UINTAH — Off U.S. Highway 89 hidden near an antique store, gym and a hotel sits a tasty surprise; 300,000 pounds of Beehive Cheese. And that’s just in the refrigerators.
Owned and operated by brother-in-laws Pat Ford and Tim Welsh, Beehive Cheese opened in 2005 and started winning awards soon after. Most recently, the company took home eight medals from the World Cheese Awards in Bergen, Norway, where they competed against other cheese makers from 41 different countries. Beehive also earned second place in the Flavored Cheddars category at the British Empire Cheese competition in November.
But they’re not doing it for the awards.
“If I have an award it makes it easier to sell but you know what? We’re a lifestyle company,” Ford said. “We’re not positioning ourselves to grow and sell for 100 gazillion dollars. We love what we do.”
The endeavor started when Welsh, a former software engineer, was looking for work after his company was sold. He called up Ford, a real estate developer, and asked how he felt about making cheese.
“We wanted to put our hands on something,” Ford said.
The two took a four-day course at Utah State University, self-funded the equipment and space they needed and started making cheese. Using a recipe from the college that would eventually become the company’s acclaimed Promontory cheese, the duo began rubbing various ingredients on the outside to see if it was tasty.
“When we rubbed coffee on cheese for the first time people said, ‘You can’t do that!’ But you put cream in coffee, so why not put coffee on cream?” Ford said. “So we did it and the next thing you know we’re on ‘The Today Show.’”
Beehive’s unusual cheese rubs quickly accumulated awards and grew in popularity. Now more than a decade later you can walk into the shop and buy Big John’s Cajun, inspired by a Park City chef’s seasoning, Red Butte Hatch Chile, and Teahive, which has Earl Grey tea leaves incorporated into the flavor. No matter what kind, Promontory is the base cheese. The flavors are added on top later.
Ford said they produce about 4,500 pounds of cheese daily in 20-pound wheels that are later cut into more manageable sizes. They buy local as often as they can, or as Ford says it, from “friends.”
For example, the salt on Seahive cheese comes from the Great Salt Lake. The milk they use comes from Ogden.
There are also various preserves, jellies and even lotion for sale in the Beehive store made by Utah companies like Amour Spreads, Amano chocolates and Peppelane Preserves.
“We’re just very Utah,” Ford said.
Roosters Brewing Company was Beehive’s first big restaurant contract. Now, they use about 800 pounds of Beehive cheese each month.
Co-owner Kym Buttschardt said she and her husband used to go on selling trips with Ford and Welsh when the company was still new. Her favorite kind is Barely Buzzed, a coffee and lavender rubbed cheese.
“It’s a friendship as well as the quality of the product,” she said.
Beehive is unique in that their cheese changes with the season. The levels of fat and protein in cow milk change with the season and Welsh said commodity cheese companies usually remove fat and add protein depending on the batch so they’re always working with a consistent base.
“We don’t do that,” Welsh said. “Our cheese changes with the season, as it should, because we’re artisan cheese makers.”
The process of receiving milk and turning it into cheese takes about 12 hours, Ford said. It takes 10 pounds of milk to make 1 pound of cheese. This is done by adding special bacteria to the milk which eats the sugars in it and produces acids. These acids make the milk curdle and eventually turn into cheese.
“The bacteria hangs out at -54 degrees and then you put it in the milk and wakes up and has a party and it looks like Dippin’ Dots,” Ford said.
Most Beehive cheeses are six to eight months old, though some age for as long as 3 years.
The endeavor is also a family affair. Ford said 12 of their 25 employees are family members. They all work together to make, cut, package and ship cheeses around the world.
“That’s my sister right there,” Ford said, pointing to people in the packing room Dec. 10. “It’s all family, Maria, everybody! Those are her kids. Her kid. My nephew. And that’s Aunt Lisa. It’s hilarious!”
Buttschardt said Beehive cheese isn’t cheap, but it’s worth it to work with a company they know inside and out.
“The culture of their company is just fun,” She said. “It’s a family business.”