If you’re like me, food is kind of your thing. As of today I couldn’t tell you who won Oscars a few nights ago, if I watched the Grammys I wouldn’t know the singers, and I only know the Colts are in town due to the sea of blue jerseys. But name a local restaurant and I can certainly tell you the chef, and my social media feeds are full of pictures, articles, and headlines around food. Being a food “groupie”, one of the rockstars of that world that I have followed is Fons Smits. I first heard of Smits when I was in culinary school, when Chef-Instuctor Thom England talked about the unique cheeses being made at Traders Point Creamery. (We featured Chef Brandon Canfield of The Loft Restaurant at Traders Point Creamery last week)
After working with Ludwig Creamery in Illinois, Fons finally decided it was time to start his own operation, and opened Tulip Tree Creamery in Zionsville. Originally from the Netherlands, Smits traveled the world before settling here, and is still sought after as a consultant, presenter, and educator on cheesemaking. Also traveling with Fons in his cheesemaking endeavors has been Laura Davenport, the only other full time employee of Tulip Tree. Laura is responsible for sales and marketing of the operation. Helping both of them is Stephanie Montalban, who plays the dual roles of managing the cheeses once they are in the aging process, and also managing the farmers market booths.
At Tulip Tree, everything is made by hand and is based on traditional European cheese formulas. Using these recipes as a base, Smits calls upon his vast experience and develops cheeses with his own unique spin. Hands down the most popular item from Tulip Tree is the Fromage Frais, a soft spreadable cheese that can be used on crackers, sandwiches, vegetables, or even just by itself. (speaking from experience you will use it up quickly) The Trillium-a bloomy rind cheese-follows second in popularity to the Fromage Frais. Davenport stresses the versatility of their cheeses, encouraging you to simply experiment with them. Taste it alone, taste it with other foods, and taste it with different beers, wines and ciders. One of their vendors even turned the trillium into a sweet cheesecake style dessert!
I am happy to feature Tulip Tree because they are “ripe” with Indiana connections. Smits has called Zionsville home for over 10 years. All of the milk used in Tulip Tree production comes from Indiana farms. And for the double Indiana whammy, their double cream Foxglove cheese is washed in a 3 Wisemen beer that happens to be a porter brewed with Hubbard and Cravens coffee. Davenport encourages everyone to push through the strong smell of this cheese, and just go ahead and give it a try-it’s her favorite.
In fact, you can find Tulip Tree virtually every Saturday morning of the year, at Indianapolis area farmers markets and winter markets, where you can sample any cheese that they have with them. They are also at many of the retail markets which carry local foods, where most likely you can also get a sample. Check out their website for more information on locations. While they may open their own retail outlet in the future, what excites Smits and Davenport the most is developing an education program, teaching Hoosiers how to make, serve, and pair cheeses. If you are a foodie groupie too, you’ll probably find me first in line for those sessions.