each cheesemaker's website for their current market schedule and give this stuff a try!

Cheese News and Events June 2012

* The Portland Beer and Cheese Fest is coming Sunday June 17th to the Commons Brewery, 1810 SE 10th Ave. in Portland. Tickets are $25, and for that very reasonable price you get to sample up to 10 different beer and cheese pairings. The festival runs from 1-6pm. For more info see their Facebook page, and tickets can be purchased here. * Kurt Timmermeister of Kurtwood Farms on Vashon Island near Seattle will be debuting his Dinah's cheese at Beecher's in New York City Wednesday June 6th. This is a special ticket-only event and attendees will receive a wheel of Dinah's as well as a wine and cheese pairing. Tickets are $40. For more info and to purchase tickets click here.

* Little Brown Farm on Whidbey Island, also in the Puget Sound area, just completed a successful campaign on Kickstarter to raise funds to build a cheese cave and develop cheesemaking classes at their farm. This is the first time I've seen a cheesemaker use a contemporary social media/funding platform like Kickstarter. Very creative and innovative - kudos to Vicki Brown, self styled "Chief Milkmaid" at the farm. Will this be a new trend in artisan cheesemaking? Stay tuned.

* It's June and Farmers Markets everywhere are in full swing. Stop by and say hello to the friendly cheesemakers at your area market and get some great locally produced cheese.

* If you're planning ahead, the Canadian Cheese Rolling Festival will return to Whistler, British Columbia on August 18th, 2012. This is the event where people throw themselves down a fairly steep hill chasing a wheel of cheese in the manner of the good folks at Gloucestershire in the UK....good times! Here's some video of last year's event.

* Murray's Cheese recently began rolling out its store-within-a-store concept in partnership with Kroger stores in the Pacific Northwest. In Portland, the Burlingame Fred Meyer (photo above) just debuted the first of three planned Murray's installations; the other two will be at Freddie's Hawthorne and Hollywood locations. In Seattle, Murray's has already debuted at several QFC stores in Seattle including the University Village location, and aims to be open in seven stores by year's end. While I have mixed feelings about this, as the saying goes, "a rising tide floats all boats."