Tucked away in a corner of an office building in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood, a small, 900-square-foot operation is entering its 10th year of creating many of Cleveland's finest cheeses.
In 2006, the husband and wife team of Gerald Onken and Mariann Janosko launched Lake Erie Creamery (216-961-9222, facebook.com/LakeErieCreamery), Ohio's first artisan creamery, in the heart of the city. Brian Moran, who took over operations in 2013, says they don't recognize just how important their work truly was.
Ohio wasn't always filled with small-batch goat cheesemakers like it is today, and Moran largely credits Onken and Janosko for paving the way. "They were filling a niche that no one really realized needed to be filled," he says.
During his three years at the helm, Moran has expanded the product line with a few twists of his own, including more cows' milk products. All milk continues to be locally sourced. Chevre remains the best-known offering, and Moran has introduced new flavors such as herbed goat, and tarragon with orange zest. A new lemon flavor offers a sweet, versatile counterpart to the Key lime.
The tarragon orange was inspired by Fleur Verte, a round of chevre coated in tarragon and pink peppercorn. Moran was toying with the idea of making a similar variety, but didn't have the peppercorn. He did, however, have clementines, so he zested them and mixed it with tarragon for striking results. Moran says it's not a top seller, but it's one that epicureans tend to gravitate toward.
"Because of the orange zest, it's not sweet like some of the other chevres," he says. "The tarragon has a long finish and orange tends to break that up a little bit."
Lake Erie's most popular retail item is Lake Erie Pearls, hand-rolled goat cheese submerged in rosemary olive oil in a handsome jar. It's become a popular hostess gift to be served with crusty bread, but it can also be used in pastas and as pizza and flatbread toppings. After the cheese is gone, the leftover oil can be made into a salad dressing.
In cows' milk offerings, Moran has found a hit in black pepper feta. All Lake Erie Creamery fetas are aged for three months. That cheese currently is featured on the meat and cheese board at Great Lakes Brewing Company, one of his biggest customers. "It still has the snap you expect from feta, but not as much as the goat feta," Moran says.
As the poutine craze exploded, so too did requests for Lake Erie's cheese curds. They've been found on the menus of Spice Kitchen, Forage Public House, and the newly opened Picnic in the 5th Street Arcades.
Moran, who formerly worked at the West Side Market, credits time spent in close proximity to Dohar/Lovaszy Meats as inspiration for his own version of the spicy Hungarian cheese dip, körözött. Featuring a blend of whole-milk cream cheese and goat cheese spiked with paprika, it's spicy, but not too hot. To create a dip, it can be thinned with half-and-half or sour cream. "But Hungarians like to pour beer into it," Moran says.
The cheeses can be found at the Cheese Shop at the West Side Market, Nature's Bin, Vita Urbana, Tremont General Store, the forthcoming Astoria Foods, and Heinen's beginning in July.
"I'm very happy to keep up the legacy of what Gerald and Mariann started," Moran says.