In the bowels of Cleveland’s first cheese cave, wheels of Teffenhardt coated in crimson-colored wax are aging at a brisk 52° in preparation for their early March unveiling. Inspired by Ohioans’ love for baby Swiss, Old Brooklyn Cheese Company’s proprietor, Michael Januska, developed his recipe for a moist, very approachable cheese by tinkering with two popular preparations—Gouda and Emmentaler— before merging them. “It’s a Gouda style made by removing the whey and replacing it with water, which stops the acidification,” he said. “I also wanted more creaminess minus the nutty taste.”
While Januska has the potential to age as much as 8,000 pounds in the basement space, his small-batch blend will render just 30 pounds for his retail patrons. Four smaller orbs will be divvyed among Kickstarter supporters who enthusiastically donated more than $10,000 to bring his dream to fruition.
His vision was a haven where hungry cheese-lovers could have conversations, get to know the people preparing their cheese, and support local purveyors. “It creates jobs, and even more so—pride—which is kind of important for Cleveland. It’s more than just a slogan on a T-shirt. People are really genuine about wanting to support local business here,” Januska said.
Officially open less than a month, he’s experienced a resounding reception from the culinary community, many of whom are eager to showcase his products before ever having a taste.
Januska jokes his first job opportunity while attending culinary school nearly made him throw in the towel when he found himself behind the line at Planet Hollywood in Walt Disney World on opening night, surrounded by camera crews, as he stumbled over Brendan Frasier, Danny Glover, and Luke Perry expediting food for a promo spot on entertainment TV. The native of Avon Lake returned to Northeast Ohio after school and credits chef Donna Chriszt as a mentor who taught him the French cooking techniques that eventually led him to Europe.
He says his 16-year stint in London allowed him an immersion in thousands of cultures and languages alongside up-and-comers like Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay, with opportunities to learn artisanal techniques of the old country.
“A kitchen is a kitchen anywhere in the world, but I got to make Grandma’s recipes…sausage-making, curing meats, cheeses…making olive oil in Spain,” he said.
With his experience, one might expect he’d open the city’s next trendy eatery, but he wanted to be an innovator as much as he craved a change of pace.
“The West Side Market is awesome, the guys at Ohio City Provisions are doing great things, but there’s really no other cheese shops out there from what I could see,” he said. “After Brian (of Lake Erie Creamery), I’m the second cheese maker in Cleveland.”
Until recently, Europa Charcuterie in adjacent Parma has offered mostly direct sales online, to grocery stores and farmers markets. With its entire product line now available at Old Brooklyn Cheese Company by the pound, the two businesses hope to develop additional flavors this year.
Like the cheeses, accoutrements are curated from near and far: Cleveland Jams made in Old Brooklyn mingle on the shelves with Losada olives and Marcona almonds harvested from the Mediterranean coast of Spain. Chilled beverages are on the ready from Old City Soda and Bearded Buch kombucha, along with chocolate and whole milk from Hartzler Dairy, whose cows also provide the milk for Old Brooklyn Cheese Company’s products. Baguettes from Blackbird bakery in Lakewood are prominently placed near the register so you won’t miss a single detail for your next fromage and charcuterie plate.
An alarm chimes, alerting Januska that it’s time to tend to his next creation—bandage-wrapped cheddar. Typically cured using lard, the Old Brooklyn Cheese Company variety will receive a savory flavor injection from a coating of bacon fat during its aging process. Mark your calendars. Januska will be unwrapping 30 pounds of decadent, pork-laced cheddar in a mere six months.
— Tricia L. Chaves, Photo by Lisa Sands