Blue Jacket Dairy has grown rapidly since it started on the King family farm about five years ago, including landing its artisan cheeses in Kroger stores this year.
About 25 Kroger stores in the Central Ohio region — which also spans from Urbana to Toledo and includes Columbus — now carry 12 Blue Jacket cheeses such as its Silver Lake chevre and cheddar cheese curds.
And the Bellefontaine dairy hopes to soon sell its products in the Southwest Ohio district that includes Springfield- and Dayton-area Kroger stores.
“It did take off very fast. We just had an instantaneous customer base,” said Angel King, who owns the dairy with her husband.
Cheese-making is on the rise in Ohio. In 2009, the state permitted only 18 farms for on-site processing to craft cheese, yogurt or other dairy products. Now it has 54 such farms, including Blue Jacket.
Ohio produced a total of nearly 10.9 billion pounds of cheese in 2012, which has increased by more than 2 billion pounds in the past decade, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Dairy Division also takes about a call a day from people inquiring about cheese-making regulations and the permitting process, spokeswoman Ashley McDonald said.
“There’s a major emphasis right now on buying local,” McDonald said. “People want to know where their food is coming from and a lot of time people want to be face-to-face with their food producers. That’s a major factor we’re seeing in more folks taking on a venture like this.”
Blue Jacket started in 2008 selling fresh cheddar curds with family members pitching in and has expanded to more than 65,000 pounds of cheese a year with one full-time employee and 18 seasonal workers.
It now makes 17 types of cheese, including both fresh and aged varieties from cow, goat and sheep’s milk. All of its milk comes from Logan and Champaign county farms.
King credits the dairy’s focus on unique products that other farms aren’t making — such as its quarks and Gretna grilling cheese — with some of its growth. She might add new varieties next year, possibly some aged in wine.
“We’ve got to be passionate about it,” she said.
It also sells its products at about 15 area farmer’s markets, including Springfield’s and the 2nd Street Market in Dayton, as well as some speciality markets such as Whole Foods.
Blue Jacket pursued a deal with Kroger for several years, King said. The grocer has added several Ohio and American artisan cheeses to its stores.
“It’s a really exciting development,” she said. “It gives our customers options of where to go.”
Kroger and Blue Jacket both declined to release sales numbers, but a spokeswoman for the grocery said the cheeses have been well-received by customers.
Buying from Ohio farms gets great products to customers and strengthens the states economy, said Jackie Siekmann of Kroger.
“One thing we hear repeatedly from our customers is that they want fresh, and supporting local companies, and buying local, means less time between manufacturing and when it hits the dinner plate,” Siekmann said.
Many local restaurants also use its cheeses, including The Winds in Yellow Springs and Seasons Bistro and Grille in downtown Springfield.
The Blue Jacket cheeses are high-quality, Seasons co-owner Margaret Mattox said.
“That’s part of our mission — to support local businesses and keep things as fresh and local as possible,” Mattox said.
Blue Jacket emphasizes its Ohio roots by naming them after landmarks or people, such as Hull’s Trace and Ludlow. The dairy’s name itself comes from a nearby creek that is named for the American Indian chief.
“A lot of that comes from my love of history and Ohio history,” King said.
It also sells other Ohio products at its on-farm store that pair well with its cheeses, such as Daelia’s crackers from Cincinnati. Customers are drawn to local products, King said, because they want food that isn’t institutionally made and has a lot of flavor.
“The bottom line is people are interested in what they are eating,” she said.