GALLIPOLIS — Nick and Celeste Nolan are dedicated to the idea that not only can their family farm flourish here in Gallia County, but that it doesn’t have to be unique in its success.
“I was raised under the paradigm that to do well you had to move away from this area,” Nick remembered. “But this land is so fertile and rich; people have the capacity to grow their own food here. We all have a lot to gain from being more connected to the food we eat. And it’s not some arcane idea that you can be successful at farming in this area.”
However, the Nolans know that times have changed for family farms, and small farmers have had to adapt to an increasingly global food market.
“People have become disconnected from the food they buy,” Nick noted, “and disconnected from the political and economic ramifications of buying food that is available globally. Lower cost mass-produced food is a false concept. You’re getting less for your money.”
Nick’s origins are in Gallia County.
“Nick’s grandparents moved here in 1947 from Boone County, West Virginia,” Celeste said. “They started dairy farming then and raised four kids. When Nick was a kid, there were over 150 dairy farms in Gallia County. Now there are eight. It was a thriving community.”
“This area is perfect for dairy farming, but it has become harder to make money as a small farmer; there’s always a middle man. For every dollar you spend at the grocery store, only around 25 cents comes back to the farmer. So, I can see why those farmers went out of business. That’s why we started making cheese and selling it directly to our customers.”
In 2001 after the Nolans got married, they bought a part of the farm. The plan was to build a new house while living in the farm house. At that time, Nick worked for General Mills in Wellston as a project engineer, but his job was outsourced in 2005, according to the couple. That was about three weeks after the birth of Gus, the Nolans’ second child.
“He had severance pay for six months,” Celeste said, “and in November of that year we started milking cows; we had the infrastructure for it. We sold milk wholesale and milk prices were bad for us — between 12 and 20 dollars for a hundred pounds of milk. We figured out that it is more profitable to turn the milk into cheese.”
The Nolans produce about 450 pounds of cheese per week, by milking around 20 cows, selling the cheese across the region in Athens, Columbus, Huntington and Cleveland. In Gallipolis, the cheese is carried by downtown Foodland and Merry Family Winery, and Celeste may be found at the farmer’s market most Saturday mornings starting in June and ending in October each year.
“We make Mozzarella, Gruyere, fresh cheddar curds in various flavors, mature cheddar, pepper jack, Cora and Jersey Drover,” Celeste said.
“I make cheese three days a week, both pasteurized and raw milk variety. Any of the fresh cheeses are made from pasteurized milk. The aged cheese is aged a minimum of two months. The pepper jack is made with local peppers.
“We move milk from the milk house to the cheese house, which is about 600 feet. I raise the temperature to 100 degrees and then cool it back down to 85 or 90 degrees. Then I add a culture that turns the lactose into lactic acid, and rennet which makes it coagulate. Then I cut the curd and drain off the whey, and put the curds into molds and press them. Then I have wheels of cheese.”
Nick began to learn the fundamentals of the business before he was out of grade school.
“I started milking cows when I was about 10,” he said, “I always helped my grandfather Edgar Cook. He and my grandmother Betsy owned the place, and I was born and raised here. I graduated from Buckeye Hills and went to the University of Rio Grande where I earned a bachelor of science in industrial technology.”
In 2009, Nick built the cheese house and the Nolans obtained their state-issued license to sell cheese.
“We have a closed herd; we raise all our heifers here, Jerseys. I rotationally graze them, dividing up pastures into paddocks. We don’t used any herbicides or pesticides or antibiotics, which sets us apart, and all the milk goes into the cheese.”
Nick milks around 20 cows twice a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
“I was raised and educated here. Philosophically, we are interested in keeping the benefits here in our community. We shop locally, and all the revenue from the cheese comes back to the local area,” Nick said.
The Nolans also donate to programs like Donation Station, which distributes food to seven different food-based charities. And in the interests of educating the next generation of farmers, Celeste participates each year in Ag Awareness Day at the Farm Bureau.
“We try to show by example that it is possible to make a living as a farmer here,” Celeste said.
Laurel Valley Creamery may be found on the Internet at www.laurelvalleycreamery.com, Facebook, and may also be reached at (740)245-9044.