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Meet The Maker: An Interview With Jacobs & Brichford

By Erika Kubick in Food on Apr 10, 2015 2:40PM

Maize with her father and head cheesemaker, Matthew Brichford. Photo Courtesy of Jacobs & Brichford

Last week, we interviewed Leslie Cooperband of Prairie Fruits Farm for Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day on April 18. This week we’re keeping it local once again, with Jacobs & Brichford a small family-run dairy in Connersville, Indiana. We spoke with Maize Jacobs-Brichford, the daughter of owners Leslie Jacobs and Matthew Brichford. The farm has been in their family since 1819, but has only been a dairy farm since the early '90s. A few years ago, Brichford decided to try his hand at cheese making. Their cheeses have since gone on to win awards and amass a hungry following.

Chicagoist: Why did you decide to start making cheese?
Maize Jacobs-Brichford: We wanted to move towards cheese making, because it has much more potential to be profitable than milk does. This was our third year making cheese, so it hasn’t been that long. We have four varieties. Actually, we released the first batches of our fourth, Adair, at the start of this year, just to get people’s feedback. That will be out in full force in the spring. We have three other cheeses: Brianna, Ameribella and the Everton. The Everton also has a version that’s Premium Reserve, which is aged for a minimum of one year, though what we’re selling now is two years old.

C: Can you tell us a little bit about the cows?
Maize Jacobs-Brichford: We have a herd of 90 cows, a composite breed of cattle that are a mix of Jersey, Tarantaise and Normandy, all of which have a high content of butterfat in their milk. About 10 years ago, we became a grass-fed operation. In the winter, the cows get hay silage as a supplement, but they aren’t getting milked then. We only make cheese with their natural cycle, so they calve in the spring and dry off in the late fall. We’re a rotational grazing operation, so every day they move to a new pasture, which is very important for that grass-fed lifestyle.

C: Are all of your cheeses raw?
Maize Jacobs-Brichford: We’ve only ever made raw milk cheeses, and I think it goes hand-in-hand with the grass-fed component. For us, it’s about getting all the natural nutrients that you can possibly get from the cows and the land. Grass-fed raw milk is high in omega-3s and antioxidants. People really believe in the health benefits of raw milk cheeses. It’s also partially a matter of taste. With pasteurization, you’re killing off a lot of what imparts the terroir of the region. We’re making styles that you can find in Europe, but they have a completely different taste to them because our cows are raised in Indiana

"Pasteurization really takes something away from the diversity of cheeses. In the beginning, everyone made raw milk cheeses because there was no pasteurization. That’s how you got this wonderful diversity in cheeses."

C: Would you ever want to make pasteurized cheeses?
Maize Jacobs-Brichford: We unequivocally want to make raw milk cheeses. It comes down to the taste; we want strong, flavorful cheeses. We want you to taste them and know where they come from. Pasteurization really takes something away from the diversity of cheeses. In the beginning, everyone made raw milk cheeses because there was no pasteurization. That’s how you got this wonderful diversity in cheeses. Using raw milk is keeping with the tradition of cheese making.

Our Ameribella and our Adair are aged only 60 days, and that meets FDA regulations. If things were to change, maybe we would have to look into pasteurization. If it has to be aged longer, you might not get the same quality of cheese. Ameribella is one of those cheeses that just oozes when it’s cut into and that quality would change if we had to age it longer. Hopefully we won’t ever have to pasteurize our cheeses, but we can’t say for sure with the way things have been.

C: How did your dad go about starting to make cheese?
Maize Jacobs-Brichford: My dad likes to say that he isn’t a cheese maker, just a farmer who makes cheese. I remember, when I was younger, probably about 10 years ago, my parents went to France with a geneticist to visit the dairy operations. We knew we wanted to make cheese, but we wanted to do it our own way. The artisanal cheese community is very helpful across the board. So, we hired a cheese consultant, who helped us develop the original recipes based on what my dad was looking for in terms of flavor.

From there, there has been a lot of trial and error, and I think that’s how we’ve gotten to this point. With the factors of seasonal, grass-fed raw milk, it’s a bit like a chemist playing with a chemistry set. You just combine things until you see what works. Every day there are tiny, little adjustments, constant tweaking. The key is to maintain consistency while staying true to the milk and the land.

C: What has the public response been like?
Maize Jacobs-Brichford: It’s been steadily growing from the beginning, but the Ameribella always had a great reception from distributers and cheese mongers. I think it has carved out a niche in the market because it’s super oozy, buttery and crazy stinky, yet balanced and mild on the palate. It fills a gap in the American cheese market because you get that richness in flavor people expect in European cheeses.

We’ve gotten to the point where Everton, and the older version, the Everton Premium Reserve, have both gained a following. Briana is getting there, too, but my dad is very much a perfectionist. Even if it’s great by everyone else’s standards, he’s got a very specific idea of where he wants the cheese to go, so we’re still tweaking it.

"Food safety isn’t something you want to mess around with, but to say that raw milk cheese is any more likely to have listeria is a misconception."

C: What are some misconceptions about raw milk?
Maize Jacobs-Brichford: There is this fear about raw milk and listeria. We understand that: listeria is scary. We work very hard to keep a very clean facility, so that we are making sure to put out a safe product. Food safety isn’t something you want to mess around with, but to say that raw milk cheese is any more likely to have listeria is a misconception.

Oftentimes, listeria doesn’t come from the milk itself; it’s brought into the facility from something else. When you get a listeria outbreak, it’s probably not from the milk. In fact, some of the recent listeria outbreaks have been on pasteurized cheeses. The Crave Brothers in Wisconsin had a listeria outbreak on pasteurized cheese.

Pasteurization isn’t a guarantee. It’s really about maintaining cleanliness.
In Europe, raw milk cheeses are everywhere and they aren’t aged to 60 days and there isn’t a listeria problem. The 60-day thing is arbitrary. Of course, we comply with it, that’s the law and we’ll always follow it, but it does seem like they just picked a random number. Aging cheese for longer isn’t necessarily going to help. If that cheese has listeria, it’s still going to have listeria after 60 days. There’s no easy fix for it. We all have to worry about it, but it’s more important to be conscientious and maintain a clean environment than to pasteurize.

C: What are some of your favorite raw milk cheeses?
Maize Jacobs-Brichford: I really like the raw milk Harbison that the Cellars of Jasper Hill released this year, and the Reading Raclette from Spring Brook Farm.

Jacobs & Brichford cheeses are available in restaurants and retailers across Chicago, and even all across the country, from New York, to San Francisco to Texas. If you want to meet the family, come to Eataly, on April 18, Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day, where they’ll be sampling out cheeses and answering all your questions.