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Honoring Women in Cheese!

In honor of Women’s History Month, we spoke with three incredible women in the cheese industry to hear their stories and share their journey. Anne Saxelby, Rynn Caputo, and Melanie Ross are three influential cheese makers that have had an important impact on the American culinary scene. Women have played a massive role in the cheese industry, dating back to the 17th century, which does not go unnoticed. The artisanal cheese world has been flourishing for many years and will continue to grow thanks to women’s momentous contributions! 

Anne Saxelby: Saxelby Cheesemongers, NY

Image via Saxelby Cheese

Anne Saxelby never saw herself going into the cheese industry. As a Studio Art major at NYU, becoming a cheesemonger was never in the picture. Sophomore year, Anne went to visit her friend in Italy. They went to a central market in Florence, and the first spark for her passion and love for cheese was ignited. After tasting a variety of delicious cheeses, her mindset of what authentic, good cheese was, was forever altered in the best possible way. When graduation rolled around, she realized that her heart belonged to cheese. However, cheese and art aren’t as far apart as we may think. Anne spoke about the parallel between making cheese and making art. Both begin with a blank, untouched foundation, one being a canvas and the other being raw milk which then turns into something beautiful that everyone can enjoy. For Anne, the thing that set making cheese apart from contemporary art was that there was no room for nonsense in cheese making. The accessibility and ease of appreciation of cheese for the consumer compared to art drew Anne further in. 

She was working sitimouseously at a wine and cheese shop in the city and decided she wanted to expand her knowledge further, so Anne called up Cato Corner Farm in Connecticut and asked if she could intern there. After doing one trial day on the farm, Anne fell in love with making cheese. Seeing cheese made from the raw milk to a wheel was totally mind-blowing. Working on the farm opened her eyes to the American Artisan cheese industry, so to further her knowledge, Anne would reach out to other shops and offer to work for free for a day or two in exchange for the experience she would gain. Anne traveled to France to do some work with a goat cheese maker in Loire Valley. She saw an opportunity in NYC to open her own shop and focus on American Artisan cheeses rather than gourmet European cheeses and products, which saturated the market. In the early 2000’s, Anne opened her shop, Saxelby Cheesemongers, and her shop has been up and running ever since! 

Although there has been an increase in the education and availability surrounding artisan cheeses, Anne said that one amazing constant in the cheese industry is the cheese industry’s unwavering fun, whacky energy. Everyone is very open, sharing, and has the unified goal of advancing the cheese industry. Which is something that we love about being a part of the cheese industry. It is welcoming, giving, and downright delicious! Anne noted that for any young women looking to go into the cheese industry, don’t be afraid to make your own opportunities! There is no formal training, so find your role models and network. We would definitely love to see more cheese lovers in the cheese industry! 

Rynn Caputo: Caputo Brothers Creamery, PA

Rynn Caputo is also another influential member of the cheese industry. As well as a good friend of Big Mozz. We ship our cheese curd straight from Caputo Brothers Creamery and are excited to share Rynn’s story. Rynn also never expected to work in the cheese industry. She has a background in IT and studied computer science in college. Had she not met her husband, her journey would have looked a little different. Ironically, neither of them had the slightest intention of working in the cheese industry. 6 months after they were married, they decided to quit their jobs, move to Italy, and decided to go to culinary school. While in culinary school, Rynn discovered her unmatched  joy for cheese making. 

Rynn has been making cheese for about a decade now, and she noted that there is still a lot of room for the cheese industry to grow. The largest part of the cheese industry is the industrialized side, rather than artisan cheese. Rynn has seen significant growth in people’s mindsets of what good cheese is. Although some people may run from the sight of mold on cheese, many people have begun to accept and appreciate cheese’s versatility and betterment. Rynn is a powerful woman in the cheese industry. For all the young women out there, Rynn says, “don’t be afraid to make the hard right turn.” Rynn found a lot of success in making decisions that are not viewed as ‘traditional’ and found many opportunities that come from breaking expectations and the constructions of gender roles. Don’t be afraid to make choices that seem risky that help you reach your goal. When you do the things you love, like making cheese, there are so many more opportunities than you may realize. 

Melanie Ross: Stony Pond Farm, VA

Image via Stony Pond Farm

Melanie Ross, a newer but still equally as powerful member of the cheese community, didn’t plan to become a cheesemaker. She, too, had studied something seemingly unrelated to the cheese industry. She graduated from Carnegie Mellon after studying art and business. However, as we learned from Anne, art and cheese are closer together than you may think! Melanie is also a professional photographer, which gives her insanely good experience with close attention to detail. This skill translates to her analysis and observation of her farm’s herd. Just two years ago, she and her husband had the opportunity to learn to make cheese and work with another farm in the area. Melanie has created a beautiful, communal cheese industry in Vermont within her two years of cheese making.

Melanie emerged as a cheesemaker during the brunt of COVID -19. However, she felt such a community, support, and excitement from other women towards her journey as a cheesemaker. Women such as Laini Foundiller have been incredible mentors to women cheesemakers and have genuinely made transitioning into the cheese industry so much easier. There is a warm and welcoming atmosphere surrounding women cheesemakers, who are always willing to help out. All the women have a common goal of building awareness of artisanal cheese. Melanie is excited to continue her journey and see the progression of the cheese industry. There is a lot of passion surrounding the cheese industry. Melanie is  ready to see the diversity in cheese production, and so are we! 

The cheese industry is truly a wonderful, inclusive environment. We are surrounded by amazing women with passion, excitement, fun, and wackiness. This month, and every month, we are proud and thankful to be a part of an industry filled with wonderful, hard-working women. 

By Alexa Gutwenger