Manti couple makes cheese using oolite stone
Process • Raw milk is used for the array of blues, which are aged for at least 60 days.
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Just as Roquefort cheese is tied to the tiny village in southern France, the raw milk cheeses made by the Oolite Cheese Co. are uniquely Manti.

All but one of the Utah company's blue cheese is aged with oolite stone — which is quarried from nearby canyons. Oolite is the same stone that was used to build the LDS Temple in Manti as well as many of the original homes in the area, including the home of Rachel and Joel Wilcox, Oolite Cheese owners.

The Wilcoxes moved with their five children to Manti from California in 2009; Rachel Wilcox grew up in the area and her husband spent summers in Manti as a child.

They opened their central Utah cheese shop last July.

When they were experimenting with cheese making — Joel Wilcox loved cheese so much he wanted it instead of a birthday cake one year — the couple would take their tub of cheese wheels to their basement and leave the lid open a crack. Within a week, the wheels were covered in white mold.

Now that they've built a new cheese shop next to their home, they place an oolite stone into the tub to get the mold.

The uniquely named blue cheeses — Boys' Pants Rebellion, What's Her Name, Oolite White, Oolite Red and Oolite Yellow — sell online, at www.oolitecheesecompany.com, for $24 and $27 a pound.

Liberty Heights Fresh, in Salt Lake City, started carrying the Oolite cheeses in February. Cheese tasting results the store has posted online praise the "provocative peppery notes" and "tangy and peppery flavor."

Wilcox says the Boys' Pants Rebellion is a strong blue cheese. Because it is hard, it's good to shave for salads. "It's got this really spicy, piquant flavor with a hint of blue. … It's not super popular with everyone because it is so strong. Those who love strong cheese really love it," she said.

The cheeses are made with sheep's milk, just like the Roquefort, the French blue cheese the couple loves and that inspired them to become cheesemakers.

While Sanpete county is known for raising sheep, the animals are used almost exclusively for meat, not milk.

But the Wilcoxes found sheep's milk at Peel Farms in neighboring Mt. Pleasant. The farm had just started milking the two breeds of sheep — Lacaune and East Friesian — that the Wilcox's desired.

The cheese is made from raw milk, meaning the milk isn't heated before it is used to make cheese. However, it is aged for at least 60 days to kill any pathogens, which is required by law.

Using raw milk "just tastes better," said Rachel Wilcox. "It's just got so much more character. You can tell if they've changed from alfalfa to grass."

Rockhill Creamery is another Utah company that makes cheese with raw milk. The Richmond farm uses milk from its herd of cows to make its eight types of cheeses.

Co-owner Jennifer Hines said when she first started making the cheeses, customers didn't register the raw milk part of it. But now, customers are much more knowledgeable.

"We have a lot of customers who will come up and they'll specifically ask if it's raw milk, and they'll be very excited and happy that it is."

Rockhill cheeses are sold at Liberty Heights Fresh and some Harmons and Whole Foods Markets.

Whole Foods Market sells their Wasatch Mountain Gruyere and Farmhouse Gouda. Andy Fitzgerell, a certified cheese professional at the Sugarhouse Whole Foods, said Rockhill's brown Swiss cows produce milk that makes "luxurious, rich, lush cheeses."

He said he's seeing more interest in raw milk cheeses because it is thought to be more nutritional —though the Food and Drug Administration disagrees.

Eventually, the Wilcox family wants to raise their own sheep for farmstead cheese, and create a cafe where the menu would include lamb as well as beef and poultry from nearby farms.

"We want to tap into our area," she said.

hmay@sltrib.com