SUTTONS BAY, Mich. - Leelanau County is synonymous with cherry country, but after meeting cheese maker Anne Hoyt, I can't help but call this cheese country, too. She and her husband, John, are owners of Leelanau Cheese, which makes a line of specialty Swiss and French-style homemade cheeses.
From the tasting room at the Winery at Black Star Farms, 10844 East Revold Rd., three miles south of Suttons Bay, customers can watch the couple through glass windows make wheels of raclette (rah-KLEHT) in the stainless steel creamery twice each week.
Raclette is a traditional ingredient in cheese fondue. It is also great for cheese trays, spread on crackers, and melted on potatoes.
The cheese makers use fresh, local cows' milk, and vegetable rennet to coagulate the milk. No color or preservatives are added.
“We pick up the milk fresh from the farm,” says Mrs. Hoyt, a native of France. “It is a beautiful farm. The cows get to pasture with a view of Lake Leelanau. They are happy cows.”
Leelanau Cheese was established in 1995. “We used to be in the little town of Omena [about seven miles northeast of Suttons Bay]. We made cheese in a gas station-turned-creamery. It was too small too fast.”
Since last Labor Day, the cheese makers have been in their new location, where they can make twice as much cheese. “We have new equipment and a different cellar, which is bigger. We have to turn the wheels of cheese and wash them with salt and water every day. It is a lot of work.”
Mrs. Hoyt was a shepherd in Switzerland. John Hoyt, a Detroit-area native, had studied cheese making in southern Switzerland and was working as a cheese maker in Eison, Switzerland, when he met, and later married, Anne. Together they worked for several co-ops and dreamed of bringing cheese making to Northern Michigan, where Mr. Hoyt had summered as a child with his family.
“We had to find somebody with good milk who was willing to work with us,” Mrs. Hoyt says.
Raclette comes from the French word “racler” meaning “to scrape.” Mrs. Hoyt recommends that when making cheese fondue, two or three cheeses be combined. She suggests Emmentaler and Gruyere, a combination that I have used.
I have made cheese fondue with a variety of white wines, including French sauterne, German Rhein wines including Liebfraumilch, and California varieties, especially sauvignon blanc. Each adds a little nuance of flavor to the fondue. Many California chardonnays have an oakiness, which I don't care for with cheese fondue. But here I was with a Michigan vintage ready to try a new fondue creation using her recipe (see Page 2), which calls for rubbing the interior of the fondue pot with a clove of garlic and adding kirsch, a cherry brandy, at the end of the cooking. Mrs. Hoyt uses a little cornstarch and I opt for a little flour to add to the cheese as it is mixed into the bubbling wine in the pot. The result: These Michigan products make delicious fondue.
Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.