Students at the University will now have the opportunity to taste items like Hooligan, Drunk Monk, and Bloomsday thanks to the Wesleyan Cheese Co-op. Four hundred Wesleyan community members, which includes students and one faculty member, have signed up for the Co-op, totaling 186 shares, and will be able to pick up their share of cheese later this week.
The co-op was organized beginning last semester and put into action this February by Wesleyan Student Assembly Dining Committee Chair Zachary Malter ’13, Sarah Telzak ’11, Kaitlin Lee ’13, and Nica Latto ’12 in collaboration with administrators and Bon Appétit.
“Bon Appétit brought to my attention that they had the resources in place to do a cheese co-op, and that they had a farm in Colchester, Conn. that would be willing to at least provide some cheese,” Malter said. “I’m the chair of the WSA Dining Committee, so I was inspired from there, not being particularly knowledgeable about cheese, but curious.”
The Co-op boasts fresh products from Cato Corner Farm, located approximately 30 minutes from campus. This local, organic farm is a mother-son partnership between Elizabeth MacAlister and Mark Gillman. According to Cheese Co-op organizers, the cheese is hand-made and the farm’s 40 cows are grass-fed, and free of hormones and subtherapeutic antibiotics.
“It’s a good fit for this school and the people who go here,” Lee said.
For 92 points per share, members receive two 8 oz cheeses every other week for the rest of the semester. Organizers will pick from Cato Corner Farm original cheeses with names as varied as Dairyere, Bridgid’s Abbey, Despearado and Dutch Farmstead.
“None of their cheese varieties can be found anywhere else,” Malter said.
The funky flavors may be familiar to some students, as Cato Corner sells its award-winning cheese to many stores and restaurants throughout New England and New York.
“I think a lot of the New York natives might have unknowingly tried their cheese before,” Malter said.
Despite the close proximity of the farm and its organic practices, several students have expressed concern about the sustainability of the project.
“I love that it’s a family-run farm and it’s local, but I’m hesitant to support the program fully because of food miles, packaging, and then just my skepticism about the reality of environmental stewardship, or lack thereof, with the Fruit and Veggie Co-op,” said Co-coordinator of the Environmental Organizers’ Network (EON) Melody Oliphant ’13. “I love the Fruit and Veggie Co-op and I love what they do for campus and that so many people are involved in it, but it’s often incredibly unsustainable; just that sometimes, in the middle of the winter in Connecticut, you’ll be getting pineapple or bananas.”
But Oliphant praised Malter’s concern for the environment while creating the program.
“Zach has paid careful attention to making the Cheese Co-op sustainable though,” she said. “I guess my hesitancy to support it fully is almost that it seems too good to be true.”
The co-organizers expressed confidence that the practices used by the Co-op are as sustainable as is realistically possible.
“I mean they’re driving the cheese over, I guess it would be more sustainable to walk the cheese over,” Telzak said. “I mean isn’t it better to buy this cheese than mass-produced Cabot at Weshop?”
The organizers said they plan to go beyond just providing cheese to those who signed up, utilizing their own knowledge about cheese to help others get the most out of their membership.
“I want to start posting recipes for the school…We wanted to be able to give students [some] ideas about how to use the cheese, so you know, posting recipes or wine pairings or things you can do with cheeses,” Lee said.
Malter emphasized the community-based aspect of the project.
“A key element is fostering community among members of the Co-op and learning from each other,” Malter said. “Everybody has their own experiences with cheese that they’re bringing to the table…I think that makes the difference between a cheese sale and a Cheese Co-op.”
Organizing the program was a complicated task that required administrative approval, a contract between the school and the farm, and the setting up of a payment process so that students could pay for their shares with points.
“[Bon Appétit] has just been tremendously helpful. Like I also said, they kind of planted the seed for the idea.” Malter said. “It was also a collaboration technically with the WSA. I sort of consider it a WSA initiative.”
The organizers said they have overcome the major hurdles of the project.
“We’re pretty optimistic,” Malter said. “There were concerns, I’d say, a few months ago, whether this farm would be interested, whether they have enough product to meet our needs, whether the school would be able to work with us. All those concerns have been addressed, so I’m really, at this point, more optimistic than I’ve ever been.”