Local cheese maker Ann Kurronen using Kickstarter to expand her business
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AnnaVail Cheese owner Ann Kurronen is using Kickstarter, a crowd-funding website, to raise $18,500 to purchase a 50-gallon cheese vat and expand her cheese-making business. The campaign runs through Nov. 22, and she has already raised about 20 percent of the goal amount. If you’d like to contribute, visit the AnnaVail Cheese website at http://www.annavailcheese.com for a link to the Kickstarter campaign page.
Ann Kurronen recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to help grow her Eagle-based company, AnnaVail Cheese.
Currently, Kurronen uses 3- and 5-gallon stainless-steel pots to make cheese on her stovetop. She goes through about 25 gallons of organic cow and sheep’s milk per week during the busy summer farmers market season, which equates to about 25 pounds of fresh cheese. Her goal is to raise $18,500 by Nov. 22 to purchase a 50-gallon cheese vat so she can increase her production to 5,000 pounds of cheese per year.
The increased production capacity also will allow the cheese maker to expand her product line to include aged blue and gouda cheeses — in addition to her fresh, flavored cream cheeses, mozzarella and ricotta — which she will sell through local cheese purveyors, to area restaurants and pubs and direct to consumers through her website.
Fresh versus aged
The process for making fresh and aged cheeses starts out pretty much the same. It’s what you do with the cheese curds that greatly changes the texture and taste of the finished product, Kurronen said.
“Fresh cheeses are light and fluffy; aged cheeses are compressed and have a much more complex flavor,” she said. “The cultures of the milk over time bring out wonderful flavors and colors. It makes for a different cheese all together when it’s aged.”
The curd is made within about a week’s time, starting with milk, adding cultures and then separating the curds from the whey, a process called weying off. For aged cheeses, the curds are then pressed into a mold with a weight on top to compress them into a wheel of cheese.
“The cheese has to be handled every day,” Kurronen said. “I have to turn it, I have to wash it from time to time, I have to keep humidity on it — I have to craft it day by day. I have to work with it every day after it’s made so it forms a good rind and holds moisture within the wheel of cheese.”
The process for making fresh cheeses, by comparison, takes less time but has its own caveats.
“With fresh cheese, by law, the milk must be pasteurized, and that’s well and good, but for aged cheese, you can use raw milk,” Kurronen said. “That means I don’t have to pasteurize it. Pasteurizing means I have to take the milk up to 145 degrees to basically sterilize it, and that takes a lot of the flavor out of it.
“Another challenge with fresh cheese is it has to be eaten within a couple of weeks of being made; you can’t store it in the cooler for months and months like I can with aged cheese. You have to have a ready-made audience ready to buy that product.”
Aged cheese is more in demand for commercial applications than the fresh cheeses, as it’s more conducive to shipping and has a much longer shelf life for chefs and grocery stores to stock it.
Kurronen and her husband, Jussi, are building a mini cheese-production facility in their home, with a storage room for utensils and equipment, a commercial kitchen, called a make room, and a storage cooler, or cave, where the aged cheeses will be carefully attended to for a minimum of two months before being sold.
The Kurronens have sunk a lot of their savings into purchasing equipment and building the basic infrastructure for the facility, and the 50-gallon cheese vat will be the final piece of the puzzle.
“Within the make room will be this vat, and that will kind of be front and center,” Kurronen said. “I’m supplying the place and all the equipment needed except for the vat, and that’s what I’m asking the community to help me pay for. I’ve raised 20 percent of the funds through my close circle of friends and could sure use the help through our community to raise the rest of it.”
It’s really tough, if not impossible, for small start-ups like AnnaVail Cheese to find funding, Kurronen said, which is why the couple turned to Kickstarter.
“The traditional bank system and the micro-lenders are willing to lend to a business that’s already proven itself and wants to get bigger, but I’m more of a start-up and I just wasn’t able to find a loan to buy the vat in a traditional way,” she said. “So I thought, well, I’ll crowd source this.”
Supporters at every monetary level are eligible for rewards, ranging from an AnnaVail Cheese wine coaster for donating $10 or more to free, fresh cheeses for mid-level backers or participation in a cheese-making class for those who give $100. There are even two $1,800-level donation slots that get you a week’s stay at the Kurronen’s home in Eagle, complete with, of course, a daily apres ski cheese plate.
As with any investment, there are risks and challenges, but Kurronen said with the whole farm-to-table movement and consumers’ increased desire to know where their food comes from, she already has a market for her expanded product line.
“I was fortunate enough to participate in Gourmet on Gore this past summer and, through that process, got connected with a very reputable food distributor on the Front Range,” she said. “It’s a food distributor that works with all the restaurants up here. They said once I’m licensed — and I have to have my vat to get licensed — once I’m a licensed cheese provider, they’ll buy whatever amount I can make.
“They have had samples and were very pleased with the product and ready to take it to market for me, giving preference to the stores and restaurants up here in the mountains. There are only eight other cheese makers that I know of that sell at a certain level within the state, so I plan to be No. 9 and the only one here in the mountain region.”
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