Prepare yourself to boldly go where few Cleveland cheese connoisseurs have gone before. Owner Michael Januska isn't reinventing the cheese wheel, but he'll be providing a much different experience at Old Brooklyn Cheese Company (4138 Pearl Rd., 440-670-0762, www.facebook.com/obcheese) than most Midwesterners are used to.
Old Brooklyn Cheese Co. not only will be selling upwards of 100 varieties of local and international cheeses, including area favorites Lake Erie Creamery and Yellow House Cheese, but the shop also will be making its own products in a state-of-the-art production kitchen and aging others on site in one of three cheese caves. Januska has partnered with Hartzler Family Dairy in Wooster to supply its grass-fed, non-GMO, raw milk produced within 50 miles from where it will be transformed into cheese.
"That's one of the appealing aspects of making the cheese here under my brand is that it's one ingredient and you can makes thousands of variations," Januska explains.
He'll launch with a 60-day aged Gouda and an English cheddar, made with bacon fat-dipped cloth for a slightly smoky and sweet taste. He hopes that Clevelanders will grow familiar with the concept of eating cheese seasonally and, like fine wine, even come to differentiate the regions from where individual varieties originate.
Unlike going to your local grocer or taking a number at a delicatessen for machine-cut slices, these cheeses will be aged up until the moment that they are sold. "One of the things I've found out since being back is the difference in chain of ownership of cheese and what happens once it's gone from the cheesemaker. Once it's in distribution and sent to the shops, there isn't any care; it's just something for sale," Januska says in disbelief. "They just forget that it's still alive."
Originally from the west side of town, Januska spent years working internationally in London-area restaurants before buying a home in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood. "[Back in London] it was almost a hobby, because there was only so much time between running a business or working at a busy restaurant," he says. But over time, Januska was able to mine his favorite shops like Neal's Yard Dairy in Covent Garden for information on aging and curating cheese.
Electing to not take on a business partner, Januska has funded much of his production kitchen for Old Brooklyn Cheese Co. through contributions on Kickstarter, which surpassed its $7,000 goal this week. Januska has been patiently waiting for the time when his own raw milk cheeses have aged past the regulated amount of time required for such products to be sold. In the meantime, the newly minted shopkeeper has had plenty to do, working long days with the help of his fiancée and family to ready the interior of the large 1,200-square-foot space for a late-October opening. He recently participated in a "Farm 2 Table" dinner in the Ben Franklin Community Gardens of Old Brooklyn, collaborating with Toast and Goldhorn Brewery. It was there that diners got to taste some of the very first cheeses that Januska has created.
Even though Januska knows it's been awhile since he's been back to his hometown, he's ready to work hard to gain the brand recognition needed to supply area restaurants, wine bars and breweries while also keeping the community up to its collective noses in cheese.