351 Wise Road, Howard, PennsylvaniaPA 16841
In 2001, a handful of Goot Essa staff packed a truck with 100 gift assortment baskets and drove to Washington D.C. for their first ever event. They hoped to break into a big market and start putting their cheesemaking business on the map.
The staff set up tables in the lobby of an office building and readied samples. They didn’t sell a single basket, said John Esh, Goot Essa’s owner and founder.
“They wouldn’t look at us,” Esh said of the busy lobbyists and lawyers hustling to and from meetings. “We assumed they would see Amish cheese and gift assortments and would see that this is something really different to give as a gift. But they had no idea what the quality was like and didn’t know us.”
More than 20 years later, Goot Essa can be found in fine dining restaurants throughout the Mid-Atlantic and lower New England, and ships to all 50 states in the U.S. The operation now supports five family farms, including Esh’s Holstein dairy operation, three sheep farms and one goat farm. This is Goot Essa’s true mission: to allow these family farms to continue their way of life. It’s a way for families to work beside each other, from the time their children are small and throughout their adult lives. The cheesemaking business gives the farmers an alternative outlet to a sometimes troubled national milk market.
“We feel it’s very important to spend time with our children and teach them things,” Esh said. “It’s about being together, being here when they come home from school and when they leave for school.”
Esh’s Holstein cow operation in Howard, Pennsylvania, is right next door to the Goot Essa cheese shop. As horses and mules milled around their paddock on a warm March afternoon and cows lounged in their barn, Esh explained that his herd of about 65 cows is the right size so that there is enough work for his family to handle, but they don’t need to hire employees to take care of them. There’s work that even the younger children can do as they learn side-by-side with their parents and siblings.
Then, as the children grow older and finish school, they have the opportunity to join the Goot Essa operation, work with hired employees, and learn about the cheesemaking business.
Esh said his love for farming began when he saw how his grandfather, Daniel Esh, handled his animals with tenderness and care on his Lancaster County farm.
“That showed me what I wanted to do when I grew up,” Esh said. “I wanted to be a farmer like my grandad was, a dairyman. You could sense that dairy cows were special to him and he treated them in a special way. He had a nice way of working with both cows and horses. Just gentle, a lot of respect. You could see the animals respected him. He was a role model for me at a very young age.”
Esh’s father, John Esh Sr., moved the family to Centre County when he bought the farm in Howard in 1976.
Esh and his wife, Anna Mary, began their cheesemaking in 2001 and worked for the first 11 years out of the basement of the farmhouse. It was a scrappy time, he said, with tight margins as they worked to get their recipes right and produce cheese worthy of a premium price.
They built the first cheese cave in 2009, the lower level of their current building in 2012, and the upper level in 2015. The farms came on slowly as well. The first sheep farm came on in 2010 and changed ownership a few years later and became two farms. The third sheep farm joined Goot Essa in 2016 and the first goat farm came on a year later.
Esh has been able to grow the business as he has grown his family, and he said they hope to continue to give the family farmers a means to keep working side-by-side with their children.
“A core value we have is spending time with our children as they’re growing up,” he said. “We feel strongly that there is no place like the farm to raise a family.”