Farm to School CC Brings Local Cheese to Local Kids
About Central Coast Creamery
Reggie Jones and his wife Kellie started Central Coast Creamery with a lot of research of the cheese industry, in California and beyond, which provided the framework for what they wanted the company to be. Although they started building the business in the Central Valley, they wanted to bring it to San Luis Obispo county because of the burgeoning food and wine industry here that could support their vision of producing more interesting cheeses for adventurous pallets. Reggie has worked in all sectors of the cheese industry, which has led to an intricate understanding of the fermentation process, and a developed skill of mixing art and science to make a huge variety of cheeses to delight every cheesehead across the U.S.
Establishing its home in Paso Robles in 2013, the company has grown incrementally to its current 11,000 square feet manufacturing capacity. They are able to produce 1,000 pounds of cheese per day, using cow, goat, and sheep milk. The company is proud to source locally and/or from California dairies - their cow milk comes from Cal Poly Dairy, and goat and sheep milk come from dairies in the Central Valley. Another locally sourced component is their knowledgeable Cal Poly educated workers - the creamery is glad to offer industry experience to graduates that want to stay in this beautiful area.
“We started Central Coast Creamery in 2007 because I had been in probably 500 cheese manufacturing facilities and looking at what was offered in the U.S. versus in Europe, the flavors and textures were more interesting and robust coming from Europe. I wanted to fill that niche I saw of manufacturing those types of cheeses here in the U.S.” - Reggie Jones
Like most industries across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the artisan cheese business hard. When restaurants and wineries had to close their doors to customers, a huge chunk of Central Coast Creamery’s business was halted. Thankfully, Reggie already had distribution established across the county, some of which still held strong throughout the downed economy of 2020. Knowing that a pivot was needed, the creamery also invested in cutting equipment, so that they could cater their sales to retail outlets rather than food service.
As the pandemic continued and the new year was ushered in, Reggie knew that the slowest months for cheese, January and February, were likely to be even slower in 2021. This is the time of year when consumers have New Year resolutions to lose weight and not indulge in treats like cheese and wine. Often, the creamery has to furlough employees during these months until consumers are ready to kick their diets in the Spring. That is never an easy decision for employers to make, so when Reggie got a call from the Slow Money SLO Farm to School Coordinator saying San Luis Coastal School District wanted cheese, he was glad for the timing.
“The restaurants have been not good (for sales) since March. Before everything got shut down, 70% of our cheese was going to food service. We made immediate changes to our business strategy and bought cutting equipment so that we could direct sales to retail. ” - Reggie Jones
The Slow Money SLO/Farm to School Solution
In January 2021, San Luis Coastal School District started putting together pantry boxes to send home with families. They needed protein sources, in addition to the fruits, veggies, and grains in the boxes. Wanting to source local, they first reached out to Cal Poly Creamery for cheese, who were happy to be a supplier. However, cheese is an aged product, and the university operation needed to pause sales while they waited for more cheese to ripen. That’s when Central Coast Creamery got a call from the Farm to School Coordinator, looking for another cheese source.
“They (the school district/Farm to School Coordinator) reached out to me looking for cheese. There’s not really anybody locally that can produce that amount of material and we have the ability to cut wedges into any size you want, so it was an easy process for us.” - Reggie Jones
Having invested in cheese cutting equipment the previous March, Reggie and his team were ready to supply the district with the required amount of cheese for each family. Furthermore, because they have manufacturing capacity large enough, the big order from the school district was completely manageable for their operation. To top it all off - Reggie was able to keep all of his employees working during their slowest months!
San Luis Coastal District is sending home Holy Cow Swiss and Aries Aged Sheep Milk Alpine Cheese to participating families, giving kids and their parents something new to try! WIth their artisan approach to cheese, Central Coast Creamery continues to expand SLO county pallets, offering something different for everyone who wants to adventure beyond cheddar and monterey jack.
“January and February are our slowest months of the year. Being able to supply the public schools with this cheese has enabled us to keep all our employees working. That wouldn’t have been the case without this program.” - Reggie Jones
What’s next for Central Coast Creamery
Central Coast Creamery continues to develop and expand their cheeses, including a line from Shooting Star Creamery, developed by Reggie’s daughter. Central Coast Creamery’s product line up includes everything from blue to goat gouda to washed and bloomed rind cheeses. As the food and wine industries in the county recover from the pandemic, the creamery looks forward to bringing their cheese to locals again through food service and events. They are generous with their delicious products and have contributed cheese to Slow Money SLO events! The Creamery is also excited about the expansion of their facility, as well as the continued growth of the food industry on the Central Coast. They would love to see a sheep or goat dairy make its home here to continue the local production capabilities of our area.