In 1998 Kenny Mattingly added a cheese making operation to his dairy in Barren County. Today the cheeses are in demand nationwide.
Mattingly said his father’s dream was farming, and the family enterprise began in 1976. “We’re still farming the original 200 acres, plus we’ve added about another 100 acres to that recently,” he said.
His interest in cheese making began during the late 1980s farm crisis. “The farm finances were so dry, going through the farm crisis, that I had to take a job off the farm,” he said. He became an organizer with the Community Farm Alliance, a grass-roots organization in Kentucky. From there he traveled and met with other farmers.
“My trip to Europe in 1990 is what I think really gave me this new vision for our farm,” he said. In Holland, he met a couple running a small dairy farm who sold milk and cheeses locally. “At that time the United States was encouraging farmers to just get bigger and bigger. And so I came home with this voice in my head in one ear, saying you got to get bigger, you have to get bigger to survive. And another one was saying, no, look at value added. Make what you’re producing more valuable to sustain you. And that was the voice that I listened to.”
Fran McCall, a commodity specialist and certified roadside farm market coordinator, said many farmers are pursuing value-added products, such as apple pies made at an apple orchard, or events like fall festivals. “It’s bringing the consumers right out to the farm to get that farm experience, to get that fresh Kentucky product,” she said. Mattingly not only has a value-added product, but he has a story behind it, and that also appeals to consumers, McCall said.
Will Eaves is the affineur, or person who ages the cheese, at Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese. He said the cheese is made by hand. “From the making, the milking, the waxing, the aging, the cutting, every little piece of cheese has our love and work in it.”
Mattingly said the cheese is made from milk produced on the farm. “There’s no additives. It’s pure, whole milk. We have been a closed herd since about 1995. What we’re milking grew up here, so we know the cattle very well.” They want their cows to live long, healthy, productive lives. In fact, two of their cattle have recently won an award for highest lifetime milk production: over 200,000 pounds of milk.
“The cows are queen here; we all respect the hard work they do. Our focus is comfort and high quality feed,” he said. “What we grow on the farm here becomes forage for our cattle.”
Mattingly said they now produce 20 kinds of cheese. “Last year we marketed about 140,000 pounds of cheese,” which equals nearly half of the herd’s milk production, he said.
They send cheese to restaurants in Louisville and Nashville, local farmers markets, and to 15 states. He believes that in three to four years, most of the milk produced on the farm will be converted to cheese. “That’s where our growth will come,” he said.
This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2201, which originally aired on October 1, 2016. Watch the full episode.