M W hat began as a mission to change the way America eats has become a multimillion-dollar business preading passion for quality cheese and food from outposts on both coasts—and soon overseas. “Today, it sounds like a stan- dard mission,” says Kurt Beecher Dammeier, executive chef and
founder of the original Beecher’s Handmade
Cheese in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. “But in
2003, it was a kind of freaky thing to say.”
Named for Dammeier’s great-grandfather,
Beecher’s Seattle store not only sells Ameri-
can-made cheddars, blues and bloomy rinds,
but it also produces award-winning cheeses
behind a glass-walled 1,000-square-foot
kitchen within its 3,000-square-foot retail
space, giving customers a rare view into the
art and science of cheese making. “We were
getting people to think about how their food
was made, which wasn’t the norm in 2003,”
says Dammeier, whose revolutionary urban
cheese-making operation was born the moment
he saw a vacancy at Pike Place Market.
“I had, and still do have, a deep love of Pike
Place Market. It’s so soulful and makes me
warm and happy,” says the chef-retailer, who
signed the lease before knowing if it was legal
to have a cheese-making operation on-site. As
luck would have it, permits were procured, and
Beecher’s made its first vat of cheese on opening day Nov. 17, 2003.
A cookbook author and professional chef,
Dammeier initially imagined himself in the
role of cheese maker. He enrolled in a three-day
short course on cheese making at Washington
“By noon on the first day, I had learned everything I needed to know, which was that I was
not going to make cheese,” he says with a laugh.
From the beginning, Beecher’s has worked
with a succession of talented cheese makers,
who have helped gain notoriety and acclaim
for the brand that continues today.
In 2007, the still fledgling business celebrated its first defining win, when Beecher’s
Flagship Reserve took first place in the Aged
Cheddar category at the American Cheese
Society’s Annual Conference and Competition.
“For us to win that award in Vermont—in the
heart of cheddar country—was so meaningful,”
says Dammeier. “I always say it took us four
years to become an overnight success.”
Married to Manhattan
Preparing and selling quality, wholesome
cheese-focused food has been integral to
Beecher’s mission. Its three cafes in the Seattle
area (including one at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport)—as well as its cafe and restaurant in New York—turn out tempting grilled
cheese sandwiches, fresh salads and cheese
plates featuring premium American cheeses.
“I want people to cook with and eat great
cheese every day, whether in our recipe for
‘ World’s Best Mac & Cheese’ or au gratin pota-
Bite by Bite
Beecher’s Handmade Cheese is on a real food mission.
By Jennifer Strailey
Executive Chef Kurt
also founded the