The Farmstead Creamery Advisor
Chelsea Green Publishing
Review by Matt Logan
V.I.A.C. certified Vermont Master Cheesemaker
Gianaclis Caldwell’s The Farmstead Creamery Advisor is a business book whose time is long overdue. That it wasn’t written sometime ago by one of the handful of established American/Canadian cheesemaking con-sultants has to have them kicking themselves with their own dairy boots. It’s sure to sell very well within its niche market. That it’s been written instead by a fulltime, no-doubt already overworked farmstead cheesemaker is no accident— it’s to these dairy folk that fledgling cheesemakers inevitably turn for advice. But there are only so many hours in a day and even the most willful cheesemaker’s patience can run thin from too many nitty-gritty questions. And when the questioner needfully seeks to probe areas of the cheese operation’s finances (profit and loss, owner and worker compensation, etc.) the conversation becomes quickly personal and likely off-limits.
Several universities (Vermont, Wisconsin-Madison, Guelph, et al) offer training in the science and technical aspects of cheesemaking. Most states and provinces have agricultural agencies to provide guidance navigating their regulatory, tax and subsidization landscapes. Locally, various business development corps can help start-ups develop formal business plans—though rarely will they have experience with small-scale cheesemaking. Consultants provide specialized building, equipment and product development services. Internships are available for hands-on experience. Branding and marketing businesses proliferate. Everything one needs to start a cheesemaking business is out there but frustratingly, and often detrimentally, spread-out. Thus the need for a book like The Farmstead Creamery Advisor.
Caldwell’s very well-researched, intelligently and humorously written book gathers these disparate pieces of the business puzzle into one volume for the first and foreseeably definitive time.1 (Hopefully she and the publisher will find it worthwhile to update it every few years.) By enumerating the physical facilities, overviewing the financials (often and understandably anonymously) and describing various other good and bad business experiences of established creameries of various sizes, sorts and locations, Caldwell lays out in short, comprehensive chapters most everything that needs to be taken into consideration in the start-up of a small to mid-scale cheesemaking operation. And those considering entry into the field (with or without any extant connection to dairying) owe Caldwell a huge debt for writing that rare business book that makes it it’s business to guide and inform rather than hawk more of the publisher’s related titles. Good for her and Chelsea Green.
But this entertaining and informative business book (and it is a fact-heavy book, not a read-in-bed musing on city flight, pastures and goats) deserves a non-cheesemaking audience as well. Cheese distributors, mongers and consumers who devote some small, well-spent time to Caldwell will come away with a solid education in the myriad physical, regulatory, financial, intellectual and emotional challenges presented the producers of artisan cheeses. Cheesemakers’ farmers-market stalls will be viewed with newly appreciative eyes and readers will find themselves able to engage artisans in professionally informed conversation. This is as win-win as it gets.
My own word of advice to cheese artisans is to keep a stack of The Farmstead Creamery Advisor on hand to sell to those customers who can’t help but question why safely and soundly produced farmstead cheese costs as much as it does. And to consumers, I would say read (even browse) this book and put your qualms to rest—Caldwell’s contribution to the artisan food movement will have you understanding that great handmade cheese at $25/lb would be a bargain at twice the price.
1Caldwell pointedly avoids the scientific and technical aspects of cheesemaking, which she notes are readily available elsewhere. The singular text for small-scale operations remains Paul Kindsteadt’s American Farmstead Cheese—The Complete Guide to Making and Selling Artisan Cheeses.