Nestled amongst the fields of Clare is Natural Way Cheese, an Amish cheese store that’s providing a way for small Amish dairy farmers to make a profit during the difficult times that many Midwestern dairy farmers are facing.
“The small family farms were not able to make a living with the market they had,” explains David Miller, the Amish manager of the store. “So, they decided they needed to make their own market.”
In 2018 dairy farmers saw the fourth consecutive year of low milk prices; and, with the same or higher expenses, many of them found it difficult to make ends meet. According to Dairy Herd Management, 13 percent of licensed dairy farms in Michigan closed in 2018, which amounts to 230 farms.
Since opening in January, Natural Way Cheese has created a variety of artisan cheeses. Miller says one of their biggest accomplishments is offering an assortment of A2A2 cheese.
“It is a protein that people can handle if they are intolerant to dairy products. It digests, it doesn’t cause inflammation,” Miller explains. “I think it’s a big achievement to have accomplished this. You would have to look hard in Michigan to find A2A2 cheese – especially in so many different varieties.”
Miller says they are currently producing more cheese than they sell in-store; so, they have a few Michigan-based partners that they sell to as well, including Tip’n the Mitten in Grayling, Troll Smokehouse in Kawkawlin, and several others. Additionally, Natural Way Cheese is working to receive the proper certifications so they can sell to Meijer.
Natural Way Cheese uses a large wood-fire boiler to provide all of their heat, as everything at the store is done in such a way to keep in line with Amish culture and tradition.
Customers who stop into their storefront, though, may notice one distinct difference from other places they typically shop at: there are no lights. This is because everything at Natural Way Cheese maintains Amish culture and traditions - from the milk they receive, which is all from hand-milked cows, to the wood-fire boiler, which provides all of their heat.
“Everything is off-grid, diesel powered,” explains Miller.
How Natural Way Cheese operates isn’t the only thing that makes it unique; it’s also how they produce their cheese.
“We use low-heat vat pasteurization,” says Miller.
This is a longer process, but results in a more flavorful product that retains beneficial enzymes while still killing off anything harmful, he explains.
Those visiting the cheese store at 6060 E. Beaverton Rd. can watch the cheese-making process in a viewing area with large, glass windows.