How Did Some of the Biggest Names in the Cheese World End Up in an Industrial Park on the Southside of Ann Arbor?

Right now, I’m sitting in a room with some of my heroes of the cheese world but they’re not talking about cheese. They’re talking about finance.

When the cheese crazed food nut in me is not feeling all fan-girly about being in the same room as all these rockstars from the cheese world who have come to little ol’ Ann Arbor from every corner of the country and the UK – Neals Yard Dairy, Stichelton, Jasper Hill Farm, Spring Brook Farm, Antonelli’s Cheese Shop. DiBruno Brothers, Cowgirl Creamery and Uplands Cheese Company – the more intellectually engaged side of me is able to parse the power of what is actually happening in the room.

Neal’s Yard Dairy from the UK hired ZingTrain to teach 6 of their team about the idea of Open Book Management. Open Book Management is the way we run the company here at Zingerman’s – we teach and hold responsible every single one of our staff for the success of each of our business’ bottom lines – food, service and finance. To create a sense of camaraderie in the room (and defray expenses), they invited a bunch of American cheese makers and retailers to the training and now there are 23 of them sitting in this room, listening to Ari and Ron (our CFO) talk about Open Book Management.

What’s happening in this room is amazing to me. I imagine, Neal’s Yard Dairy, coming from England, operates in a stiffer, more old fashioned financial world where the idea of Open Book is perhaps a little too radical. The idea of traditional cheese making, on the other hand, is an old one in England – they’ve been making cheddars for centuries. So they came to America to learn about this radical new way to run a business, and in the process, invited a bunch of American cheese makers, who are more open, perhaps, to radical ways of running a business but have little support in our world in the radical decision they have made to be small, artisanal cheese makers.

It’s a beautiful circle, is it not? Kind of like a perfect wheel of cheese.