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January 10, 2013

Milford cheese on menu at Obama's inauguration

By Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star

---- — MILFORD — When President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama preside at a special inauguration luncheon at the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 21, they and their guests will be treated to two varieties of gourmet cheese whipped up by local entrepreneurs Sharon Thomaselli and Bob Sweitzer.

The two dropouts from Corporate America — both are former executives in the specialty paper industry — combined their business skills and ambitions seven years ago when they started the Cooperstown Cheese Co.

Their cheese-making plant, sitting atop a slope overlooking state Route 28 six miles south of Cooperstown, is where they process raw milk purchased from local farms into tasty blends of cheese that have developed a significant following in the metropolitan New York City area as well as San Francisco.

They had also developed a relationship with a caterer outside Washington, one that proved pivotal in their product being selected for the luncheon for Obama’s second inauguration.

The VIP list of guests include Vice President Joe Biden and members of his family, the Supreme Court justices, Cabinet members and Congressional leaders. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who is chairman of the Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies and will sit at the head table with the first couple, stopped at Cooperstown Cheese Co. Wednesday afternoon to congratulate the owners and sample some of the offerings.

“We’re hoping this gets us national recognition,” Thomaselli told The Daily Star. She said the fact that Cooperstown Cheese now has items on the menu at such a prestigious event could get the company the national distribution deal she and Sweitzer need to take their business to the next level.

“We feel like this could be our breakthrough,” said Sweitzer.

The two cheeses that will be the inaugural luncheon are the Jersey Girl Colby and the award-winning Toma Celena.

The cheese will be served at dessert, which also features apple pie made with apples from the Hudson Valley, as well as sour cream ice cream and honey.

Schumer said after similar products gained notice from previous inauguration luncheons, sales increased rapidly as a direct result of the attention they received.

“This is a great help to our dairy industry in New York State and to New York apple growers,” said the state’s senior senator, who gave himself credit for pushing for the inclusion of New York farm products.

Thomaselli said she and Sweitzer decided to drop out of the paper industry after it had been rocked by cheaper imports from Asia. The two are both “foodies” and discovered the then vacant cheese plant in Milford listed on the internet.

“We have the capability to make 750 pounds a day,” she said.

Cooperstown Cheese, she said, gets its milk from two places: Lester Tyler’s family farm, Sunny Acres Swiss, in Milford, and Stone House Farm in Sharon Springs, operated by Tim and Patti Everett.

They also supply cheese to the Beekman Hotel in Sharon Springs, operated by the stars of the “Fabulous Beekman Boys” reality television show, Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge.