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Hard work, high recognition

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Leslie Jacobs and Matthew Brichford stand in an aging cooler with some of the cheeses made atJacobs and Brichford Farmstead Cheese.
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Leslie Jacobs slices cheeseatJacobs and Brichford Farmstead Cheese.
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Matthew Brichford examines some of the Marabella cheese atJacobs and Brichford Farmstead Cheese.Cheeses are washed differently depending on the variety, and the washing helps develop their various texturesand flavors.
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Cheese produced locally byJacobs and Brichford Farmstead Cheese have won medals like these and other recognitions in national and international competition.

By BOB HANSEN - bhansen@newsexaminer.com

A local couple’s farming way of life is earning worldwide recognition.

Leslie Jacobs and Matthew Brichford have been making cheese on their farm for several years. It’s not the plastic-wrapped cheese people buy at the grocery cooler section. It’s not the big logs or blocks that are sliced at the deli counter. Rather, it’s farmstead artisanal cheese. It’s made in small batches of raw milk from the same farm’s grass-fed cows.

Jacobs and Brichford Farmstead Cheese, at 2957 S. State Road 1, is located where Brichford’s great-grandparents farmed. Another set of great-grandparents lived nearby on land that’s been in his family since 1819.

Farming, as they will tell a visitor, is not easy. It’s a constant lifestyle. While their cheese business is growing and winning acclaim, they aren’t getting wealthy, either.

“We’re not doing as badly as when we were doing conventional farming,” Brichford said. They’d been a more traditional dairy and much of that industry, he said, “has been on suicide watch for the past several years.”

But with his family’s history on the land, he didn’t want to give up without trying something different. That’s what led to making artisinal cheese.

They took classes, visited farmsteads in France, spent hours consulting with experts and researched breeds before changing from a livestock and dairy operation to creating French- and Italian-style cheeses.

The cheese made there – with varieties named for local places and some family members – has won national and worldwide awards. Most recently, its Everton Premium Reserve won a Super Gold at the World Cheese Awards in Bergen, Norway. There were around 3,500 entries and, of that, 78 were awarded Super Gold. Of those 78, fewer than 10 were from U.S. companies. 

Brichford still does much of what people visualize when they think of dairy farm work. He tends and milks the dairy cows. The cows give different amounts of milk and the milk’s fat and protein content varies, depending on the season and whether they are calving. 

He also takes care of the farm’s beef, lambs and Berkshire hogs. All of those animals are raised without chemicals and are sold to people that care about how their meat has been produced. The farm also sells timber.

Brichford and Jacobs make and sell their cheeses to the same kinds of people. It’s part of their belief that people should eat healthier food to become healthier themselves.

Most days, they’re up by 7 and still going 12 hours later. 

“Then, in the evening, we’re working,” keeping track of bookkeeping and working on farm equipment, Jacobs said.

As the cheese business has grown, they’ve been able to hire some help. But it still requires constant attention. Making cheese is not simple, it’s a several stop process that takes months to complete. Before they started actively making cheese, Brichford completed courses in how to do it.

And there is constant marketing. Jacobs and their daughter are in charge of that. They go to shows and exhibitions several times a year. 

One challenge, they note, is that people’s tastes change and their memories aren’t long. People might see Jacobs and Brichford Farmstead Cheese on a menu and enjoy the taste of it, but they usually don’t remember the business name or even what that particular cheese is called.

Additionally, “people are used to cheap food,” Brichford says, not always what might be healthier. Some of their cheese sells for $40 or more a pound. Jacobs helps battle that locally by selling at the Fayette County Farmers Market, where smaller packages of cheese are available for $5.

But mostly they try to get in front of chefs and restaurateurs, telling them about the taste and benefits of using their cheeses. But, Brichford said, every chef has his or her own ideas about what cheeses to use. When a chef changes – which happens regularly – the new chef often doesn’t want to use the same as the previous. 

Still, they feel rewarded because their cheeses are selling and they feel like they are contributing to helping people eat better.