Kasey Sims of Pinckneyville likes cheese.
That’s understandable. After all, she grew up in a large family in Minnesota where many of her relatives were dairy farmers. In fact, she often helped out with her great uncle’s operation, Eichten’s Hidden Acres, in nearby Center City, Minnesota. Eichten’s included a cheese plant where the family produced a variety of cheeses using milk from their own cows.
From the farm, which is northwest of Minneapolis, the family produced 17 different varieties all-natural cheese with no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives and started selling the product throughout the area. Sims often staffed booths at farmers markets while she was in high school and college.
When she moved to Pinckneyville in 2015, she thought that her time in the cheese business was coming to an end.
That, however, wasn’t the case. A cousin who was involved in the Minnesota business reached out to Sims, suggesting she represent the family business and distribute cheese in Southern Illinois.
“She actually asked me a couple of times, before I finally agreed,” Sims said. “I loved working there growing up, but never thought I’d be in Southern Illinois doing it.”
Sims says her cousin reached out to her, saying that she knew there were wineries throughout the area and that it might be a great business opportunity for both Sims and the wineries.
“I decided to jump on the bandwagon and it’s been a really good decision,” she said.
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Sims began visiting local wineries and setting up at vendor fairs and other events with samples of the cheeses.
“That’s how I got started; I made a lot of phone calls,” she said. “I called every winery on the Shawnee Wine Trail and went to events all over the place. Other places saw us on Facebook and reached out to us. Plus, there’s been a lot of word-of-mouth.”
The Facebook page has been beneficial to promote the brand locally, but Sims says it has its restrictions.
“It’s really hard to explain cheese over messaging online,” she said. “People just have to try it.”
The products are now available directly from Sims, at a number of wineries across the region, several Illinois Liquor Marts as well as Audra’s Footprint, a Pinckneyville specialty boutique. Express deliveries of cheeses arrive at Sims home with regularity.
She said that response from consumers in the area has exceeded her expectations.
“People are just amazed at the cheese,” she said.
Currently, the company offers a wide variety of gouda cheeses, string cheeses, a number of cheese spreads and five flavors of cheese curds.
“It’s been far better the first year than I thought it would be,” Sims said, adding that she hopes to expand Southern Illinois distribution and maybe even open a storefront eventually.
“It’s really neat; it’s unique. That’s what I really love about it. Nobody else around here specializes in cheese. It’s a great niche market that we’re glad to be part of,” she said. “I love being about to share the cheese that I grew up with.”
Eichten’s Family Cheese in Southern Illinois can be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/EichtenscheeseSoIL or by phone at 651-331-9452.