Yoav Perry is extremely enthusiastic about cheese. You’d have to be to do what he’s doing in Olde Kensington right now: In a reclaimed shipping container inside a raw production space on Hancock Street, Perry is busy separating curds from whey, ladling fresh cheese into molds, and flavoring drinkable yogurts and whey “tonics” with salted caramel and pistachio. With his forthcoming creamery, Perrystead Dairy, Perry will join a robust community of cheese people in Pennsylvania, eager to do justice to the commonwealth’s dairy history.
In making his cheeses, yogurts, and kefir, which will be available for purchase this spring, Perry will only work with local dairy farms in the surrounding counties, like Montgomery and West Chester. That decision is motivated by what Perry calls a “disaster” in Pennsylvania dairy farming. “We went from [being] the number four state in dairy production to number seven in a matter of three years,” Perry says, partially due to changing diets and partially due to declining dairy prices. When restaurants were closed last year due to the COVID-19 crisis, many dairy farmers were forced to dump their milk.
In attempt to turn this around, the state has been encouraging cheesemakers to take milk in its raw form from grass-fed cows in the region and process it into “high-value products,” Perry says. “That means two things: hand-crafted, small-batch, seasonal cheese and the more scalable part of the business — fermented yogurt, kefir, and whey tonic,” Perry says. (For the uninitiated, whey tonic is a fizzy, probiotic drink produced from whey that most makers throw out.)
Perry moved with his family to Philly from New York in 2016, a decision that was partially motivated by Perry’s interest in Pennsylvania’s rich dairy history. Perry worked for many years in cheesemaking and consulting, so had come to respect cheese made from dairy cows in Pennsylvania.
“This is the only city, maybe with the exception of San Francisco or New York City, that actually has a cheese scene,” Perry says. “I don’t even think Madison, Wisconsin has a cheese scene like we do here. There are great mongers and great makers, and we’re surrounded with rich farmland in surrounding counties.”
The neighborhood where Perry has been building his creamery is also an encouraging place to be a maker, he says. “This whole area is really a makers corridor,” Perry says of the Olde Kensington neighborhood. Fermentery Form and Punch Buggy Brewing Company are all within walking distance, and Mural City Cellars, Philadelphia Brewing Co., and bakeries like Lost Bread Co. are not far off. Riverwards Produce, where Perry sold a 100-day aged raw milk soft cheese in partnership with Merion Park in December, is nearby, too. “There are so many food makers here, but also in Philly in general.”
Due to FDA limitations, the dairy has to be specific about cleanliness and who gets to visit, so Perrystead Dairy won’t be open to the public in a traditional sense. “The creamery is purely a production space,” Perry says. They may develop a retail space eventually, and the front of the creamery could become the place where Perry hosts small events or cheese courses. But the real focus for now is the creamery’s front yard. By mid-spring, Perry is hoping to open a weekly weekend makers market there, where he’ll sell his seasonal small-batch cheeses and yogurts, as well as invite other makers in the community to visit.
“This won’t be some esoteric elitist market,” he says. Ideally, he’ll host six to 12 merchants every Friday, and have a food truck on Saturday. “I have this whole philosophy of making the best product in the world but it can never, ever be esoteric.” For that reason, people can follow along on social media to see Perrystead Dairy’s production as they get going. “I’m not going to be 1900-Ice-Cream, exactly, but we’re going to be very open,” Perry says. “You can see what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”