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Follow Sage Restaurant Group every step of the way as it works to open Urban Farmer in Cleveland next April. The modern steakhouse is part of an $80-million hotel project.
Making local connections
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From there, we head for Hiram, about 90 miles east, to Mackenzie Creamery, an artisan goat cheese producer. We pull into a long driveway leading to what appears to be an old farmhouse. We’re not sure we’re in the right place until Peter notices the license plate on the car we park behind: Chévre, it reads.
We meet Jean Mackenzie and her son Rob DeMuch. They’ve been creating handmade cheese in this tiny Ohio town since 2007, and what first began as a hobby for mom has become a full-time business for son. They lead us to the building opposite the farmhouse, where the cheese is made, aged and stored, and then we settle in around a kitchen table in the house to sample their “Baby Buche,” an aged bucheron-style, soft-ripened goat cheese. We also taste the Sweet Fire Chévre (made with black raspberry and habanero, and damn good!), as well as the Cognac Fig Chévre (Courvoisier cognac and Dalmatia figs).
Chef Matt, the executive chef at Urban Farmer and now the chef leading this emerging brand, tells Jean about the cheese cart that has been such a hit at the restaurant in Portland, the city where her daughter now also runs an artisanal goat cheese creamery. It’s how the Sage team found this spot, and like in Huron, it’s obvious these guys are thoroughly impressed by the passion, professionalism and product on display.
Jean details how goat cheese has become a part of her family’s life, and she proudly shows off an article she wrote for a local magazine about the leading ladies of Ohio cheese. Chef Michael asks about other cheese producers and the discussion turns to small farms in the area that Jean thinks Sage should check out.
This is part of the corporate chef’s job, and one he’s doing quite well. He’s making friends and more importantly, connections, not just to this cheese maker, but also to more potential sources and suppliers. You should see the dossiers he’s got on all the people and places we’re visiting, with descriptions, addresses and contact information for each. Many of them are the kinds of places not listed in the phone book, or even online.
It’s now past 3 p.m. as we head north to Newbury, another small town in Geauga County, to visit Great American Lamb Company. We meet Ben Calkins, a Harvard- and Michigan-educated attorney still practicing law, who’s also quite a character and a passionate sheep rancher. He now has dozens of sheep and plans for even more. He leads us through his barn and flock, before sending us back to Cleveland with frozen samples of his lamb meat and sausage.