For years, Sheana Davis had been making fromage blanc in her commercial kitchen as part of her catering business — until her volume increased such that the health department dubbed her a “cheese maker.” If she were to continue, she would need to find a dairy-approved USDA-inspected production facility–no easy task. She took the plunge, deciding to commercialize her Delice de la Valle cheese which soon won an American Cheese Society award. Here’s how she did it:
She learned about cheese: While tons of cheese knowledge is bound to rub off on you by selling and consulting with cheese companies, Sheana also chewed through a bunch of food science books to educate herself on the finer points of microbials and cheese making.
Found a facility: Starting at a family-owned mozzarella company in Berkeley, Sheana got her cheese off the ground.
Got milk: She chose to work with a local dairy cooperative instead of picking individual dairies, to be a friend to all dairies.
Thought outside the mold: She scraped mold off of a Sonoma cave she had played in as a kid, and sent it to U.C. Davis, where they developed a mold for her to use. Now ongoing the mold replicates. While it’s not part of her story, can you say local terroir?
Involved customers: When a batch doesn’t come out quite as expected, she gives her chef customers a heads up. “They really appreciate it and often come up with some other use for the cheese than what they might have planned,” she says.
Sheana epitomizes a modern “good food” business person, with multiple community ties and revenue streams. She owns The Epicurean Connection, a cheese shop and eatery in Sonoma, Calif., ideal for promoting her cheese and today noted that Woody Allen stopped in this weekend, while in town! She works with a pasta company to make custom ravioli using her cheese; they bring the pasta to her when they come to down to pick up their produce for their own operations.
She has also run an annual artisan cheese conference for years, sells at the farmers’ market, caters cheese events, teaches classes, and works with a pasta maker to design flavors using her cheese. She sleeps occasionally.