Christine Leonard slices cheese in her cheese shack Sept. 1 at her family’s farm near Norwood Young America, Minnesota. Leonard typically fills orders in the mornings before doing farm chores. 
PHOTO BY JENNIFER COYNE
Christine Leonard slices cheese in her cheese shack Sept. 1 at her family’s farm near Norwood Young America, Minnesota. Leonard typically fills orders in the mornings before doing farm chores. PHOTO BY JENNIFER COYNE
    NORWOOD YOUNG AMERICA, Minn. – With an array of artisan cheeses and a creative mindset, Christine Leonard has taken a unique approach to being a part of her family’s dairy farm.
    “I’m telling my story but also telling the story of other farmers and cheesemakers,” Leonard said. “I take a lot of pride in that.”
    Leonard is the sixth generation on her family’s 45-cow dairy farm in Carver County near Norwood Young America. The daughter of Tim and Amy Leonard founded The Grater Good in 2020 as a way to support her farming endeavors.
    The cheese board company provides hand-crafted charcuterie platters filled with fresh dairy products from area farmers, including cheeses made from cow, goat and sheep milks, and foods to compliments those strong dairy flavors.
    “My goal is to support farmers and cheesemakers, so the more local the better,” Leonard said. “My general rule is that if they will ship cheese to me individually, then they’re small enough for me to work with.”
    Leonard receives dairy products as needed, monitoring her website for orders coming in. She also promotes the business online through various social media channels.
    She then spends her mornings making cheese boards before joining her dad in their tiestall barn for chores. Right now, Leonard is making up to 10 platters every week but that number grows fivefold during the holiday season.
    “We milk on a later schedule, so I don’t have to be in the barn until 7:30 a.m.,” Leonard said. “I’m busy with the cheese boards before going out to the barn about three days a week.”
    Leonard’s desire to create charcuterie boards and highlight area cheesemakers came from a long-time wish to milk cows on her family’s farm.
    The 2016 University of Wisconsin-Stout graduate toyed with returning home after receiving a degree in food science and technology with a communication emphasis. But, given the dairy markets at the time, returning home and milking cows just as her parents were doing was not an option.
    Instead, she took a job at a central Minnesota farm and creamery, and learned the art of cheesemaking.
“Before, I didn’t know anything about artisan cheese. I thought Kraft singles were all there was,” Leonard said. “I fell in love with the cheesemaking process and being that close to your food and how it’s made. And, I quickly learned that each cheese has a story.”
    In 2018, Leonard took her knowledge from school and her novice career back home. At the time, she thought the most feasible way to be a part of the family farm was to bottle milk.
    “I like milk, but I like cheese a lot, a lot more,” Leonard said. “At my job, I made cheese boards, and I loved that. People eat with their eyes, so it was exciting to make something pretty to look at.”
    For the following year, Leonard made platters for friends and family. Then in 2019, she and her brother and sister-in-law, David and Ashley Leonard, developed the brand.
    “That year we knew we needed to do something. There was enough interest,” Leonard said. “Then in 2020, we knew we needed to do something and do it properly. I had to get licensed and reach a larger audience.”
    Leonard spent most of last year certifying her family’s farm for the cheese board business and officially became operational at Thanksgiving.
    While the farm’s well was functioning at the requirements of selling Grade A milk, it did not meet the Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Department of Agriculture standards for selling packaged food on site.
    “At first, the inspector told me the well would fail, and I’d have to put in a commercial well. That was going to put me out at least $17,000,” Leonard said. “I dug into the well situation and found there was a rule that my farm and business fell into where we didn’t need to make major changes.”
    The Leonards had to replace the well cap and provide data on the system for its approval.
    “All that resistance I was given at first … if they would’ve only taken the time to hear me out about it,” Leonard said.
At the same time, Leonard was working with her township to allow another building on the farm site. She purchased a cheese shack where she would build her boards.
    “It was a radio announcer booth at the state fair,” Leonard said. “It’s about 12 years old but wasn’t used much. I thought all I’d have to do was put linoleum floors down and paint the walls.”
    To ready the shack, Leonard had to dig for new electric and septic systems that would connect to the house. Ceramic floors had to be used in accordance with food safety laws, as well as the windows being replaced and the walls insulated.
    “It took us six months from purchasing the shack to when we were able to make cheese boards,” Leonard said. “But, I needed to be open for the holidays and we reached that goal.”
    With nearly a year under her belt, Leonard has found her groove in the cheese board business.
    She works closely with cheesemakers to have product on hand when orders are requested, and then turns around the boards in a timely manner for customers to pick up at the farm or delivered in close distances.
    Leonard has also extended her reach by providing cheese pairing classes.
    “If you’re going to buy a board, I want to give you an experience and want you to know that I made this for you,” Leonard said. “Pairing is like taking music notes and putting them together to get a symphony.”
    One of Leonard’s favorite parts of the job is interacting with her customers.
    “I love talking about how cheese is made,” she said. “People have so many questions, and I come back from those events electrified. This is another way to tell the story of agriculture.”
    The young entrepreneur has high hopes for her business, but she is humble in her approach.
    “My motto has been, ‘Plans are useless but planning is everything,’” Leonard said. “I have a lot of goals and dreams. And what if none of that comes to fruition? It’s the journey and the experiences in reaching those goals.”
    Ultimately, the cheese platter business has accomplished one very large goal for this Minnesota farmer.
    “With all my ideas and goals, I have to always go back to my conscience and why I started this,” Leonard said. “I started The Grater Good because I wanted to milk cows.”