March 29, 2012 - Sam Simon's interest and ultimate fascination with cheesemaking began with macaroni and and store-bought cheese that had gone bad. The incident that started it all began when he bought some cheese at the grocery store to make macaroni and cheese for his children, but he left the cheese in the car overnight.
"The next day it had turned into just this big ball of goo with some white stuff in the middle," Simon said. "I decided then to start making it myself."
For years -- decades -- Simon made cheese as a hobby while running a company that retrieved records and digitalized them. He retired for all of a couple of weeks and then moved all his cheesemaking equipment out of the house -- much to his wife's delight, he added -- and started making and selling cheese full-time at the Texas Cheese House in downtown Lorena.
Simon is a self-taught cheesemaker. He bought kits, read books and went on the Internet for his instructions. Reviews came from friends and family, and the reviews were good. He talked to other cheesemakers and met suppliers and farmers who provide the milk that starts the whole process. Most of his pasteurized milk comes from Oak Farms in Waco, and he gets raw milk from Dyer Dairy in Georgetown and Mill-King in McGregor.
The Texas Cheese House also carries cheeses from other Texas cheesemakers, including the Veldhuizen Family Farm in Dublin, the Mozzarella Company in Dallas and On Pure Ground Dairy in Bonham. He also carries chocolates from Wiseman House in Hico along with salsas, jellies, mustards, syrups, grilling glaze and spices from Fredericksburg Farms. He's open seven days a week, which means he works seven days a week.
"To me, it's worth it to make cheese this way because it just tastes so much better than cheese that's heavily processed," he said. "Our slogan, or mantra I guess, is 'Come taste the difference.' We want people to at least taste what real 100 percent cheese tastes like. The strength, the sharpness, the flavor -- you eat half as much to get the same amount of flavor."
The Texas Cheese House also operates as a restaurant, serving grilled cheese sandwiches, of course, but also cheeseburgers, club sandwiches, bacon, cheese and tomato sandwiches and other creations on bread that is baked on-site. There's also the dish that started it all for Simon -- macaroni and cheese.
Business has increased by 30 percent each of the four years the Texas Cheese House has been open, and is successful enough that Simon can't handle all the work by himself. He has had to hire three people to keep up with the lunch traffic and cheese sales both on the Internet and at various farmers markets around Central Texas.
Of those employees, Shelby Sutter has worked for Simon the longest.
"She came in for lunch one day when it was real busy and I was in over my head and said, 'You need help,' and she stayed and helped," Simon said. "She didn't say it like she was asking. She was saying, 'You need help.' That's how she became my first employee."
Simon also has a background in pharmacology and taught it to nursing students in Michigan before coming to Texas almost 40 years ago and settling in Lorena. He said that background helps him make cheese because it helps him understand the processes involved, and also what effects that processing additives used by large-scale, commercial operations do to the cheese.
"My first interest in pure cheese was the taste," he said. "After I got more involved with it, I came to appreciate the health benefits. Turns out, it's better, and better for you."
The sometimes tedious process of making the cheese and the patience and care it takes to age it properly for a long time along with the demands of the restaurant end of the business don't bother Simon because he is doing full-time what he has always done for fun.
"My mother grew up on a farm and we always had good milk and cheese around the house," he said "I didn't know this until years later but her grandfather was a cheesemaker, too. Maybe it's in my genes and I didn't know it.
"For me, it comes down to the fact that cheese is a lot fun to make and it's a lot of fun to eat. Basically, you have all these millions of microbes and all you do is put them to work for you. They do all the work and you get the cheese."
For more information on cheeses available at the Texas Cheese House, go to texascheesehouse.com.