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Michigan Cheesemakers Look to Grow New Trade Guild

Artisanal cheesemakers in Michigan have formed a new trade association that they hope will help advance the industry in their state.

The Michigan Cheese & Dairy Guild, which made its debut at the National Restaurant Association Show last year, is gearing up for a series of educational and networking events this year, as well as a new retail display campaign set to debut at Meijer’s small-format Bridge Street Market store in Grand Rapids.

“There are a lot of people here that are involved in this business that are interested in working together and are interested in solving problems that collectively make sense,” said Arend Elston, owner/operator at Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Zingerman’s Creamery, and one of the founding members of the guild.

Elston, who is also acting as the treasurer of the group, said the guild is planning multiple revenue-generating activities, such as paid events, that could help fund education and resources for its members. The guild was formed as a 501(c)(6) non-profit organization. In addition to its planned events, it also generates revenues through merchandise sales on its website and through membership dues. It currently has 16 members and is seeking to expand its membership base.

Other founding members include Josh Hall of Leelanau Cheese; Tina Zinn of The Cheese Lady, who is secretary of the guild; and Zach Berg of Monger’s Provisions, who is president of the guild. All four founding members comprise the guild’s board of directors. Other member companies include Idyll Farms, which was recently recognized with multiple awards by the World Cheese Awards in Norway. Leelanau Cheese also won a Super Gold award for its specialty, Leelanau Raclette, and a Gold award for its Leelanau Reserve.

A previous incarnation of the association had been disbanded years ago, but Elston said he was confident that the newest version would be successful.

“We have a good, core group that can revitalize the guild,” he said. “All of us are eyeball-deep in the business every day, but we are looking forward to getting some other good members on board that can share the responsibilities.

“I think we’ll be successful because we’ll have relentless efforts to raise money in an effective way for the guild, and then show value [for our members].”

Elston said the guild is lining up several events for the coming months, including a cheesemaking workshop that will be led by Hall and other operators of Leelanau Cheese at Michigan State University. A social networking event for guild members is also planned in association with the workshop.

As a Michigan-based nonprofit, Elston said the guild has access to beer and wine licenses that it can use to host fundraising events. The guild is planning to partner with some breweries and wineries, for example, to stage events where members will showcase their cheeses and where the guild will have the opportunity to generate revenues.

The Michigan Cheese & Dairy Guild display case at the Bridge Street Market is the first of what are expected to be additional installations for guild members at other retail stores. The assortment in the first case will be 10 different cheeses from three members:

• Zingerman’s Creamery will showcase its Classic Mini Brie Cheese, its Garlic & Herb Cream Cheese, its Hungarian Style Liptauer Cheese Spread, and its Pimento Cheese Spread;

• Idyll Farms will display three of its goat cheese spreads; and

• Leelanau Cheese will offer a fromage blanc, a cowmilk spread, and a raclette.

Elston said he’s not aware of any other trade groups in the state that the guild competes with directly. He said he hopes to partner with similar trade groups in other states, as well as with other Michigan food and beverage guilds.

“We see a lot of opportunity there,” he said. “At the end of the day, we want to draw the right kind of attention to the tourism and food-maker scene in the state of Michigan.”

Related: Dairy Industry Takes on Plant-Based Alternatives; Starbucks Launches Olive Oil-Infused Drinks.

Image: Zingerman’s Creamery