Make Oh Mamma’s your Saturday morning destination

Oh Mamma's Thanksgiving meat and cheese tray

I could live without a lot of things, but I think I would quickly wither away into a puddle of despair without cheese. I can assure you I’ve eaten my body weight in cheese a half dozen times over my lifespan. My favorite brown paper bag lunch growing up was always sharp cheddar cheese and crackers, my favorite holiday treat was always my grandmother’s cheese ball, and our second cat is aptly named Gouda. Realistically, we probably don’t eat more cheese than the average fellow, but we do consider cheese to be a staple in our home.

For Thanksgiving we ordered a lovely meat and cheese tray from our very own local South Bend cheese shop Oh Mamma’s on Beyer Avenue right by the South Bend Farmers Market. A standard cheese board costs $50 and an additional $2 if you choose the simple wood tray over the plastic tray. The tray serves as an appetizer for 8-10 people or a meal for 6-8. Oh Mamma’s will work with your price range and preferences. We also took a few loaves of beautiful, fragrant bread home with us.

Oh Mamma's bread

Our tray was a big hit with our family, who are all cheese lovers. The tray featured four cured meats ranging from mild to spicy, mixed olives, stuffed peppadews and four cheeses including a soft rind milk cheese made by owners Joe and Jody Klinedinst from locally produced cow milk.

The fact that they make their own cheese really sets them apart. Not only do they sell a boatload of carefully selected cheeses from around the world, but they also sustainably raise their own Nubian and French Alpine goats in Walkerton and produce fresh and delicious chèvre in their certified processing facility. Their handmade J2K Capraio chèvre is a soft cheese with a complex tart flavor and an almost buttery texture. Since they won’t have fresh goat milk again until early May, this year they’re making Canzonetta from local cow milk.

Oh Mamma's cheese

Jody explained that their creamery is among a very unique group of American artisan cheesemakers who are also farmstead producers, meaning they tend animals on their farm and use the milk to produce cheese. “This work and knowledge imparts on us a very deep understanding and appreciation of what it really takes to make different cheeses, and we also gain satisfaction from producing and selling a product for others to enjoy,” said Jody in a recent email. “To give you an example, the two largest cheese-making states, Wisconsin and California, have fewer than a dozen farmstead operations each. Now figure in those that also operate a retail shop, and we are probably among a handful of people in this entire country who manage the process from start to finish.”

This not only makes Oh Mamma’s unique, it also makes South Bend unique. In fact, Oh Mamma’s should be considered a destination and listed as one of the top places people should visit when exploring South Bend. I try to make it one of my destinations every Saturday morning!

When I go in I always ask to try whatever is new and I usually get a little story about each cheese as it melts in my mouth. I nearly always buy a quarter pound of everything I try. Their offerings are too good to refuse. We also routinely purchase mixed olives and love their sandwiches.

Oh Mamma's olives and antipasti

I asked Jody if she’d answer some questions to satisfy my curiosity and hopefully interest you to visit the shop and expand your cheese horizon!

Q. What are some of your favorite offerings currently?

A. We always have well over 200 cheeses, probably closer to the 300, but it has been a while since I actually went through and counted. We love our new cow’s milk cheese, Canzonetta, made from the pristine milk of another local dairy in Walkerton. With fresh cheese especially you can taste when the milk has been well handled and collected properly. There is nothing quite like the experience of a local, fresh, handmade product! Regionally we are offering several Parish Hill Creamery raw cow’s milk cheeses from master cheesemaker Peter Dixon. We were the very first cheese shop in America to offer his new cheeses and are still the only place locally to taste/purchase it. Internationally, I like to have fun with our Gouda selection; we offer an assortment from young to extra-aged made from every species. I like these Dutch cheeses because they are super versatile and an easy crowd pleaser for our customers!

Q. Where does your cheese come from? How do you select it?

A. Aside from local, regional, and national artisan cheese, we also have a wonderful assortment of international traditional. We select based on the season, the size/location of the farm/creamery, our current selection, what we find to be appetizing and useful, special requests from customers, and broker specials. We always keep cost in mind not only for our well being, but also for our customers. This does not reflect on the quality or wholesomeness of our offering as we personally take the time to research credentials, practices, ingredients, reputation, price, etc.

Q. What is your lowest price and highest price cheese now? Can you describe each?

A. Our lowest priced cheese is the Ricotta. It is $3.99/lb. and is made by Chellino. They’ve been making it for generations in Joliet, Illinois. It is one of the best on the American market. Right now the most expensive cheese in the shop is an American mixed milk Camembert-style that retails for $29.99/lb. The handmade or artisan American cheeses generally cost more than their international counterparts.

Q. What styles would you suggest to someone who’s had little experience with cheese outside typical grocery store offerings?

A. We generally like to start with styles they are already familiar with, though they may not realize it is a style. Because we cut/package 95% of our products to order, there will already be a distinctive difference in taste, even among the exact same prepackaged cheeses. Each cheesemonger in the shop has their own approach based on experience, taste and how that blends with a customers’ requests/responses. My approach is to take some of their favorite kinds and kick it up a notch or two —   change the species or the agedness or offer a sampling of similar cheeses from different creameries. Every customer has their own ideal and our goal is to meet each person’s desire and have fun along the way

Joe and assistant prepare cheese tray

Q. What’s happening at the farm/creamery this time of year?

A. During late fall and early winter our goats are on hiatus from their job of supplying us with their amazing milk. They should also be bred by now and preparing for 5-month gestation. They go through a metamorphosis of sorts. Most does will calm down and become less playful and energetic, though this will return a few weeks after kidding. They consume more water and roughage and rest most days away. Their bodies will begin to barrel out and deepen and eventually their mammary will start to fill with milk. During this time and especially near the end of gestation they will reshape their pen (move around straw and other does) to make a nest for their babies. They know what to do and are very good mothers. We usually breed around 30 does with an additional 25 or so in dry stock and bucks. The last two seasons we shut down the creamery during this time, but this year we have access to local cow’s milk that we will use primarily throughout the winter making fresh and ripened cheeses. As we progress with other plans we will eventually make aged cow, goat, and mixed milk cheeses.

Q. What other items do you carry besides cheese?

A. We offer sliced to order meats; imported olives; our own salads and antipasti; sandwiches; beverages; select grocery items including cheese accompaniments such as preserved fruits, pickled vegetables, sauces, syrups and mustards; specialty crackers; chocolates; and our handmade cookies.

Oh Mamma's meat

Oh Mamma’s On the Avenue
Open 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Saturday
1212 Beyer Ave
South Bend, IN