Goat cheese-makers capitalize on community, collaboration

Laura Lofgren

Abbe Turner and the cheese factory

Off of Lake Street, hidden between two houses, is a road called Temple Avenue. At the end of this pothole-riddled street, a newly painted green building stands in stark contrast to its surroundings.

The old Union Labor Temple, built in the late 1940s, is home to Lucky Penny Creamery.

Upon entering, a painted goat’s head, part of Lucky Penny’s logo, greets customers along with the sweet and sour smell of goat’s milk that lingers in the air. Cheeses fill a cooler, and fliers for upcoming local events hang on the wall.

Abbe Turner, founder of Lucky Penny Creamery, purchased the building in January and opened her business this past May. The creamery offers homemade goat cheese produced and sold by Turner, her family and a few college students. They also offer customers products from 16 other Ohio cheese distributors.

“There’s a small community of cheese makers who really want to help each other,” Turner said. “It’s hard work.”

Turner chooses products from other distributors based on quality, price and taste.

“If I think it’s tasty and if it’s affordable, then I’ll bring it in,” she said.

The creamery also sells gourmet specialties, including locally produced honey, hot sauces, salad dressings and olive oils at a reasonable price, Turner said. They ship their products to “white tablecloth” restaurants in Cleveland.

The process of pasteurization

In the back rooms of the creamery, goat cheese is made, stored and packaged. A pasteurization room contains large vats that were obtained from random places, like a French restaurant and the side of the road.

“Everything in the room has been recycled except the copper piping,” Turner said. “We’re proud of that.”

Some of the vats are more than 50 years old, which is favorable because of the superiority of stainless steel, Turner said. The sturdy containers pasteurize goat’s milk for 30 minutes at a threshold temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

Turner explained that low temperatures preserve the flavor and quality of the cheese. Some places pasteurize their cheese using a high temperature, short time pasteurization method, she said.

The milk is heated to 163 degrees for 18 seconds. This kills bacteria quickly but reduces the flavor of the cheese. Ultra pasteurization, another method, heats the liquid up to between 180 and 190 degrees and kills everything, she said.

“Those are the little cups that sit on the tables at restaurants,” Turner said, “and they never go bad because there’s nothing alive left in it.”

Lucky’s laws

Ohio law requires that everything Lucky Penny produces be pasteurized properly. In the vat room and the milk tank room, which houses a 600-gallon storage tank for the milk, cleaning supplies are color coded to prevent cross-contamination. Raw milk and pasteurized milk must never come together because raw milk is a contaminant.

“It’s a heavily regulated business because it’s food,” she said.

John Gwinn, Lucky Penny employee and president of the Kent Board of Health, makes sure the business follows code and is up-to-date on regulations.

“Food safety is of the utmost importance to us,” Turner said. “John is the glue that keeps us together. He makes sure we’re doing everything properly.”

Collaborating for cheese

Lucky Penny Creamery also works with colleges, collaborating with classes to teach students about running a business. The creamery has worked with Kent State’s College of Technology manufacturing courses and Malone College’s marketing classes.

“You get a much better experience when it’s real life,” Turner said.

Junior integrated language arts student Lisa Burkhart has worked for Turner since July 2007, starting as babysitter for Turner’s three children.

“I watched Abbe make her own cheeses in the kitchen,” Burkhart said.

Once the idea of Lucky Penny became tangible, Burkhart began working in the retail section of the creamery. She and her roommate Dina Dejanovic, a junior psychology major, attend farmer’s markets representing Lucky Penny. They offer samples of goat cheese, including feta and other artisan cheeses.

At the markets, employees also represent the Lucky Penny Farm, which is owned by Turner in conjunction with the creamery. Located in Garretsville, the farmland is home to an old barn, built during the Civil War era. It houses hay, horses, chickens, llamas, pigs and goats that produce milk for the creamery’s cheese.

Currently, they raise Nubian, La Mancha and Alpine Dairy goats.

“We’re in the process of restoring it (the barn),” Turner said.

The 14 acres of livestock-based farm is worked in a sustainable and Earth-friendly way, which Turner said is of the utmost importance to her.

“We try to farm in a way that keeps the soil healthy,” she said.

A plethora of projects

Lucky Penny Creamery not only produces and sells healthy foods, but it also runs a soon-to-be non-profit organization called Pots and Pans.

“The whole intent is to get folks to clean out their cabinets and give us the old pots and pans,” Turner said.

The primary client is a domestic violence shelter in Cleveland. Turner’s mission is to help the women and children who end up at the shelter by giving them an opportunity to make a home-cooked meal.

“If they have the tools, and it’s easy to cook, maybe that will be one family meal that will happen that might otherwise not have happened.”

Turner said any kitchenware —pots, pans, silverware, etc. — can be dropped off underneath the creamery’s carport. She asks that no appliances be dropped off because of lack of room.

“Students, at the end of the year, consider moving (your) pots and pans, flatware, tableware to someone who can still use them as opposed to the dumpster,” Turner said.

Lucky Penny also sponsors a book swap, where people can bring books and take home different ones. Food gardening books are the swap’s main focus.

Outside of the creamery, a span of green space is set to become a home to a colony of bees, Turner said.

“We’re blessed to have so much green space in Kent,” Turner said. “We hope it can be used as an awesome community space.”

Lucky Penny is open Fridays from noon to 7 p.m. and Saturdays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“We’re not a high-end snooty cheese company,” Turner said about the creamery. “We just want to provide you with some good ingredients that you can make some good food with.”

Contact Laura Lofgren at [email protected].