Indiana Now Has an Official Cheese Trail
Ask any Midwesterner about cheese and they'll gladly point you in the direction of The Badger State. It's no secret that Wisconsin reigns supreme when it comes to fromage, ranking as the top cheese-producing state with more than a quarter of the country's total cheese production. Slowly, yet surely, another state in the region is coming into its own in the dairy realm. Last month, Indiana launched its own cheese trail highlighting ten standout creameries that's drawing locals and out-of-state visitors alike.
"It took a bit longer for the artisan cheese movement to grow into the Midwest region in any way that was sustainable for local cheesemakers," says Jenni Browning, CEO of American Dairy Association Indiana (ADAI). "It really just has surfaced here over the past ten years, and Indiana cheesemakers have already made an impact within industry and local community."
Working with various creameries around the state, ADAI decided the time was right to showcase their bounty to travelers, as well as customers who were already purchasing their cheeses at the supermarket. The Indiana Cheese Trail was born, on the heels of a boom in agritourism—an industry expected to reach nearly $63 billion by 2027—that really began to take off about 15 years ago, and has only gained momentum during the pandemic. (The U.S. Census of Agriculture first used the term "agritourism" in 2007 to describe activities that include visiting a working farm or any agriculture operation.)
"People want to know where their food comes from, but they also want to see the faces behind it," says Browning. In Indiana, more and more farm festivals are cropping up as interest in farm visits have grown, she adds.
Indiana isn't the first state to add a cheese trail—California, Vermont, North Carolina, and New York's Finger Lakes all have existing trails for turophiles—yet the launch of the Hoosier State's own mirrors a growing industry there. Of the 59 total dairy plants in Indiana, 19 have been added in the past ten years, and seven of the ten creameries featured on the trail have opened in the last decade.
What to Know Before Hitting the Indiana Cheese Trail
Since the trail spans the whole state, which stretches 270 miles north to south, this trail isn't designed to do in a single day or weekend, or even in a particular order. The idea is to experience any of the creameries that make up the trail, separately or one at a time. One thing to note: Not all locations have public storefronts (such as Jacobs & Brichford in Connersville and Hufford Family Dairy in Manchester), but you can pick up their products in local markets. Check the trail's website ahead of time to learn about opportunities for classes and tours, on-site retail shops, and indoor dining at each stop.
Creameries on the Indiana Cheese Trail
Each of the ten stops on the trail has its own unique history, story, and cheeses, which are diverse as they are delicious.
Steckler Grassfed, a pasture-based farm in southern Indiana, started its creamery in 2012 to share the health benefits of its milk from 100-percent grass-fed Dutch Belted cows with consumers. It's best known for its Bright Meadow Cheddar, which is made with raw milk, aged for three years, and especially fantastic in a grilled cheese sandwich—but a tour of the farm shows there's more to the operation. Since it's located in an area with a rich limestone base, the cow's milk is richer in calcium than it would be elsewhere, explains owner Jerry Steckler. "Our farm is [managed] with the main focus on increasing life in the soil. That life develops higher-quality pastures," he says.
A few hours north in Indianapolis, Laura Davenport and her business partner started Tulip Tree Creamery in 2014. It's best known for its small-format, European-inspired cheeses, such as the award-winning Trillium, a triple-cream cheese with a bloomy rind. Though the company now distributes nationwide, visitors to the urban creamery (one of few in the U.S.!) get a special treat with fresh mozzarella classes, where you can experience every step of the cheesemaking process—from acidifying the milk to stretching.
Davenport says despite being around for more than seven years, many locals have still never heard of Tulip Tree. For that reason, the new trail "is significant because it's the first time that creameries from Indiana have been put on a map together," she says. "We hope to have more people attend our classes so they can experience what it takes to make cheese by hand… I feel they might leave with a better appreciation for artisan cheesemakers."
Seventy miles west, the mom-and-pop creamery Jacobs & Brichford is a less traditional stop along the trail, as it's a working farm with no retail shop. Yet it's noteworthy nonetheless, as it's a farmstead operation—meaning all the milk that goes into its cheeses, such as the creamy, semi-soft Ameribella, comes from its own cows.
"This is important to us because we believe the terroir of our land is what makes our milk what it is and our cheeses what they are," says Leslie Jacobs, co-owner of J & B with her husband, Matthew Brichford. Being a little further south than Wisconsin enables a longer grazing season, which helps to develop full flavors in their cheeses, all made from 100-percent grass-fed raw milk.
"The fact that we aren't in a typical dairy state like Wisconsin or California means that we have to blaze our own trail, be innovative, and develop our own styles of cheeses that can't really be built on a long history of cheesemaking in our state," she adds. (The exception to this is Capriole, a creamery in Greenville, Indiana, that's been producing goat cheese for several decades.)
Other stops along the Indiana Cheese Trail include:
Get your dairy fix at this Osceola creamery, which opened on a family-run farm in 2017 and offers squeaky cheese curds (try the wood-fired pizza variety), yogurt, and flavored milks in glass bottles.
Talk about an agritourism destination. Fair Oaks Farm, halfway between Chicago and Indianapolis, has its own on-site hotel, pool, and restaurants, plus ever-changing classes and workshops that demonstrate the importance of agriculture. Don't miss the onion soup at the Farmhouse restaurant, loaded with Muenster made on-site.
Be transported to the Italian countryside, where the family behind this creamery resided for generations before relocating to the United States a few years ago, at this Warren creamery. Along with its Caffè cheese boards, which include traditional meats and cheeses made fresh daily, Golfo Di Napoli is known for its handmade flavored burrata (try the truffle or pistachio) —a rarity in Indiana.
In the heart of Amish country in Middlebury, you can watch the cheesemaking process through viewing windows in-store, then catch a buggy ride down the road in the Amish hub of Shipshewana. Grab a few rounds of Thunder Jack (a blend of Colby and Monterey Jack cheeses with peppers) to go.
This community-sponsored agriculture (CSA) initiative in Manchester doesn't have an agritourism component, but it's included on the Indiana Cheese Trail to enable consumers to support the state's dairy industry. Shop its hot pepper and pizza cheese (similar to mozzarella) online or at nearby farmers' markets.
Conveniently located right off U.S. Route 31 in Rochester, this creamery regularly hosts music festivals and car shows in its event space next door, so it's easy to sample cheese (including more than two dozen flavors of Gouda) and catch dinner and a show here. Fancy a pairing? Schnabeltier makes its own wine and beer, too.
You can see cows being milked, take a goat yoga class in the barn, hike a 1.5-mile trail through the pastures, dine at the on-site restaurant, or order a cheeseboard to go on this farm in Zionsville. (It also carries a selection of cheeses from Jacob & Brichford.)