IDAHO FALLS — New owners, a new location and some canny changes to the product line are positioning 55-year-old Manwaring Cheese for the future.
A love of cheese and a desire to keep an iconic business in the family are among the reasons Justin and Amber Manwaring purchased Manwaring Cheese from Justin’s cousin, Blake Manwaring.
They recently moved the plant and storefront from Rigby to Idaho Falls. They opened on Nov. 19, after more than a year of renovations on a building next to the Museum of Idaho, which offers a convenient downtown location and is accessible for milk deliveries by truck and trailer.
“Blake has been making cheese a long time but was looking for an exit strategy,” said Amber. “This is something we are really interested in, and a business for our entire family. We’re excited. He’s working with us to learn cheesemaking and get started.”
Idaho is the nation’s third largest cheese producing state, behind Wisconsin and California, and dairy is Idaho’s No. 1 agricultural product. Seventy percent of Idaho’s milk is made into cheese by global dairy conglomerates, but small artisanal cheesemakers like the Manwarings are gaining traction.
As well as 12 varieties of cheddar cheese and the popular snack-sized cheese curds, Justin and Amber have added a lunch counter serving gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. Raw A2 milk can be purchased on site. A family trip to Italy inspired them to add Gelato to the product line. They make their creamy Gelato in a slow churning process that results in a confection with less fat and sugar than ice cream, serving it in cones they make on site. A local baker makes the sourdough bread for the sandwiches. The store is an inviting place to shop, while Wi-Fi and seating areas entice customers to meet friends, eat in, or just hang out enjoying a treat.
Huge plate-glass viewing windows into the white tile production room enable visitors to watch the cheese making process. Amber says they are already getting requests for visits by school groups and others. A nearby temperature and humidity-controlled “ageing room” houses racks of wrapped blocks of cheddar at various stages in the curing process. The popular Elkhorn flavor cures one year, while Old Faithful needs two years for the taste and texture to mature.
Amber says, “We make everything fresh, usually that day. We will eventually be making cheese four times a week, in 200-pound batches. We get our milk from a family dairy in Monteview. We are doing our part to source locally and hope our customers want the same quality.”
The Manwaring’s timing, location and product diversification may be opportune. Per capita cheese consumption is estimated at more than 37 pounds, and the popularity of handmade cheeses is growing. Simultaneously, the local food movement is gaining traction as consumers pay attention to where their food comes from, commit to eating local and choose to support small businesses and farms as much as possible.
Manwaring cheese is recognized as an “Idaho Preferred” brand. Idaho Preferred is a program that identifies and promotes food and agricultural products grown, raised or processed in the Gem State and assists Idaho consumers in finding local products.
As small-batch cheesemakers, the Manwarings can be adventurous. They use Blake’s recipes and will be experimenting with new ones. A customer favorite is “Hellfire,” a cheese with jalapeno, habanero and ghost peppers.
Recognizing the international market, the Manwarings have cooler space and plans to expand into carefully sourced imported cheeses, olives and other products. They have been approached by downtown businesses for foodie collaborations and will look at requests for larger scale relationships as they ramp up production.
The Manwaring family has been making handmade cheese for 55 years, a legacy that traces back to Basil Manwaring, who worked on the family dairy with his siblings and father, Arthur.
The business history recounts how Basil and his wife, Edna, met at a creamery in Blackfoot. Basil then managed the Utah State University school dairy, making ice cream, cheese and butter. He moved to Rexburg where Basil worked at Nelson-Ricks Creamery, later purchasing the Nelson-Ricks facility in Ashton and opening Manwaring Cheese. He moved the plant to Rigby in 1971, and his widow and children kept the plant operating through the 1980s.
After a hiatus of several years, Basil’s son, Blake, opened a new location in Rigby. Justin Manwaring is the third cheesemaker in the family. His children, who are already helping in the new store, will be the fourth generation.
Manwaring Cheese is currently available at the plant, at Broulims grocery stores and Love at First Bite in Idaho Falls.