We passionately support small business and handmade and local goods. As a visitor of our blog, we thought that you might feel the same way. In our Meet the Neighbors series we're featuring businesses and people who reflect our own values and whom we feel lucky to call neighbors and friends.
We are so happy to finally introduce you to Keeley, of Keeley's Cheese Co. When we started thinking about introducing you to our neighbors, Keeley was the first person we asked and the first person we photographed. Dave and I have known Keeley since our elementary school bus days and have happily watched her business come together and grow. She's real and fun and we admire her adventurous spirit (her cheeses are pretty great too).
Keeley's Cheese Co. is located just a few miles south of us, in King Ferry. Like Dave, Keeley returned home to see if she could make a living where we grew up. Unlike Dave, Keeley didn't just move home, she moved into the family farmhouse, turning what had been her grandparent's home into a cheese production facility and tasting room. This move has put Keeley so close to the source of her milk that she can be forming cheeses while gazing out the window at the cows. It doesn't get any more fresh or local than that!
How did you become interested in the cheese business?
I became interested in cheese making while studying Animal Science at the University of Vermont. I was able to land a work-study job at nearby Shelburne Farms, helping run the grazing Brown Swiss operation, and then moved onto the cheddar-cheese making at the farm. This was my first 'hands-on' cheese experience and I found the entire process fascinating! After awhile I started to make the connection that this was a skill I could bring back to King Ferry and our own dairy farm.
The Irish cheese connection came about in a few ways. First, I had studied abroad in Ireland and my family has Irish heritage, so it's always been a special place for me. Second, I took some cheese making courses at VIAC (Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese) and was having a chat with one of my classmates there. We were discussing washed-rind cheeses and she mentioned there were many award-winning styles of this cheese being made in Southwest Ireland. This seemed too good to be true for me, because I was dating (and am now engaged to) an Irish fella, so the thought of traveling over to see him AND learn about cheese was serendipitous. So I went over for 3 months in 2008 on a cheese making internship.
How has living in New York's "wine country" affected your business?
I think as more dairies continue to diversify, this area will become known as 'Cheese/Yogurt/Butter Country' as much as it is now known for its wine. Dairy is our number one Agricultural commodity, and it's been amazing to see the immediate interest in our Finger Lakes Cheese Trail, which came together just last year. Wineries in the Finger Lakes have laid a lot of tourism groundwork over the years, and we newer local food businesses are certainly benefiting from that. I'm excited to work with the wineries and continue to showcase all the great food our region has to offer to complement the wine. The quality is what will keep both locals and tourists coming back!
How has growing up on a family farm influenced your feelings about family and community?
Growing up on a farm certainly instills a good work ethic! It has made the task of starting my own business seem possible as I look at what my parents have managed over the years. On the tough days, I think: if they - and so many of our neighbors like them - managed to run and expand a farm while raising 4 kids, what am I complaining about?! All I have is a dog! :) Perspective is so important when you're taking a leap of faith and trying something new.
Living in a farming community has also shown me what a real sense of community is. Having grown up here, I took for granted how well people care for each other. Not to get too mushy, but knowing there are neighbors who will be there in a heartbeat if you need them is invaluable. And that doesn't happen everywhere.
Why do you think it's important to buy handmade and local foods and goods?
I think local goods have an important place in our overall economy. Times are tight for everyone (except those privileged few) and we're all more aware of where our money goes. For me it boils down to prioritizing quality. There are certain things I'm willing to be frugal about, so that I can spend my hard-earned bucks on products that really matter to me. The impact of my spending dollar means so much more to my local shoemaker (just as an example!) than those same dollars would mean to a huge shoe wholesaler. Plus-the quality is guaranteed, and I know where the shoemaker lives if I have a complaint--quality assurance! :) The personal connection is what excites me most about buying high quality local goods.
Do you have anything new going on that you'd like to share?
We set up online ordering on the website. We've just made it through our first year, and we're starting to think about moving into a larger production facility. This year we'll be focusing on consistency and we'll be monitoring how our cheese changes over the seasons. We're looking forward to a great year.