May 9, 2020
At the picturesque end of a small peninsula in Marion, out on Delano Road, Great Hill Dairy is making some internationally-acclaimed blue cheese—and barely keeping pace with demand. Great Hill Dairy purchases raw milk from a cooperative of local farms (including Shy Brothers Farm) to make its blue cheese.
Tim Stone, the owner of Great Hill Dairy and great-grandson of a banker who purchased the land in 1908, says that he originally focused on selling milk but struggled to stay in business.
“I realized you have to do something different. If you don’t diversify and do a value-added product, you aren’t going to make it,” he says. Stone began producing primarily blue cheese after extensive research into cheese in demand. At the time, Great Hill Dairy became the sole maker of blue cheese (called Great Hill Blue) in the Eastern part of the United States. More recently, other creameries have begun to produce blue cheese.
His first customer: Marion General Store, a beloved family- owned grocery still in operation a few miles away. From there, “I gained a couple more customers on the Cape, and gradually built it up, schlepping around in a jeep with the cheese in a cooler,” Stone says.
Since then, his distribution has grown dramatically. Great Hill Blue is sold in Whole Foods markets nationwide, other big and small retailers, and restaurants, including many high-end establishments in Boston. At one point he was a supplier for Legal Sea Foods, but couldn’t keep up with their demand.
“There is a demand for higher quality, more natural products. There has been a lot of growth through those markets that was never envisioned,” he says.
Great Hill Blue has won its fair share of awards, including a gold prize in the Los Angeles cheese competition and eighth place in the 2018 World Cheese Championships
“We’re the only one in the country making cheese the way we do. We don’t homogenize the blue cheese. We have to age it longer because of this [about four months], something our competitors don’t do. We get a different flavor profile, as it’s not as acidic. It’s creamy, full-flavored and smooth tasting, “ he says.
Great Hill Dairy employs a staff of 10 to handle the cheese- making, which begins at 4 am and finishes up mid-to-late afternoon three days per week. The operation produces a half a ton of blue cheese every day, Stone says. Stone himself makes the rounds to local farms on the weekends to purchase the raw milk.
In house, upon coagulation, the curd is cut and stirred until reaching the desired consistency, at which time the whey is drained off. Each cheese form is hand-filled using traditional techniques to ensure proper whey expulsion and curd structure. The workers produce six-pound wheels, which are cut, using wires, into wedges of desired sizes.
Great Hill Blue has carved out a following even among folks who don’t typically like blue cheese, he says. Stone has no plans to expand his operation, despite the fact that he can barely keep up with demand. “The model is working the way it is now,” he says, explaining that he wants to keep his business small.
Nearby Shy Brothers Farm produces Hannahbells: a curd-free thimble-sized hand-made cheese—in the classic French flavors and Cloumage, a creamy and tangy cheese. The unformed, unstructured cheese was discovered a bit by accident, as it started as a curd of Hannahbells.
The cheese is versatile and can be used for cheesecakes. The Back Eddy restaurant in Westport sells “Shy Lime Pie,” a key lime pie made from this delicious pliable cheese. Food & Wine magazine has listed Cloumage as among its 10 top cheeses.
The Shy Brothers Farm also sells mozzarella, which Hanley describes as buttery in flavor, to the local chain Brick Pizza as well as dNB Burgers, among other places.
Written by Laura Pedulli; Photography by Adam Graves