Thanks to our friends at Edible Columbus for giving us a closer look at one of the creameries featured in our spring edition. Writer Leah Wolf had a conversation with Celeste Nolan about Laurel Valley Creamery.
If you’ve ever wondered what southern Ohio tastes like, you might be able to find what you’re looking for in the cheese from Laurel Valley Creamery. Celeste Nolan and her husband, Nick, turn milk from their grass-fed cows that wander the hills of the family farm into quality cheese that they sell in markets across central and southern Ohio. In 2001, the Nolans took over the farm that had been in Nick’s family since 1947 and, with a little help from their children, they have been growing in the dairy business ever since. Below, Celeste Nolan, Laurel Valley Creamery’s head cheesemaker, talks about her relationship with cheesemaking.
Leah Wolf: How did you get started in cheesemaking?
Celeste Nolan: I never thought about how cheese was made until I became a dairy farmer. We bought our first cow when we were still renovating our milking parlor, and I began then to experiment with making cheese. After years of struggle selling milk, we decided to harness our collective talents and add value to the milk we produced while ensuring we could control at least our economic destiny.
LW: What is your favorite part of being a cheesemaker?
CN: It’s the craft—taking milk, a delicate and perishable liquid, and turning it into preserved nutrition. It’s edible art, something able to sustain us both nutritionally and creatively.
LW: Since Laurel Valley Creamery is a family farm, can you tell us more about how your family is involved in the cheesemaking process?
CN: My family is integrally involved in the cheesemaking process, especially my husband, Nick. In addition to growing most of the feed our cows eat, he also milks the cows two times each day year-round. He manages and cuts our woods and maintains the fire responsible for heating the milk, which is a very vital step in the process. In addition to procuring the milk, he also transports it from our milk house to the cheese house on make days. Farming and cheesemaking
are very interdependent and Nick and I work together to make an end product that reflects our labors. Our children are still kind of young, but they are ready and willing to help, most days.
LW: How do you develop new cheese recipes?
CN: I take a neoclassical approach to cheesemaking by combining traditional cheesemaking techniques with my skills and tastes to make cheeses that reflect our farm and family’s terroir.
LW: What is your personal favorite cheese that you produce and why?
CN: My favorite cheese to both make and eat is our Cloverton. When making the cheese, I like the repetitiveness of ladling the soft curd and the workout it gives my arms, but the real joy comes from eating and cooking with this cheese. In lasagna, with a cracker and smoked fish, stuffed in a date, in a cheesecake or ice cream, in pancakes, with salsa and to finish every cheese sauce, Cloverton is fantastic with everything.
LW: Where can we buy your cheese?
CN: In my opinion, the best opportunity to enjoy our cheese in Columbus is in something prepared by Chef Kevin Caskey of Skillet. Other restaurant options around the state include the Flying Fig, Casa Nueva, Jackie O’s and The Village Bakery. You can also find our cheese in these and other retail locations and farmers markets: The Hills Market both in Worthington and Downtown, The Clintonville Community Market, Weiland’s Gourmet Market and the Athens
Farmers Market. Our website has a complete list.
LW: What’s something you’ve learned about cheesemaking that might surprise us?
CN: As someone who makes their living as a cheesemaker, you might think I’m an expert. I am in fact not. The amount of things left for me to learn about cheese is unending, which is slightly intimidating but at least it will never be boring. I don’t see myself tiring of my profession because there will always be new things for me to learn or create.
LW: Is there anything else about yourself or your farm that you’d like to share with us?
CN: Just that we love and feel good about what we do, and we hope that when you eat our cheese, you can feel and taste that love too.