Marinated goat-cheese company captures the hearts of everyday folks and foodies
The early research and development for Susan and Gerard Tuck’s goat cheese company Chevoo took place in the kitchen of their student housing at Stanford University. The couple remembers the kitchen counters covered in a range of flavor-combination experiments: goat cheeses blended with different herbs, spices and salts; botanicals steeping in olive oil like one would steep a tea bag.
The Tucks had come to Stanford and California all the way from Australia with their three children and the dream of winning over the hearts of American consumers with little jars of goat cheese packed in oil. The Tucks say that in Australia this kind of marinated goat cheese is so popular it’s become a staple, something many Aussies are eating every day and always have on hand.
“I threw a jar of marinated cheese in my trolley, in my cart, every week and the idea was if anyone drops by, because it’s kept in the oil, I can just throw it on a salad, or can quickly make a pasta,” says Susan. The Tucks say that Australians regularly spread marinated goat cheese on toast or mix it into scrambled eggs for breakfast, too.
The Tucks knew that this kind of cheese was not common in the United States, but had a hunch that Americans would take to the product’s easy versatility, flavor and convenience. Gerard applied to the Stanford Graduate School of Business and was accepted. The business classes he was taking were all-consuming, and during the 12-month program the family took just one vacation, a long weekend in Sonoma County.
“We’d never heard of it, never been to it and then we came and we’re like, we could totally raise our family here and start the business here,” Susan says.
After Gerard finished his business degree, the family moved to Sonoma and launched their cheese business.
“The way the Silicon Valley is to tech, Sonoma County is to specialty food companies,” says Gerard. “It really fosters those new startups that want to try something different.”
The Tucks named their company Chevoo (pronounced Sha-Voo), a portmanteau of chevre and EVOO (extra virgin olive oil), and sold their first jar of cheese in September 2015. For the first year they worked out of another company’s facility. Then, they opened their very own, custom-built, 10,000-square-foot plant in northern Healdsburg last fall.
“Since opening, we have been approached by two other rapidly growing specialty food brands, and will soon absorb 100 percent of their production into our facility. We will essentially triple or quadruple our production volumes from July 1, 2017, and bring all of that business and employment to Sonoma County,” Gerard says.
At the new facility, small conveyor belts move the glass jars through the production process. First a large metal dispenser pours a sprinkling of pink peppercorns into each jar, then chunks of goat cheese are packed in by hand, followed by just the right amount of olive oil before the jar is sealed and labeled. The olive oil arrives at the facility already infused following a careful recipe developed by the Tucks, and the goat cheese is blended with the various spices and flavors on-site.
“It’s not as though it’s an overnight process,” Gerard says about the different olive oil infusions they use. “They basically take the teabag of the crushed garlic, lemon oil, rosemary out of the oil once it reaches a certain flavor threshold. It’s literally based on taste.” Even the season can affect the timeline, which can take anywhere from four to eight weeks.
Chevoo currently produces three flavors—and will be launching a new one this summer.
Their original flavors include Smoked Sea Salt and Rosemary, Aleppo-Urfa Chili and Lemon, and California Dill Pollen and Garlic. The first flavor listed in each pairing is what is blended into the goat curd. The second is what’s infused in the olive oil. Each combination is the result of Susan and Gerard’s extensive testing, starting back in their kitchen at Stanford, and their relationships with their suppliers.
“We have sourced the highest quality botanicals,” Susan says. “I can’t tell you how many botanicals we tried, and part of the reason it tastes so good is we pay a premium for really good quality spices.”
Each combination is meant to be even more delicious than the sum of its parts. For example, the Urfa spice has an earthiness to it, while the Aleppo chili is fruity and has a lot of heat, according to the Tucks. But it’s the lemon flavor infused into the oil that makes it work. “If you have this product straight off the line, it’s way too hot for me, from the Aleppo,” Susan says. “But then when you put it in the lemon-infused oil, it cuts through the heat.”
In the production facility an employee in a white robe, blue rubber gloves and a hair net is blending small jars of goat cheese with different flavors with an immersion blender. The other day, the Tucks say, they tried 50 different combinations. They’ve become experts on the ratios needed, depending on how spicy or herbaceous or powerful the flavors of the ingredients are.
“We try to stay really open-minded to what might surprise you,” Susan says.
“We are very excited about our new flavor, because we have never tasted anything like it. The flavor combination is Tupelo Honey & Lime—and it is sublime. We are making it by blending Tupelo Honey (from Savannah Bee Company) through our chèvre and then steeping lime in our olive oil blend. The combination is magical, with the nutty floral sweetness of the Tupelo Honey, pairing beautifully with the bright summery freshness of the lime. It may be our best flavor yet,” Gerard says.
The couple’s goal is to produce a product that is convenient, flavorful and encourages people to entertain and cook at home more—a cheese and oil that elevates any meal or snack in between. The cheese can be included on a cheese board or served with bread and charcuterie, of course. But the Tucks suggest trying it melted into pasta, spread on toast with avocado or crumbled over steamed asparagus. The oil is great for dipping bread into or drizzling over salad or pizza, they say.
“There are so many simple meals that can be made with only two ingredients, plus Chevoo,” Gerard says.
“I think we eat more salads because of marinated cheese,” adds Susan. “Our kids eat it a lot on baguette. They’re always putting it on bread. They have it most days instead of butter.”
The Tucks started out going store to store to convince them to carry Chevoo, selling their first jar in the fall of 2015. By the end of 2016 Chevoo was in 400 grocery stores, mostly on the West Coast. It will be on shelves in more than 1,000 stores nationwide by June 29, 2017.
“We have been blown away by the growth and by how quickly people are incorporating Chevoo into their daily lives,” Gerard says.
Locally Chevoo is sold by many independent grocery stores, including Oliver’s Markets, Big John’s in Healdsburg, Pacific Market in Sebastopol and Dahlia & Sage Community Market in Cloverdale. More at: chevoo.com SD