PORT TOWNSEND — Seastack, Trufflestack, Cirrus — these hand-crafted iconic Pacific Northwest staples are about to disappear from stores and tables across the North Olympic Peninsula.
After 14 years of prize-winning cheese production, Mt. Townsend Creamery will shut its doors once the final rounds are sold in February.
Jan. 31 is the planned end for cheese production. The team will keep its tasting room and store open until the last of the cheese is sold and shipped, co-founder Matt Day said Friday.
Day and Ryan Trail opened Mt. Townsend Creamery with a team of about five people and now employs about 15, who work in production, packaging and sales, Day said.
The decision to close the business was not made suddenly, he said.
Mt. Townsend’s Sherman Street facility has needed constant upgrades and repairs due to the impact of the cheese-making process and the founders can no longer afford to sustain operations, Day said.
“The situation is not a choice that we took very lightly or made in a knee-jerk fashion,” Day said. “A lot of these issues have been brewing over time and it’s just come to a head over the last few months.
“The situation is complicated,” he continued. “Making cheese the way we are doing it is expensive and we really didn’t have a lot of financial resilience in terms of being able to absorb unexpected costs that have just become part of the business.”
Sales have been consistent over the years but the cost of maintaining the facilities was using up their revenue, Day said.
The facility was built about 15 years ago, and “we’ve pushed the space hard. It’s a moist environment. It never really dries out and a lot of the interior walls are compromised by that,” Day said.
Specifically, the pair had used pressure-treated lumber in the construction of the facilities and the lumber is starting to fail. In other spots, fiberglass covering on the walls has seals that need to be replaced along with whole portions of the walls, Day said.
Another difficulty that Day and Trail have had to manage is that their production is just enough to require them to maintain operation and cleaning standards that large brand cheese producers like Darigold are held to, which is difficult for the modest facility.
“The amount of work that needs to happen to bring it back to where we started 14 years ago is a significant cost and we’ve been chasing after these things over the years but at this point it’s hard to keep up from a time perspective and a cost perspective,” Day said.
There were plans for Mt. Townsend to build a new facility at Rainier Street, but that is no longer financially feasible, Day said.
“Band-aiding the plant along was taking whatever money we could put aside and continually having to reinvest it in the existing structure to keep things rolling,” Day said.
Making the cheese that is a known staple in both Jefferson and Clallam counties is a complex multi-step process. The basic steps — there are additional steps that are taken depending on the type — are pasteurizing local milk from Maple View Farm in Sequim, adding starter cultures, adding rennet for the milk to coagulate, cutting the resulting curd, placing the curd in a mold, draining the curd, aging and ripening the cheese and then packaging it and selling it, Day said.
The forming process takes about 12 days and the cheese continues to ripen in the packaging for another three weeks, Day said.
Although they are sad about having to shut down production, Trail is proud of what the pair has accomplished.
“I’m just so thankful to the community, investors, employees and Maple View Farm,” Trail said. “Even the support we’ve received after announcing our closing has been tremendous.
“I’m proud of what we’ve done. It saddens me it can’t continue on, but I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished.”
For more about the cremery, see mttownsendcreamery.com.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected].