At the Beecher's Handmade Cheese shops in Seattle's historic Pike Place Market and New York City's Flatiron District, visitors press their noses against the windows to witness a vat of creamy white milk transformed by the expert hands of the cheesemaker. Although he is aided in the process by simple machinery, the cheesemaker is crafting cheese using the same techniques that have been used for thousands of years.
A cheese lover since childhood, Kurt Beecher Dammeier remembers encouraging his mother to buy artisan cheese at a time when processed cheese was overtaking the market; and he recalls his great-grandfather, whose first name was Beecher, purchasing Stilton by the wheel.
Home Base - Seattle's Pike Place Market
In 2002, having become firmly entrenched in the Seattle food scene, Kurt was walking through Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market and noticed that a long-time tenant had closed up shop. Inspired, he called the landlord, returned to his office and announced they were going into the cheesemaking business. With fond memories of his great-grandfather Beecher and his wheels of Stilton, it was a natural fit to name the business Beecher’s Handmade Cheese.
For Kurt, Beecher’s fulfilled an ambition of his beyond just making great cheese. He has long felt passionately about eating food free of harmful additives and preservatives, as well as believing that people should know more about the food they eat – where it comes from, what goes into it and how it is made. The Pike Place Market location - a Seattle mecca for fresh produce and handcrafted items - provided the opportunity to nearly encircle the cheesemaking kitchen with windows, allowing a live demonstration of all three of those tenets in an entertaining format.
The Vision Becomes A Reality
Soon after acquiring the space, cheesemaking equipment was purchased piece-by-piece and welded together into a custom pasteurizing and cheesemaking facility to fit into the 1,000 square foot glass-walled kitchen.
All that was left to do was find a local source of premium milk. As simple as that sounds, most dairies sell their milk to larger companies. In addition, the quality of cheese is ultimately dependent upon the quality of milk. Kurt was looking for milk from cows that were fed high quality feed and not given recombinant bovine growth hormones (rBST). Any cows being treated with antibiotics would need to be isolated from the herd so their milk was not used until testing assured that the antibiotics disappeared from their system.
A chance meeting connected Kurt with a local farmer and his herd of healthy, well-treated Holstein and Jersey cows in Duvall, Washington. The farmer was selling the milk from his herd to a large milk producer, but was interested in making cheese and so agreed to be the sole supplier of milk to Beecher's. Securing a local dairy meant Beecher's could ensure the quality and purity of the milk and - ultimately - the cheese.
Let Them Eat Cheese!
On November 20, 2003, Beecher's Handmade Cheese opened its doors to the public and became the only artisan cheesemaker in the city of Seattle.
In October of 2005, Beecher's had grown to the point that they added to their milk production with additional dairies just outside of Seattle, Washington. Using the same criteria for working with these dairies as had been used to select the first; the cows are all healthy and are not given any additional growth hormones.
A chance visit to New York City in the winter of 2008, started Kurt down the path of bringing Beecher's to New York. He connected right away to the open market feel and recognized that the people shared his love of good food and for sense of place. In June 2011, after much research on how to start a cheesemaking kitchen in America's most populated city, Beecher's opened its doors to New York City's Flatiron District with a new store, cafe and restaurant.
Staying true to sourcing only local, premium milk for cheesemaking, the milk used to make cheese in New York City is from Holstein and Jersey cow dairies just south of Albany.
In 2015, the success of Beecher’s cheeses exceeded the capacity of our Seattle and New York City cheesemaking kitchens and Beecher’s bought an equity stake in an existing cheesemaking operation in Monroe, Wisconsin. Called Maple Leaf, this operation is the perfect outlet for future growth. While the Monroe operation is not open to the public at this time, it follows all of the same cheesemaking strategies we’ve employed for over a decade, from the quality of the milk to the skill of the cheesemakers and their hands-on techniques.
Yesterday, This Cheese Was Grass
Seven days a week, fresh milk is pumped into the holding tanks at our cheesemaking kitchens. Then the day-long process of cheesemaking begins. Depending upon the day, the cheesemakers may be making Beecher's signature 15-month aged Flagship, Flagsheep, Marco Polo, or any of the other cheeses that Beecher's makes. Under the skilled direction of the cheesemaker (and with a little help from the cows), the end result is a wholesome, authentic cheese - full of flavor and high in nutrition.
Flavor and purity go hand in hand at Beecher's. Customers watching the time-tested craft of cheesemaking can see firsthand that Beecher's cheeses are made with care and a commitment to purity. All products are free of bovine growth hormones, hydrogenated oils, nitrates and polysorbate. The Beecher's credo says it best:
"Beecher’s Handmade Cheese makes foods only with ingredients we trust, are proud of, and would eat ourselves. It’s just authentic and original food, full of flavor."
The artisan cheeses we sell, and the meats, vegetables and other foods we use to make Beecher's café and restaurant items, are chosen with care and a desire to support broadly local, small-scale enterprises who share our philosophy and commitment to pure food.