At Central Coast Creamery, cheese maker molds his creamery dream

Drawing well-trained employees from Cal Poly’s dairy science program, Reggie Jones’ Paso company produces 9,000 pounds a month and is a perfect match for the county’s wine industry

Special to The TribuneMay 29, 2014 

Over the past few years, Central Coast Creamery has steadily made its way into the ranks of respected national cheese makers.

The Paso Robles company has garnered mentions in several foodie publications and has also won some significant bling at some high-profile competitions such as the American Cheese Society Contest and the World Championship Cheese Competition.

The creamery was a longtime dream of Reggie Jones, who launched the business in 2007 with his wife, Kellie. His involvement with the dairy industry dates back to 1991, when he got a job in the quality laboratory of a cheese factory. From there, his work for other dairy-related companies — including as a sales representative for a bacteria culture company — gained him experience in all aspects of cheese making.

“The idea (for Central Coast Creamery) came to me about 15 years ago when I saw that all the midsize cheese-making companies were going away,” Jones said.

In deciding on a location for the business, the couple settled on the Central Coast because Kellie had gone to Cal Poly and “we always loved the area.”

In addition, “cheese and wine are such a natural match,” and with all the existing cheese producers up near the Napa/Sonoma area, “the Central Coast was the obvious choice for us.”

Central Coast Creamery produced its first cheese — Goat Gouda — in 2007, “but 2008 was the first year we sold any,” Jones said. The business plan was to start slow and add about one cheese a year. Since then the lineup has expanded to include Seascape (semi-soft made with cow and goat milk), Goat Cheddar, Holey Cow (creamy Swiss-style), Big Rock Blue (organic cow) and Ewenique (sheep milk).

With the exception of Ewenique, which is made in Holland specifically for Central Coast Creamery, all the cheeses are made from pasteurized milk sourced locally from within 100 miles of Paso Robles, all from animals not treated with hormones. However, Jones noted that “we are finally getting enough sheep milk that we can think about making Ewenique here.”

Jones and Lindsey Mendes — a recent graduate of Cal Poly’s Dairy Science program — craft the cheeses in small batches largely by hand, and it’s not a process for the lazy. There’s a lot of essential detailed cleaning involved at every step in the process and a lot of moving the product along as it goes through the various steps of becoming a round of cheese.

Some machinery is used for tasks such as mixing and pressing, but that minimal usage fits right in with the plan of being a midsize producer. The creamery’s current production level is about 9,000 pounds per month, a far cry from much larger facilities cranking out 200,000 pounds a day.

“Central Coast Creamery has worked out exactly as we had hoped,” said Jones, who is quick to credit Cal Poly with providing a quality workforce for both interns and employees. “We are growing quickly, and we are happy with all of the cheese types that we currently offer,” a list which will soon also include Gruyere, Sheep Cheddar and Sheep Gouda.

“Our vision is to build another facility that has a retail store and where visitors can come and watch the cheese being made through viewing windows,” he added. “We just need to find the right spot.”

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Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at ktbudge@sbcglobal.net.

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