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Appel Farms: 30 years of cheese making

Oct 5th, 2012 | By | Category: Community, Food

by Cameron Deuel

Appel Farms has been creating artisan cheese at their family-owned 500-cow dairy in Ferndale for the last 30 years, offering a varied selection of flavors. Run by brothers John and Rich Appel, the farm offers cheddar, feta, fresh cheddar curd (squeaky cheese), fromage blanc, gouda, paneer and quark.

John Appel at the family’s farm. PHOTO BY ASHLEY BENNETT/ BENNETT BELKA PHOTOGRAPHY

The history of Appel Farms starts with John and Rich’s father, a Dutch immigrant who dreamed of becoming a dairy farmer. “When he was in Holland he lived in a small city where is was common to have a room and board situation with a farmer,” John Appel said. “He found a farmer through his church and began working with him.”

After working there a short while, he found his second job with a Dutch farmer in France who specialized in making gouda. “That farmer made gouda six days a week,” Appel added, “By the time my father moved to North Carolina, he knew everything about how to make gouda.”

His father moved to North Carolina because his uncle was in the flower business there and started a farm nearby, which was unsuccessful. He ultimately relocated to California to pay off his debt, and later came to Whatcom in 1967 and finally purchased his own farm.

“He really started making cheese as a hobby,” Appel explained, “He would make it for family and friends, sometimes making more around the holidays.”

When he bought the farm, he imported vats and presses from Europe specifically to make gouda. “They’re in the store now,” Appel said. “They’re sort of a piece of our history.”

Though cheese-making was only a hobby, it wasn’t until a German immigrant named Heinz Langerfeld made a request for Appel Farms to produce quark that Appel’s father began to make cheese on a larger scale. “Heinz asked him to make a type of soft cheese called ‘quark,’” said Appel. “It was impossible to find in the United States but, because of European immigrants and American veterans, it was in high demand.”

Appel Farms makes a variety of cheeses, including (clockwise): sweet red pepper gouda, black pepper cheddar, garden herb gouda, smoked gouda, and bacon cheddar. PHOTO BY ASHLEY BENNETT / BENNETT BELKA PHOTOGRAPHY

Since the cheese has such a short shelf-life it could not be imported to the country, leading Appel to become the first quark manufacturer in the United States. Though he started making quark over 30 years ago, the quark that is sold from Appel Farms is produced from the same original culture.

John Appel had a similar experience recently with an Indian immigrant who asked him to make paneer. “I told him that, if I could learn how to make it and if it wasn’t a huge investment, I’d make it,” said Appel. “It’s really helped our business grow.”

Appel Farms has also started to produce yogurt specifically for the Indian market. “The recipe for our yogurt is very natural and has a short list of ingredients,” he said. “We only used milk and the started culture.”

The popularity of their paneer encouraged Appel to delve into another dairy product that’s integral to Middle Eastern cuisine. Appel has been making squeaky cheese, a type of cheese that is popular in the Midwest due to a large volume of cheddar manufacturers, for many years.

“We get people who grew up in the Midwest tell stories about their love of squeaky cheese,” he said, “We’ve also taken a few steps up in our production of gouda.”

Instead of relying on his father’s method of making six, nine-pound wheels of gouda, they have upgraded to a method of producing 85 wheels of the same weight.

The farm has been producing cheese for 30 years. PHOTO BY ASHLEY BENNETT / BENNETT BELKA PHOTOGRAPHY

John, who has been working at the farm since his high school graduation in 1980, manages all the aspects of cheesemaking. Rich manages the dairy and land.

“My brother Rich and I took over the farm in a few steps that included purchasing the cheese business as well as the real estate from my mother,” John said.

The distribution of Appel Farms Cheese spans the northwest, as well as the country, reaching as far as New Jersey.

Appel is grateful for the success of Appel Farms and is pleased with how he and his brother have undertaken his father’s vision. “We’ve been really blessed,” he said. “People sometimes say that we got lucky in some ways but we really feel that God has blessed us.”

Appel added that they will continue to produce quality dairy products while aiming to diversify their products to reach even more customers.

The farm is located at 6605 Northwest Road in Ferndale and can be reached at (360) 384-4996. Visiting and store hours are Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, visit appel-farms.com.

Published in the October 2012 issue of Grow Northwest.

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One Comment to “Appel Farms: 30 years of cheese making”

  1. Joel Van Woudenberg says:

    Maybe of no interest but I was once a neighbor. Steve Van Woudenberg had the place two parcels North of you. Back then your place was Clarkson’s then Graham’s then ours. At any rate I am Steve’s youngest son.

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