When the road becomes a breadcrumb trail, that’s the place to find a piece of heaven fromage. It’s the tale of Kenny’s farmhouse cheese began in the mid-1970s, in the mid-1970s when Ken Mattingly, Sr. moved his family of seven from Indianapolis to the 200-acre farm located within Barren County, Kentucky, to achieve his ambition to become a farmer. The son of the farmer, Ken “Kenny” Jr., aged 19 at the time of the move, took his father’s steps by getting up early for long mornings of work that started at 4 am and extended until after sunset. Nearly two decades later, two seemingly unrelated events converged to put into the course of events that certainly ensured the survival of the farm that the family-owned. The price of milk fell by almost 40%, and Kenny went across Western Europe and observed how small farms were finding ways to improve their products.
The transition from farmer to cheesemonger was not quick but rather a long-term commitment to a love affair that continues to grow until today. The Mattinglys bought their first cheese-making equipment as well as the formula for Gouda from a woman from Oldham County who was looking to leave the business. They stored the equipment for three years while they continued to train themselves in the process of making cheese.
In 1998, as Kenny was in charge of milking 140 dairy cows, his mom and father crafted their first batch of Gouda and eventually produced the equivalent of 4,000 pounds during the first year. “My Mom could discern by seeing a photo of someone making cheese whether the cheese maker was doing a decent task or not. She always told me, ‘You must take care with curds as well,'” said Kenny. Kenneth Sr. and his wife Mary Rose introduced the Commonwealth to their cheese with the same personal care as the cheese was created: loading up their van and then cruising across the Commonwealth, providing tastings to restaurant owners, shoppers of farmer’s markets that are established, and anyone else who wanted to know more about their mission.
The original 300-gallon tank is being used, but it is now complemented by a bigger one with a more efficient system to maintain the equilibrium between supply and demand in the right place. Kenny’s son Jared is the herder’s manager. If you ask Kenny, who has an uncanny resemblance to Mitt Romney, a politician with an aptitude for talking and cutting down, which kind of cows they have, you’ll promptly reply “happy” before adding Holstein crossed with European breeds. A further reason behind the herd’s high spirits is that the cows (raised with no artificial hormones) have twice the life span of the normal dairy animal.
In the early fifteen years of its existence, Kenny concentrated on raw milk cheese that had been aged at a minimum of 60 days. While the FDA has now required pasteurization, Kenny is still partial to the raw milk type. “It’s easier to tell early on if a batch is going to be good or bad,” Kenny explained. The entire process happens in a clean environment that can put any commercial kitchen I’ve been to shame. The raw milk flows from the nearby milking facility through the double-filtered stainless steel pipe to a clean vat in the cheese house, where production occurs. Then, various mixtures of salt and rennet and proprietary flavors and cultures are added. The 60-day time frame is the minimum time that a cheese should be aged. However, some are kept in refrigerated areas for more time to prolong the flavor.
Since its humble beginnings, by using milk from raw Gouda, the company has since expanded its range and now includes more than thirty different varieties, and 50% of raw milk that is produced at the farm will create more than 100,000 lbs of cheese every year. There’s Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese on the menu in 13 states, which includes Home Bistro in Chicago (where the double cream varieties are a hit), Lilly’s Restaurant in Louisville (one of Ken Sr.’s first customers), and there’s the Lexington Farmer’s Market; Jungle Jim’s in Cincinnati and even The Bay House Restaurant in Naples, FL. Kenny isn’t one to show his cheese’s ability to compete in contests. He prefers to let the consumer demand, which continues to increase steadily, determine which of his cheeses are the best.
Even now, as Kenny cuts through the unblemished red wax coating that covers an enormous wheel of Gouda, the joy he feels is evident. “No one can cut the cheese like me,” Kenny said while presenting the slice. It was as good as Gouda ought to be: lightly sweet but also sharp and complex. His wife Beverly assists in the operation of the cheese shop on the side of the road that is connected to the manufacturing facility and supervises the order fulfillment department. He smiles and laughs as someone who has heard the phrase for the third time.
Kenny’s eyes light up with pride as a father would when he discusses the future of the farm. Jared has recently set out to plant his first grapes for what is now Mattingly Farms Winery. Barren County is indeed barren in selling alcohol. In a municipal option vote, 666 eligible voters of the Thomerson Park precinct approved Jared, along with his partner Ashton, to begin selling wine produced by other wineries and later their own after their vines are mature. “It’s nice to see each generation making their mark on the farm,” said Kenny. Being able to mix an alcoholic drink with the taste of cheese isn’t bad, either.