© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kansas City’s cheesemakers Green Dirt Farm opening new space in the Crossroads

Three people hug each other outdoors in front of a brick building with several large windows. Behind them are signs in the windows that read "Opening Soon" and "Green Dirt Farm."
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
From left: Matthew Gude, general manager; Sarah Hoffmann, the "Big Cheese," and Oskar Arévalo, executive chef, are planning to open the Green Dirt Farm Crossroads location in March at 16th and Oak Street.

Green Dirt Farm is opening a new restaurant next month that will bring its sheep’s milk cheeses to the Crossroads — in a spot now under threat from the new Royals stadium. The new restaurant is closer to the farm’s Kansas City clientele, and gives it a chance to expand production.

More than 20 years ago, Sarah Hoffmann set out to heal the land near her home in Weston, Missouri. She thought about vegetable farming, but it wouldn’t regenerate the native prairie grasses or root structures she was trying to save.

So she started Green Dirt Farm, a sheep farm that first sold cheese in 2008.

“We were going to do everything that we could to be the most environmentally and ecologically sustainable farm business that we could,” Hoffmann said. “That feeds into why our cheeses are so delicious.”

In 2009, it won a blue ribbon at the American Cheese Society's annual competition. Since then, its cheeses have won more than 80 other awards at various cheese competitions.

Now, Hoffmann and her team are expanding Green Dirt Farm and opening a second restaurant on Oak Street in the Crossroads, closer to most of the Weston farm and cafe’s clientele.

The Kansas City restaurant will offer a more elevated dining experience than the Weston café, but it’s still intimately tied to the land where the cheese begins.

The Kansas City location will produce Green Dirt’s specialty Prairie Tomme cheese and its fresh cheese. The spreadable fresh cheese is only aged for a week, while the hard Prairie Tomme ages for months. The Prairie Tomme is listed as Culture Magazine’s top 60 cheeses in the world and has won a slew of other awards.

A wheel of cheese with a sheep on it sits on a wire rack
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Green Dirt Farm's Prairie Tomme has won a slew of awards, including being named one of Culture Magazine's best cheeses in the world in 2024.

To make the cheese, the team has to store the milk for the perfect amount of time and get as much of it into the batch as possible to maximize butter fat. They then press it into rounds and put it into fridges to age. Each wheel has an imprint of a sheep.

When it’s first made, the Prairie Tomme is green, because the salt and milk are still getting to know each other. It’s put into a humid fridge room to ferment and bloom, and the rind develops with the help of good mold. It turns a sort of orange color, then hardens and dulls into a warm gray when it’s done. It ages for three to six months.

Helen Cowan is in charge of cheese production at Green Dirt Farm and moved to Missouri from a cheesemaking operation in Vermont.

“It's really a satisfying job to have because at the end of the day, at the end of the month, at the end of the six-month aging period, you have something physical to show people,” Cowan said. “And not only can you show it, but you can cut it open and you're like, ‘Here, I made this. Eat it.’”

A woman in a white coat and red hair net holds a wheel of cheese in a fridge room. Behind her are wire shelves with wheels of cheese stacked on them.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Helen Cowan came to Green Dirt Farm from Vermont, where she made both cow's and goat's milk cheeses. She says sheep are the most dramatic of the dairy animals, but that the effort is worth it.

Construction delays have pushed back the opening of the Crossroads restaurant and cheese facility multiple times, but Hoffmann and her team are eager to begin serving customers after three years of working to make it happen.

Their hard-fought location is now threatened by the Royal’s proposed stadium in the Crossroads, which would require the demolition of the restaurant and more than a dozen other businesses.

The entire Green Dirt team is committed to remaining open for as long as they can. Hoffmann also hopes the stadium won’t go in the Crossroads after all; instead, she’s trying to stay optimistic about her business’s future.

“We've spent a tremendous amount of creative energy, time, blood, sweat, tears and money to get this to where it is now,” Hoffmann said. “These are jobs that pay way better than minimum wage, that offer benefits. I just don't think that the stadium jobs are going to offer that kind of commitment and value to the community.”

Hoffmann said Green Dirt Farm needs the Oak Street space to stay economically sustainable for years to come. If the building, which she owns, eventually gets torn down, she hopes they’re able to make cheese and serve meals for a while first.

For now, the Green Dirt team is readying the space to welcome guests.

Three people sit in a circular bench inside a large room that is illuminated by many windows lining the space. They are looking at the camera and smiling.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Arévalo, Gude and Hoffmann sit in the second-floor dining area inside Green Dirt Farm where they are remodeling the historic building at 16th and Oak with hopes of opening sometime in March.

From one side of the restaurant, diners will be able to see into the aging rooms — bigger than the ones in Weston — for a peek at the cheese that could end up on their charcuterie boards or complement the sustainably raised meat in their entrees.

Executive Chef Oskar Arévalo wants the menu and atmosphere to feel intimate and nostalgic, like dining at the home of a friend who makes great food.

“Whenever I get into a dinner or something like that, we start talking about the food,” Arévalo said. “We're not actually talking about the food, we're talking about the community, the people at the table.”

The restaurant has elements of fine dining, but Arévalo and General Manager Matthew Gude want it to feel casual enough for people to regularly visit.

It opens into a lounge area where restaurant patrons can have a “cheese hour” filled with charcuterie boards and drinks. The breakfast and lunch menu will feature shareable and handheld food, and the expanded dinner menu will have offerings like lamb tartare.

“There are those restaurants that are birthday restaurants or anniversary restaurants or once-a-year restaurants,” Gude said. “I don't want that to be this place. I want this to be something you think of all the time, for many different reasons..”

A white sheep stands eating straw while other sheep lay down around it.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Green Dirt Farm currently has more than 100 sheep whose milk is used to make cheese. That results in more than 30,000 pounds of cheese per year. With the expansion on Oak Street in Kansas City, the farm will be able to make even more cheese.

The menu will be seasonal, just like the cheese production. Customers won’t be able to order a whole rack of lamb, because Arévalo wants to be sure to use the whole animal — and is sourcing the most environmentally friendly ingredients possible. Because Missouri is landlocked, Arévalo is still figuring out how to get fish on the spring menu in a sustainable way.

“Being able to serve meat and dairy the way that we raise it gives us peace of mind,” Arévalo said. “I hope that our customers will enjoy the story of the food as much as what we're able to put on the plate.”

Customers who need a quicker cheese fix can stop in to buy some cheese from their deli case. Hoffmann says the Crossroads operation will help cut down costs for the farm’s wholesale cheese purchasers and allow the team to increase production, so Kansas City customers can eat Green Dirt cheese more often and for less money.

“That journey starts with the dirt and goes to the grass, then the sheep, then the milk, then the cheese, and then our community,” Hoffmann said. “Bringing our cheese to the community down here is like the culmination of a very big dream for me.”

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.