Maritime Academy grad to open cheese factory/farm market this year

ACME – It took sailing the Great Lakes – and finding the love of his life – for Bart Nielsen to realize he preferred life on dry land. Michigan land, to be exact.

"Why would I want to sit on one of those blasted boats for five months of the year?" Nielsen, a Great Lakes Maritime Academy graduate, said with a laugh as he talked about meeting his wife Jane and starting a family.

Nielsen, a Wisconsin native, is returning to his dairy-farming roots as he plans to open a cheese factory in northern Michigan.

"I like cheese and this is a generations-long thing – my dad worked at a cheese factory and my grandparents had a dairy farm," he said.

Nielsen, 38, and his young family of five, will soon move from Menasha, Wisc. to northern Michigan, where they will open Cherryland Dairy. The cheese factory and farm market is slated to be built on 11 acres along U.S. 31, four miles north of Acme just before the road curves toward Yuba. If all goes as planned, they'd like to see it open in time for the holidays.

Nielsen discovered Traverse City while studying at the Maritime Academy in the late 1990s. He became engaged to his wife during this time, and the couple considered someday returning to the area. Starting a family took precedence, however, with the couple having three children: Rebekah, 5; Josiah, 3; and Ethan, 2.

Now, the timing just feels right to pursue this venture, Nielsen said.

"We thought, not only is Traverse City a nice place to live, it would be a good place for a cheese factory," he said. "It's a good market between the local population and the tourist trade."

The Nielsens, who early in their marriage helped an Amish community start a cheese factory in Eau Claire, Wisc., purchased a 100-plus-year-old farmhouse along U.S. 31 in which they will live. They'll construct the cheese factory complete with retail area on the property.

The plan is to use milk from a to-be-selected local farm to create 14 different kinds of cheese, including mozzarella, string, muenster, parmesan, Monterey jack, cheddar, Colby, among others. The family also will make a variety of flavored cream cheeses.

Nielsen said he's already been talking with the owners of Leelanau Cheese about possibly helping each other out. Nielsen said he won't be making the same kinds of cheeses.

"We think there's still plenty of room for a little more diversity in the market," he said.

Customers will be able to purchase the cheeses on site in the retail store. While the business' main focus will be cheese, Nielsen said he'll also carry locally-made maple syrup and honey, as well as local in-season produce.

Starting the business isn't only positive for his family, but beneficial to the area as well, he said.

"It's not just a good opportunity for us – it helps the local farming community, too," he said. BN