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Catching up with Keith Adams from Alemar Cheese

We recently
sat down for a conversation with Keith Adams, owner and cheese maker at
Alemar.  We’ve been working with Keith for about two and half years, and
have watched his company grow from a one-man show that made only Bent River to
a five person operation focusing on three cheeses.  Here are some
annotated notes from the interview:

What are
the latest developments with your cheeses?

Bent
River
(Alemar’s
Camembert-inspired cheese) continues to be our workhorse.  We’ve had
this cheese dialed in for a while now, and it’s the one most people gravitate
towards.  We were a little worried than when we introduced Blue Earth (
Alemar’s
Brie-inspired cheese) that shops would replace one with the other.
Luckily we haven’t seen much of that.  The two seem to co-exist well,
which was definitely our intention.

Good
Thunder also has really started to develop its own following.  A lot of
cheese mongers like that they can talk it up with customers, but with the
retail sized piece, they don’t have to spend a lot of time working with it and
caring for it.  We’re finding more and more
people coming around to Good Thunder.
It’s sort of middle of the spectrum for a washed-rind.  It’s not a gateway
cheese, but it’s also not over-the-top powerful.  We try to find the right
balance between funk and flavor.  It’s hard with a smaller format, because
you really need to keep an eye on its development.  It’s also a lot more
man hours.  We have to wash the pieces three times over three consecutive
weeks, and since they’re a smaller format, there are so many more to wash!

We
launched Good Thunder two years ago, and Blue Earth last year.  Since
then, we’ve just kind of been catching our breath.  We are now starting to
look at developing a new cheese, possibly something seasonal we can release
around the holidays next year.  Craig
(Alemar’s cheese maker) has been doing a lot of experimentation
and tweaking things to try to find something he likes.  I’m letting him
take the reins on this and it’s going to be his baby.  He’s incredibly
talented and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.

How has
Alemar grown over the last two and a half years?

We’ve
more than doubled in size, but don’t get me wrong, we are still tiny.
That growth has really been steady, so we’ve been able to grow the
right way.  We’re never going to be really big.  Our goal is always
going to be to keep making great cheese and remain active and rooted in our
community.

(From left to right: Craig and Keith)

I’ve
also brought on some additional staff.  Craig heads the cheese making now
and has an assistant.  I can still help out from time to time, but they
have it handled.  We’ve got a driver and someone to work in our
office.  So five people total now.  I’m really glad to have such a
talented team around me, and it’s allowed me to turn my focus to other parts of
the business that needed attention.  This place can now run fine without
me.

What has
surprised you the most since you started Alemar?

I am
always pleasantly surprised by how warm, welcoming and helpful everyone has
been.  That goes from the retail, wholesale and cheese making sides of the
industry.  Everyone has been really open and kind, and it’s been very
important in helping me build the business.  In a lot of other industries,
even food industries, there’s a lot of secrecy and jealousy that goes
around.  It’s great to experience the community and collectivity here.

What has
been the most rewarding part of your experience?

Early
on, it was definitely getting my daughters involved in the project.  They
were in high school, and it allowed us to spend a lot of time together.
I’d have them work markets with me, and help out in the cheese plant.  It
was great to have that family connection in the business.  Now, I take a
lot of pride in building something rewarding and of value with the team
here.