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Cheesemaker Turns Love of Goats into Business

by Tate Miller

Published: Friday, June 2, 2023

For J2K Capraio of Walkerton, it's not just the label of farm-to-fork; it's a reeducation on how one eats, and a return to sustainable tradition. For 13 years, Josiah and Jody Klinedinst of J2K's self-built 23 acres have been in the cheese business, benefitting their community.

J2K Capraio is made up of a farmstead dairy, artisan creamery and affinage facility, all of it being Animal Welfare Approved. The farm business employs the entire Klinedinst family of 6—Josiah, Jody and four children ages 8 to 21—four part-time or full-time employees, and a herd of dairy goats.

"We make both fresh, ripened and aged," Josiah said of their goat milk cheese styles. There are about five to eight kinds of cheese made within each style.

As much as he raises dairy goats, Josiah has been raised with goats, himself.

"The dairy goat piece was always a huge passion on my side of it," Josiah said.

A 10-year 4-H member, Josiah grew up raising dairy goats and showing them locally, regionally and nationally.

Jody grew up in a small town. However, she has a family history that is well acquainted with conventional farming.

The couple met in high school, and, as Jody explained, they couldn't be together without goats. While married, the Klinedinsts maintained a hobby herd of dairy goats. They eventually wondered: "Could we make cheese?"

As young adults, the Klinedinsts did some light traveling, in which the two visited many markets where artisan products were sold. Here, in foreign markets, the Klinedinsts realized they wanted to be a part of what they were seeing.

When the Klinedinsts further recognized that their home region lacked artisanal cheese, the pair began the, "arduous process," of creating their own dairy, creamery and retail, Jody said.

The self-taught owners of J2K Capraio went from making one type of cheese in a thirty-gallon vat, to more than a dozen kinds of cheese in today's three vats, which collectively equal 260 gallons. It is now J2K Capraio's thirteenth season making cheese.

"This is just the beginning," Jody said. She hopes that their children and grandchildren will be able to carry on and further advance what she and Josiah have begun.

Perhaps the most remarkable technique implemented at J2K Capraio is the underground cheese cave, used for aging cheese. The cave was installed five years ago and has been in use for three.

"It's the first of its likeness in the state of Indiana, and I believe still the only one" Josiah said of the naturally cool space beneath the earth. "We age about 20,000 pounds of hard cheeses in there."

"We raise the animals, collect the milk, make the cheese," Josiah said. J2K's products go, "from milk to cheese to the customer's palate."

Why a cheese cave? It has a lot to do with the sustainability found in generally forsaken operations.

Cheese caves go back thousands of years. This method of aging cheese is traditional and sustainable. After all, until the earth is through, the ground is not going anywhere.

Jody mentioned the cost and efficiency of cheese cave production, too.

"We're not running electric. We're not running and using a bunch of resources to make it happen."

As Jody describes, the cave is, "new technology using old school, traditional methods."

One aspect a buyer may find surprising about J2K's cheese is the rind, which is actually mold.

"There's natural probiotics in those rinds," Josiah said.

"It's a living food," Jody explained. "You're getting not only the minerals and vitamins, but the good microbes that it contains." The microbes help with gut and brain function and, of course, "it tastes good!"

Josiah explained the process of their affinage facility. After being crafted in the creamery, the cheese enters the cave and reaches the natural temperature of approximately 52 degrees.

"Once it hits that 52 degrees, it gets brined for anywhere from eight to twelve hours, in a brine tank. And then it gets pulled from the brine tank and then we set it out on boards to age. Once it's pulled out onto those boards, the first week, it's flipped every day. And then the next two weeks, it's flipped every three days, and then, for its life, it's flipped at least once a month."

Another benefit of cave cheese has to do with taste. Buyers can tell the difference between modern cheese and traditional cave cheese. "You're taking something that was just made, and you're developing it, with the temperature and humidity, into a finished product that affects the flavor, and the texture, and the aroma," Jody said of cheese aged underground.

In addition to cheese made from their own goats, the Klinedinsts make cheese from a neighboring dairy's cow milk.

"They're within a quarter mile of our farm," Jody said.

Jody stressed the communal effort of J2K Capraio.

"This is us working with our neighbors and our own farm," she said.

Though the word sustainability is thrown around a lot, Jody is partial to the term community.

"Things that are being done small scale, by hand, in a community, traditionally," she said.

J2K Capraio has been the Klinedinsts's full-time job for thirteen years.

"We sustain ourselves. We work for ourselves, which means we work a lot," Jody said.

Before going full time in farming and business, Josiah worked as a national account manager for Verizon, while Jody was employed as a stay-at-home mom and a quality and safety coordinator.

One secret to J2K's success of over a decade has to do with deciding when to–or when not to–grow.

The beginnings of the business were small, Josiah said. "As we made money from the customers, we invested that money. It wasn't done on loans or things like that." Instead, "the customers decided our rate of growth."

"We let the products speak for themselves, and that's important to us," Jody said.

As Josiah shared, "the key to keep it going is: identify your customer and sell the product. If you don't know who your customer's gonna' be or who they are, you can't sell your product."

In addition to operating their South Bend deli and cheese shop–Oh Mamma's on the Avenue–markets are a large part of J2K Capraio. Pick a weekend in the 34-week summer market season, and you will likely catch the Klinedinst family or an employee at a farmer's market in Indiana, southern Michigan or the Chicagoland area.

When asked what sustainability in agriculture looks like for J2K Capraio, Jody answered, "I mean, that's our whole life."

Jody outlined J2K Capraio's start to finish: "We grow the hay that feeds the animals that we raise and then milk and then make the cheese with their milk, and then go and sell it to the market and barter with other people in our community."

But what about farming's future? Well, according to Jody: "Scaling things down, dialing things back to community is the future." Jody sees the sustainability found in community as the key for mass success, as well as the best outlook for generations to come.

In addition, when one buys locally, one is enriching the community and providing jobs. When you buy at a farmer's market, "you're putting money right back into your community," Josiah said.

When asked about the farm-to-fork movement, the Klinedinsts had an interesting answer.

"Two generations ago, that's how everybody lived," Jody said.

The Klinedinsts search for a better term than what they believe is the often overworked and misused phrase "farm-to-table" or "farm-to-fork." They landed on reeducation: reeducating people on what was once common practice.

"I'm not reinventing a tire," Jody explained. After all, people lived the farm-to-table way for centuries. "It's just kind of coming back to it and sharing that with our community."

"It's better for us. It's cheaper for us," Jody said. "We're working with our communities again." All the benefits of farm-to-fork—or, rather, the honing back of farm trades to their sustainable roots—are essential to the well-being of both the environment and mankind, as Jody explained.

"If you're willing to work hard, these are things that are readily available to you," Jody said of traditional farming technologies. "I'm not saying this is easy. I'm not saying it's inexpensive. But I am saying if you're willing to work hard, everything is available to you to make it happen."

One long-term goal of J2K Capraio is to build their brand to the point of being able to train up and educate the next generation of cheese makers. These potential students could be coming from near or far to Walkerton, to learn a lasting trade.

Whether you're making cheese or growing the plants, the earth is available to you, the Klinedinsts say. Return to sustainable practices, plant yourself—both figuratively and literally—in your community, and watch your efforts flourish.

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