Kevin and Shelby Lussier are young entrepreneurs who are creating their own niche for artisan cheese in eastern Alachua County. Kevin was born and raised on his family’s dairy farm, Lussier Dairy in Hawthorne, where hard work and a love for agriculture was instilled in him from a young age.
Lussier Dairy opened in 1992, and the family-run operation milks roughly 650 cows twice a day. Kevin’s parents, Matt and Linda, have provided a platform for him to diversify the dairy into the family’s newest venture, Hawthorne Creek Creamery.
Shelby and Kevin met while attending college at Jacksonville University where Kevin played football and majored in business and Shelby majored in marketing. Upon graduating in 2016, the couple decided to move back to Kevin’s hometown of Hawthorne, a far stretch from Shelby’s hometown of Peachtree City, Georgia, a suburb of the Atlanta Metropolitan Area.
“I fell in love with my hometown,” Kevin said. “I grew up here and I always knew I wanted to come back.” The two married in 2018 and quickly became involved in the family business.
Hawthorne Creek Creamery
In January 2020, Kevin and Shelby embarked on a new adventure when they became the owners of Hawthorne Creek Creamery, located just a few miles from Lussier Dairy. The creamery specializes in artisan cheese made from fresh, locally produced milk.
The heart of the creamery are the cows.
“We have strictly jersey cows at the creamery,” Kevin said. “At the dairy, we milk a mix of Jersey, Holstein and Jersey-Holstein crosses.”
Kevin explained that Jersey cows’ milk has a high butterfat content, which helps their yield in how much cheese is produced per batch and it is a “huge hit with the chefs.” Hawthorne Creek Creamery produces Havarti, Swiss, Gouda and Tomme, an earthy cheese with a natural rind, similar to Brie.
Kevin said that the cheese-making process is much like following a recipe. First, the milk is pumped straight from the cows into a 200-gallon cheese vat, where it is then heated to a certain temperature, depending on the variety. Then, cultures are added with a rennet, which allows the cheese to curdle.
Once the rennet has set for an hour and the cheese is fully cooked, a process in which hot water is added to the vat simultaneously, the curds are ready to be cut. In making Tomme, the Lussiers create an exception to the general process because with this variety, the outside of the vat is heated to allow the cheese to cook through steam.
Next, the whey is drained off and the cheese is placed into molds in the shape of a wheel where it is transferred to a press, flipping and rotating the wheels while pressing. The cheese will sit in a brine bath before being air-dried in a 50- to 55-degree aging room.
“We paint all the cheese molds, with the exception of Tomme, which will grow a natural rind of mold, with two coats of a vegetable-based coating where they will age for at least 60 days before being sold,” Kevin said.
Kevin and Shelby prepared their first batch of cheese in January 2020, and it was ready for sale in March. The Lussiers are working with two distributors, Fresh Point and Halpern’s, in getting their cheese on the market.
Hawthorne Creek Creamery is one of the only artisan creameries that produces 100 percent Florida-made cheese. Every part of the cheese-making process is done right at their facility.
“We want to let people know we are here and just getting started,” Shelby said.
Shelby is in charge of marketing efforts for the creamery and explained that they will be offering online sales with their website.
“We are local, we want to support our local businesses and our community,” Kevin said. “Being local is a huge selling point for us and we plan to hit some farmers markets and events in town in the future.”
The cheese was first debuted at the Alachua County Farm Bureau’s Farm-City Week Festival at the Cade Museum last fall, and it was a huge hit. Kevin and Shelby are active members in the Alachua County Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers program. Kevin serves as co-chair of the group.
He is also a member of Farm Bureau’s Dairy Advisory Committee and a member of the Hawthorne Chamber of Commerce.
Alachua County Extension Director and Livestock Agent Cindy Sanders has worked with the Lussier family on their dairy and explained that, “Kevin is very eager to learn.”
“I have worked with Kevin and his father on pastures, forages and weed control and fertilization,” she said. “They have implemented Best Management Practices and always follow UF/IFAS recommendations and are strong supporters of Extension.”
Check out Hawthorne Creek Creamery’s Facebook Page and follow them for updates on cheese availability in the future.