Initially, the idea of making cheese was one that made Pat Ford chuckle. He’s co-partner with Tim Welsh and Stewart Christensen in the Beehive Cheese Co., located in Uintah. Ford was in land development working in his family’s business in Utah and Welsh recently had sold his successful dot-com software development company in the Bay area. According to Welsh, he was looking for a new type of work that he could, literally, “get his hands into.” And when Welsh and Ford were younger, they’d partnered in a couple of other businesses. So after Welsh sold his software company, Ford and Christensen wondered what he’d do next. When Welsh replied, “I think I’m going to go make cheese!” his soon-to-be partners thought he was joking. What sounded initially like a nutty notion has turned into a successful artisan enterprise and one that should make Utah foodies proud.
In no more than a couple of years, Welsh, Ford, and Christensen have gone from “pretty clueless” about cheese to becoming award-winning cheesemakers. Just this summer, their Beehive Cheese Co.’s Barely Buzzed cheddar won a gold medal at the annual American Cheese Society (ACS) awards in Vermont in the flavored-cheddar category. Up against some 1,200 other cheesemakers from throughout North America, their admittedly “different” flavored cheddar beat out all the others. Barely Buzzed is essentially Beehive’s nutty, English-style cheddar called Promontory but with a kick: It’s hand-rubbed with French lavender buds and ground espresso from the Colorado Legacy Coffee Co. About the Beehive Cheese Co.’s Barely Buzzed, a traditionalist British judge at the ACS competition said, “I didn’t want to taste it. I didn’t want to like it. I hate flavored cheeses.”
“But he loved it,” Ford says, “I could sell 200 wheels of Barely Buzzed today but I’ve only got 20 wheels ready.” The demand for Beehive cheese greatly exceeds the inventory. “We’re going to grow the company nice and slow,” says Ford. “We produced at about 20 percent of capacity this year—around 40,000 pounds of cheese. Once we reach capacity—about 250,000 pounds—I think we’re done,” he says. “I don’t think we’ll go bigger.”
Calling these guys “artisan” cheesemakers sounds a bit dainty. In reality, making artisan cheese is hard physical work. Beehive cheese is literally made by hand. Aside from the co-owners, Beehive Cheese Co. only has one full-time employee. During busy periods, wives and kids are called on to pitch in. Ford proudly tells me his eldest son is away on a church mission in the Dominican Republic but also admits that he’s lost his hardest worker in the cheese plant.
Beehive cheese is made with premium first-class-grade whole milk from Ogden’s Wadeland Dairy, whereas most cheese companies use third-class milk. The milk is only hours old when it’s delivered to Beehive. “Great ingredients make great cheese,” says Ford.
And, I have to admit, these local boys are making some of the most satisfying cheeses I’ve ever tasted. In a recent head-to-head tasting, folks at my house tended to prefer Beehive Cheese Co.’s Aggiano Parmesan-style cheese over Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano, considered by many to be the world’s most luxurious cheese. Aggiano is aged for 19 months and based on a recipe from Utah State University, a bit more moist than Italy’s favorite cheese, but very rich and bold in flavor. Ford goes out of his way to give props to USU’s Steve Larsen, who has been a mentor and guru for the newbie cheesemakers.
My personal favorite all-around cheese from Beehive is its Full Moon raw-milk cheddar. It’s earthy with a lovely texture and flavor. When asked about the legality of raw-milk cheese in the United States, Ford tells me that raw-milk cheeses are legal provided they’re aged for a minimum of 60 days, which Beehive’s Full Moon cheddar is.
While visiting the Beehive plant, I also sampled a specialty cheese made for Squatters: It’s made with Squatters’ oatmeal stout and is available at the brewpub. Then there’s an orange-blossom cheddar created in conjunction with Grand America’s chefs and another in development for La Caille made with the freshly pressed grape juice of white wine rubbed on the outside. When asked if they’ve had any flops, Ford tells about a cheddar cheese they created for Christmas last year, incorporating Ghirardelli chocolate chips and maraschino cherries. “It was terrible,” he laughs. Incredibly, though, he says they’ve only had to throw out three wheels of cheese since they started making the stuff, a pretty startling success ratio!
As my visit to Beehive Cheese Co. comes to a close, the gears are turning. I wonder aloud how an herbes de Provence-rubbed cheese might taste. And, who knows? Thanks to a handful of artisans making cheese in Uintah, I just might get to find out.
BEEHIVE CHEESE CO. 2440 E. 6600 South No. 8, Uintah. 801-476-0900, BeehiveCheese.com cw