John Esh, like so many other small dairy farmers, had to make a change if he was to keep the family farm. He knew he needed to find a niche market; “this is where we started with the cheese.” Esh said, “Cheese has been something I have loved since I was little. My mom always talked about how I liked a good sharp cheddar cheese. So we were looking for what we can do that is special, starting with good quality milk, and cheese is what came to our mind and that’s how we started.
Esh shared that at first he partnered up with a Lancaster cheese maker. It was during these early years, supervised by this experienced cheese maker, that Esh learned the art and chemistry of cheese making. It took about six years for the company to really start to make a name for itself and grow, but through this process, Goot Essa cheese was born.
As Goot Essa began to develop, some restaurateurs had started to contact Esh to ask him to build a cave so that he could supply them with locally made European-style cheese rather than the restaurants having to import it. “So we thought we would see what it would mean to build a cave, and voila, we built a cave and it worked” said Esh.
“We started as a cooperative with other members, but then we encountered some obstacles and they lost interest, but we still maintain the mentality of the cooperative structure. “ Esh is the sole owner but added, “We are working in cooperation with four other farms to buy their milk. My wife, I and our family provide all of the cow’s milk on our farm, and we buy milk from the three Amish sheep farms and one goat farm we work with.
The desire to create a variety of cheeses was born from the interest of restaurateurs and cellars in being able to offer unique and delicious cheese platters to their customers. “We have 19 different cheeses, and they are all different from each other. The goat and the sheep offer a certain complexity that we cannot get from the cow. “
Goot Essa is distinguished by two things, “European-style cellar and cheeses, most cheesemakers in Pennsylvania don’t make European-style cheeses. The European style with the natural rind is quite unique. The other thing that sets them apart from Esh is the amount of variety, “The things we hear a lot when I’m in restaurants is that they didn’t expect to find this amount of cheese from just one source.”
“I find that people’s favorite cheeses vary a lot depending on the location. Geographically, urban areas on the east coast will tend to gravitate towards the soft, flowery rind goat cheese, Marn Vom Berge. The more rural areas of Central PA tend to like sharp cheddar and goat’s gouda. Goat gouda is a bit of a stretch for some as they have never eaten goat cheese before. But this one is pretty sweet and yet it does have a level of complexity. Esh added, “Der Mutterschaf is also a milder sheep’s milk cheese, has an excellent texture and has a nice flavor. In my opinion, there are still too many people here in the central PA region who have never tried sheep’s or goat’s milk cheeses and might be pleasantly surprised if they chose to try it.
Over the past 20 years, Goot Essa has grown into a household name, “The growth came gradually and over time. Last year, during the pandemic, the 70 restaurants we had worked with dried up at five almost overnight with the closures. We’re only down to about 17 now, but it’s still slow. It was a slam that really hit us hard.
The only thing that supported Goot Essa during the pandemic was their gift sets. Esh said, “The gift basket market grew dramatically for us last December. That, along with the wineries that are doing well, made up for the loss we suffered with the restaurants.
After touring this farm, touring the cheese cellars, and enjoying a complimentary tasting, this cheese will always be on the list of essential grocery items. This family’s attention to detail and passion for making cheese was a source of inspiration and a joy to live with.
As Christmas approaches, Goot Essa once again relies on gift basket sales to help them weather the losses still suffered by the pandemic. Buying local and supporting local makes a huge difference in the success of our local farms and food suppliers. “We really hope people find us and see that this is really a product they would love to share with their loved ones.” said Esh.
For anyone wishing to visit the store for a tasting to experience the wonderful world of cheese they have to offer, Goot Essa is located at 351 Wise Road, Howard, PA.
For more information on upcoming events and places where Goot Essa products can be purchased or to purchase gift boxes, visit the website (https://gootessacheese.com), Facebook or find them on Instagram.