Farmers switch from growing tobacco to creating cheese
Almost 18 years ago, Anna Gerringer Amoriello ’89 returned home to Guilford County, N.C., to join her parents in business on their tobacco and dairy farm. Ten years later, the tobacco had disappeared and in its place stood a new facility and manufacturing barn. The Amoriellos had decided to break away from the tobacco industry and try their hand at cheese making, launching their business, Calico Farmstead Cheese.
“My mother went to take a class in cheese making at NC State, probably eight years ago now, and she’s our primary cheese-maker,” Amoriello saiys. “I take care of the dairy end of it – taking care of our dairy cows is my job.”
Calico Farmstead Cheese, which has been in business since 2005, began with a single product – Mexican-style queso fresco. In the past several years however, the Amoriellos have expanded their product line to include everything from ricotta and feta to mozzarella and fromage-blanc spreads.
“We first started making cheese because we have a large Hispanic population here and they always wanted to buy milk to make cheese,” Amoriello says. “You couldn’t buy good, fresh cheese like this anywhere.”
However, making the switch from selling tobacco and milk from their dairy cows to making farm fresh cheese was not without its challenges. Making cheese, especially once they branched out into a variety of options, was far more labor intensive, Amoriello says.
“We only have seven employees working for us, other than my parents,” she says. “My parents are in their seventies, but they’re still hard at it and I don’t anticipate them retiring any time soon.”
The Amoriellos’ cheese is made fresh five days a week using most of the milk from their 200 cows. “We always use the freshest milk – that’s one thing that sets our cheese apart,” Amoriello says. “The cheese is really sensitive to what the cows eat and the conditions that we make the cheese in; it all makes a difference in flavor.”
While they don’t sell their products in chain grocery stores, the Amoriellos put a lot of effort into marketing their cheese in other venues throughout the state. Anna Gerringer Amoriello’s mother takes their cheese to the farmer’s market in Davidson, Hispanic grocery stores, a co-op in Burlington and occasionally the downtown farmer’s market in Raleigh.
However, Amoriello says the market for her family’s cheese is changing.
“When we originally built the cheese facility, the Hispanic market was our target market,” she says. “But now with the way the economy is, we’ve had to focus on our other cheeses. It would be nice to sell enough cheese to not have to sell our milk conventionally, but the economy would have to improve.”
Although Amoriello enjoys working close to home, joining the family business wasn’t always her plan. At NC State she studied agricultural science and education, and after graduating in 1989, worked as a teacher for almost four years before returning home.
“I had a younger brother and it was always the plan for him to take over the dairy business,” Amoriello says. “But when he died at 22 from a brain tumor, my parents asked me to move back and help them on the farm.”
Amoriello, who had worked on the farm in her spare time, became the herd manager, feeding the cows, taking care of sick animals and breeding them. If not for her brother’s death, Amoriello says she probably would have kept teaching. But she enjoys the freedom she has to be an active participant in her kids’ lives.
“I’m a mother of three children and they’re all athletic. Working on the farm, I still have time to go and see their ball games. A lot of people don’t get to do that,” she says. Amoriello’s oldest son is following in the family footsteps as a freshman studying animal science at NC State.
Calico Farmstead Cheese will feature their array of cheese products at the Red & White Food and Beverage Festival on November 1.
– Jamie Gnazzo
Calico Farmstead Cheese is one of dozens of vendors - including restaurants, farms, breweries, wineries and bakeries - participating in the Red & White Food and Beverage Festival during the week of homecoming. All of the vendors have NC State connections, with alumni as owners or managers. The festival is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 1, at The State Club in the Park Alumni Center. Visit the festival website to register and see a full list of vendors participating.