Zingerman’s Creamery has been in business since 2001. Started by John Loomis in Manchester, Michigan as the fifth business to open under the Zingerman’s banner, the Creamery has resided on the Southside next to Zingerman’s Bakehouse since 2005. Aubrey Thomason, the Creamery’s current Managing Partner, came to Zingerman’s in 2002 at the age of 17 when she started at the Deli, taking sandwich orders. By 2007, she had managed to garner an education in sustainable agriculture and production—she raised pigs and worked for Slow Food in Italy, worked behind the counters at our brother business Neal’s Yard Dairy in London and worked on a vegetable farm in Michigan, among other adventures. A love for the hard work of making food by hand was born. Aubrey began working at the Creamery in 2007 as a production assistant. She immediately showed a talent for cheesemaking and has been improving the cheeses day by day and week by week ever since.
In 2010 she shared her first long term vision for the Creamery with Ari and Paul, and asked to pursue the Path to Partnership. She became a partner in 2012. A key piece of her vision included a modern production facility. The Creamery has been closed since July 2016 and with a lot of hard work and hope for success, they will reopen in April 2017.
What will the new shop look like? Smell like? Feel like?
AT: The Cream Top Shop (as we have decided to call it) will welcome you with a view of production, and the cheese will be there with open arms. We have aimed for a modern farmhouse look and feel. The walls will have beadboard up to 5 feet, slate gray walls above that, highlights of wood, metal, and red. Production looks pretty stark and sterile through the window as it is all stainless steel, white, and grey (of course with happy, shining cheese and gelato makers inside). You can sit at a counter and eat your gelato, sandwich, or munchable as you look through the window at the gelato being made, and cheese draining. The shop will be populated with beautiful graphics created by our award-winning marketing department. The shop is there as an edible and visual showcase for what the Creamery makes, but it has it’s own identity. We want you to come and stay awhile!
Some behind-the-scenes design work for the new shop
What kinds of products will be sold in the shop?
AT: We will continue to sell cheese and gelato made by Zingerman’s Creamery. We will highlight a variety of ages of our cheeses, as people like them at different stages in their flavor development. We will also be featuring simple sandwiches with our cheeses on them, as well as what we call “munchables.” You will be able to build your own munchable with cheese, nuts, pickles, vegetables, olives, dried fruits, sliced meat…Gelato will expand to include shakes, malts, gelato sandwiches, housemade waffle cones, and sundaes. We will also feature more goods from Zingerman’s Bakehouse that can be eaten with cheese or gelato. Our emphasis will be on selling only what we are serving, so you can buy it on a cheese tray or you can take it home by the pound. You can eat it on a sundae here, or you can take it home to make your own.
Will you have space for classes?
AT: We will have our own public tasting room, which is super exciting! We will continue to teach classes on cheese and cheese styles, as well as classes on pairing outstanding beers and wines with our cheeses and other great American cheeses. We may do public cheese-making classes at some point in the future, but first we need to see how the space works.
What are the top 3 improvements in the new Creamery you are most excited about?
AT: Top on the list is environmental control. The production space will have segregated, conditioned HEPA filtered air, meaning the cheese and gelato can be kept at a consistent temperature throughout the process. Second is a dedicated maturing room, with a fancy air handling system that monitors humidity and keeps the conditions constant while the cheese is aging. We will be able to make our already excellent cheeses world class and do so consistently. Third, I am really stoked to have our own public tasting space!
What’s the biggest thing you learned undergoing the construction process?
AT: This process has taken almost 5 years to complete. I have learned a tremendous amount about sanitary design, architecture, and construction. We thoroughly vetted every version of this project that could happen. Throughout the process I’ve built so many business cases, and dug into every number concerning our business. This process has given me much more awareness about what is necessary and important, and what can wait.
Excuse our dust, we’re building a cheese extravaganza
What role has food safety played in the design of the new space?
AT: The production facility is built around sanitary design principles. Mainly this means that processes are segregated (Raw Milk Receiving, Processing, and Packaging). The design also maximizes flow so that milk moves in one direction. Looking to the future, we had to build a facility that could pass a third party food safety audit. We already make excellent products, and now we will be able to have them distributed coast to coast. We will have a lot more control over a lot of factors in our facility, which will give us peace of mind in producing a safe product.
What has been most challenging?
AT: I have been working on getting this project off the ground for about 5 years. It took a long time to get to the right size project, that would cover our needs, and that we could pay back. The iterative process was the most challenging. Also, I have been telling my staff and everyone at Zingerman’s for 5 years that “this is going to be the year we get a new Creamery”. The years where it did not happen for one reason or another, it was hard.
What surprised you?
AT: I have learned so much about my business. I have really gotten a chance to reinvent the Creamery brand. Because I was not the founding partner, it was what it was when I got there. Going through this process gave me the chance to go through the opening of a business, so now I feel like the Creamery truly belongs to us who are there now. We have written new long-term visions together, we have picked out fixtures and flooring, brainstormed the name for the shop, and shared dreams about what this space means to us.
The Creamery’s Cream Top Shop will be opening very soon! Keep checking back for updates and follow Zingerman’s Creamery on Facebook to keep up with construction.