Coast to coast, cheese producers step up during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a heartwarming show of support for the country and Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic, artisan cheesemakers and importers throughout the nation have stepped up in a myriad of ways.
Small business is the life blood of food source sustainability. If a small producer suffers a calamity, other small businesses can pick up the slack. Food survival is a symbiotic relationship between the small producer and local support.
Double the Donations
Northbay Creameries, part of The Rians Group, has recently doubled its donation to Restaurants Care, upping its contribution from 3 to 6 percent of all proceeds from its online store. Sonoma, CA-based Laura Chenel, along with Petaluma, CA-based Marin French Cheese and St. Benoit Creamery, also in Petaluma, started the Northbay Creameries online shop in March 2020 to give customers a convenient way to order products from the security of their homes.
The California Restaurant Association Foundations’ (CRAF) Restaurants Care grant program provides emergency financial aid for local restaurant workers impacted by the coronavirus. Restaurants Care describes their mission as providing ‘hope and financial support to restaurant workers facing unforeseen hardships’ in disastrous times.
In addition to the 6 percent of online sales that Northbay Creameries is donating to Restaurants Care, the company is making regular donations of cheese and dairy products to local food banks and churches to help nourish and sustain the local community. One member of the Northbay sales team has been going out regularly to visit firefighters, churches and community centers with cheese donations to brighten their day.
“We’ve taken steps at the creamery to protect our employees and to keep our family of farmers, retailers, restaurant workers, employees and fans safe and healthy,” explains Madeleine Coggins, trade marketing associate for Laura Chenel, Marin French Cheese and St. Benoit Creamery. “Many of our team members have adjusted to working remotely. Employees are following safety best practices while keeping a healthy social distance, and we’ve temporarily suspended creamery visits and unnecessary business travel. Our priority is to do everything we can to keep our community of farmers, retailers, restaurant workers, employees and fans safe and healthy.”
Going Above and Beyond
In an effort to help those who do not have access to fresh food, Forever Cheese, a Brooklyn, NY-based importer of cheeses and specialty food from Italy, Spain, Portugal and Croatia, has donated $25,000 worth of product to the New Jersey non-profit, Table to Table.
Forever Cheese co-owner, Michele Buster, wanted to go beyond the company’s yearly donations in order to address the basic need to feed the hungry during the pandemic. A variety of products have been selected for donation, which will bring some joy to people confronting the coronavirus crisis.
Table to Table will distribute Forever Cheese’s donation through their network of community organizations. For more information about Forever Cheese’s humanitarian efforts, visit their website at www.forevercheese.com.
Buy A Wedge/GIVE A Wedge
Throughout the month of May, every wedge of cheese purchased at Point Reyes Cheese in Point Reyes, CA, generated a donation of an equal wedge to the California Association of Food Banks. The donation, in pounds of cheese equal to the amount the company sells via its direct-to-consumer retail channel, was directed to Food Banks in the Bay Area. The cheese, in family-sized packs, consisted of all of the company’s varieties, including favorites Toma, Bay Blue and Original Blue.
“The purpose of this program is simple; in partnership with our customers, we can help fill the need caused by food insecurity in the Bay Area. Feeding people with nourishing, fresh local food is what communities do, and to us, keeping people employed so that they and their families can thrive is also a symbol of community,” says Lynn Giacomini Stray, Point Reyes Cheese’s co-owner/COO.
The Buy a Wedge/Give a Wedge program helps to serve both priorities.
“The more cheese we sell, the more we need to make, and thus, the more we can donate. Now that’s a win-win-win. In a crisis, you don’t just focus on profit and loss. You put your energy into keeping your community healthy, and that’s our mission. Right now, we hope our customers will join us in supporting our Bay Area community,” adds Diana Giacomini Hagan, Point Reyes Cheese’s co-owner/CFO.
Cheese Curd Donations
Due to the pandemic, Wisconsin milk hauler Rich Miller was spurred on to help utilize milk that he saw couldn’t be processed. He and retired dairy farmer/real estate agent Don Timmerman went to work with Nilssen’s Foods to raise money for vouchers that would allow people using the area food pantry to buy milk. But he discovered another issue; with his milk haul from 165 northwestern Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota farms headed to Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery in Ellsworth, WI, he became worried when the creamery asked farmers to cut production. Consequently, Miller pooled money with Timmerman and dairy farmer, John Vrieze to distribute cheese curds to local families in need and schools handing out free lunches.
Miller had requests for more than 3,000 pounds of cheese and donated his own money to help out. Orders came in so quickly that Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery limited them to 500 pounds per day to make sure they could keep up with packaging.
In addition to food pantries in Bloomer, Baldwin and Roberts and schools in Baldwin-Woodville, Clear Lake, Amery, Clayton, Elmwood, Colfax, Osceola, all in Wisconsin, deliveries were sent to schools in Forest Lake, MN.
At press time, more than 10,000 pounds of cheese curds were donated and more than 2 tons had been distributed.
Timmerman said they plan to make cheese curds available to food pantries and for school lunches for as long as their funds last.
Donating, Not Dumping
With the milk demand from restaurants and institutions like universities disappearing due to the pandemic, there has been excess milk and a shortage of cheese. With Upstate New York farmers forced to dump milk due to oversupply, Interlaken, NY-based Lively Run Goat Dairy is utilizing the surplus to make cheese, then donating it to local food banks.
Dairy processing plants are having to turn milk away because they’ve reached their storage capacity or aren’t configured to make dairy products for supermarkets. Instead, these plants are designated for bulk cheese packaging that restaurants and institutions require.
The folks at Lively Run Goat Dairy saw the need and stepped up to help. The money it’s raising through its Lively Run cheese for New York nonprofit subsidizes the surplus milk from farms and helps cover the cheese production costs. Excess donations will be given to farmers who are having to dump their milk, along with food banks. The dairy will not profit from this venture.
At press time, the dairy donated approximately 550 pounds of cheese. Across our great land, cheese producers are risking their own solvency to keep the fragile structure of producer, employee and customer intact. As trite as the phrase has become, we really are in this together. In order to ensure our food security, each of us needs to support our artisan cheese makers more than ever before.