Meet your merchant: Wheyward Girl Creamery brings the world’s cheeses to Nevada City
Wheyward Girl Creamery
209 Commercial St, Nevada City, CA 95959
Facebook: Wheyward Girl Creamery
Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays; noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.
Barbara Jenness is a self-proclaimed dreamer.
If she decides to try something she’s never done before, a lack of knowledge or experience has never scared her off. She’s says she’s always loved the rigor and challenge of learning something new.
Born into a military family, Jenness spent her teenage years in Hawaii. She went on to work as a VISTA volunteer, earn a degree in biology and veterinarian technology, then work as a licensed vet tech at the Honolulu Zoo, then the St. Louis Zoo. Later she moved to the Pisgah Mountains of North Carolina where she researched black bears. It was there that she met her husband, James Hott, and the two relocated to a small farm in Michigan.
“I bought goats and became a soap maker using their milk,” said Jenness. “But I ended up with all this extra milk. That’s when I decided to try making cheese.”
True to her nature, her new venture quickly moved beyond a simple hobby. Before long, Jenness became the first farmstead goat cheese producer in the state of Michigan and helped Michigan State University set up and run an artisan cheesemaking workshop.
Venturing into one of the most regulated industries in the country, she opened her own commercial creamery to complement her soap business. Eager to learn all she could about the art and history of the cheesemaking process, she traveled to Italy, France and all around the United States. Eventually she would go on to earn the title of Certified Cheese Professional through the American Cheese Society, one of just 800 in the world.
But after several years in Michigan, she felt a pull toward California, where her seven grandchildren lived. When they stumbled upon Nevada County, she and Jim were drawn to the rural lifestyle, but there was just one problem — there were no quality cheese stores.
“I envisioned opening up a neighborhood cheese shop, like the ones they have in Europe,” she said. “I wanted a store where you as a customer come in and tell me your story, and I’ll tell you mine. Where people could hear about the goats or cows, the people who milked them, how the cheese was aged — there are so many stories and people involved in each step.”
In 2015, Jenness opened the doors of Wheyward Girl Creamery in Nevada City with a partner, but within several months she had taken over full ownership of the Commercial Street shop. While she was licensed to make cheese, there were no licensed dairies close enough to make her small scale operation economically feasible.
“That was disappointing,” she said. “But instead our goal has become to support small artisan creameries everywhere — in California, throughout the U.S. and in Europe. If they’re a small creamery, we’re in favor of what they’re doing.”
Jenness works closely with a small staff and manager Heidi Bergman.
“I’m the dreamer,” said Jenness, with a laugh. “Heidi helps rein me in and focuses on the details.”
The team at the shop regularly hosts tasting and cheesemaking classes, where participants can learn to make the likes of feta and mozzarella, or learn about the different varieties and flavors of cheeses around the world. The store also partners with area businesses, such as Three Forks, New Moon, The Stone House, Szabo and the Nevada City Winery.
“We have cultivated a lot of partnerships,” said Jenness. “Small community businesses are all about working together and supporting each other.”
Wheyward Girl’s impressive cut-to-wrap cheese selection is elegantly displayed throughout the store. A sampling includes Blu di Bufala whole milk cheese from Italy, Drunken Goat Cheese from Spain, Persille de Chevre from France and the popular Challerhocker from Switzerland. A few of the many regional cheeses include the Rogue River Smokey Blue vegetarian cheese from Oregon, the Pt. Reyes Bay Blue and the Dunbarton Blue from Wisconsin. A customer favorite is the Prairie Breeze cheddar from Iowa, made from nearby Amish and Mennonite dairies.
Goodies to go along with the cheeses include corn cakes, oat cakes, organic sourdough flatbread, rice cakes, salami, toffee, olives, chocolate, jams, smoked salmon and more. Additionally, the shop will be adding “grab and go” sandwiches and other provisions provided by Feast & Gather, one of Nevada County’s premier farm to table catering businesses.
While the small store continues to bustle with activity and conversation, sadly there is one voice missing. Jenness’ husband, Jim, recently took his own life quite unexpectedly at the age of 65.
“I wanted people to know about this — it’s important to destigmatize suicide and encourage those who are struggling to reach out for help,” said Jenness. “I have the best staff and the best customers. People have been coming in to give me hugs.”
In addition to her children and grandchildren in the Bay Area, it’s clear Jenness has found a family in Nevada County.
“Cheese seems to bring out the best in people,” she said. “It has always been a dream of mine to live to be able to contribute in a positive way the community around me.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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