I’m sitting in my living room in my favorite oversized chair. The snow is falling on the fields outside my window, but the warmth of the fire is enough to keep me comfortable. My family and I have been living here, on the land owned by my family, the land that was owned by those who enslaved them, for four years now. It seems fitting that this is where I choose to live, I am reminded of the hardships of my family everyday and the struggles of BIPOC individuals in all aspects of their lives. This is why I fight for diversity. This is why I fight for equity and inclusion, because those that came before me fought, too. In their lives and in their work they fought, and in my work in the cheese industry I must continue to fight.
It has been four years since I moved to southeastern Virginia to live on this land, and five years since I began my nonprofit journey. I am fighting for diversity in the cheese industry, and living the reality and struggles of a Black woman on land owned by her Black family. The small victory of making it to five years as a nonprofit is a milestone. I knew nothing of nonprofits when I started the Cheese Culture Coalition, but we have done so much good work. To commemorate this moment, I have spent most of my day speaking to my board and finalizing details for our five year anniversary party. There is so much work to do, but we have come so far in helping BIPOC individuals find their passion for cheese.
By mid 2020, I was able to get the Cheese Culture Coalition nonprofit going. The force behind it all, the desire to give the BIPOC community a better chance in the cheese world and to make the cheese industry more diverse, drove me to get the organization off the ground. I started by creating the bones of the organization, my two programs, the Cheese Education Grant and the Cheese Education Program. The Cheese Education Grant was to be given to BIPOC individuals with an interest in beginning, expanding, or advancing their careers in the cheese industry. The Cheese Education Program specifically focused on the cheese education of school aged students in underrepresented communities. This program was to bring comprehensive cheese education to schools through assemblies or workshops in which a volunteer went directly to the students. I brought on a fellow Certified Cheese Professional and Team Leader at Whole Foods, Nicole, to be my secretary and only board member, and we were then able to secure a fiscal sponsorship with Cheeseletes. I was excited to have the support of a nonprofit whose goal was geared towards helping educational nonprofits like myself, and thankful to have an advisory board to guide me.
We launched a social media campaign on September 1st, 2020 with the help of several well known influencers in the cheese world, and were able to raise $3,000 by campaign close on September 28th. As the classes were free to students, this amount covered the cheese plates and reading material for 120 students and gave us some breathing room for 2021.
From the middle of August until the end of September, we built up our board and were able to put together our first lesson plans. The plans consisted of lessons on how cheese is made and an introduction to cheese types. The cheese plates, which were picked up by the students, were made by a local central Texas cheese shop called Antonelli’s. I had worked there for their events team hosting cheese classes and the owners, Kendall and John, were greatly immersed in the cheese industry themselves. They had been hugely helpful in the beginning stages of the organization and offered to provide cheese plates for our first class to aid in the budget.
We also produced printed material for students so they could follow along as we taught. On October 5th, we hosted our first class with a group of seniors from the Del Valle Career and Technology Education program. They were all able to pick up their cheese boards and materials, and we were able to keep them engaged and excited! With the first class behind us, our confidence grew, and we were ready and ecstatic for all the classes to come.
By 2023, we had introduced cheese to students in underrepresented communities in over 20 states. Volunteers from all over the country taught students in their communities, and influenced the lives of kids that may never have thought of cheese as a career choice. Our teachers made connections with kids from New York to Long Beach and everywhere in between. A high school senior from a school on the North side of St. Louis, a BIPOC community, applied for and was awarded the third Cheese Education Grant after discovering her passion through one of our classes.
In 2025, I entered my fourth year as the Executive Director of the Cheese Culture Coalition. By this time, our organization had helped increase BIPOC presence in the cheese world. The work of the organization had directly produced two BIPOC cheesemakers through the Cheese Education Grant, and their work inspired the next generation of BIPOC students through their appearance in our classes. Three recipients of the Cheese Education Grant took their passion for more cheese knowledge across borders. The first used money to learn of traditional cheesemaking in Nigeria, the second explored Latin America, and the third went to India. All four of the recipients now regularly volunteer with the Cheese Culture Coalition.
As 2025 comes to a close, I begin to plan for our five year anniversary party. I start by calling everyone from my board to make preparations, and as we do, we share stories of how we came to be involved in the Cheese Culture Coalition. By this time, the board has become a melting pot of ideas and knowledge, made up of a diverse group of cheese people; lawyers, accountants, and other various walks of life. None of us can believe how far we have come and how our group has come together to reach a common goal. The Cheese Culture Coalition’s five year anniversary means something different for each of us, but for all of us, it is a time to celebrate. We will celebrate reaching for our goal of increased inclusivity and equity in the cheese industry. We will celebrate raising over $50,000 to help spread cheese knowledge to BIPOC students in underrepresented communities and advancing BIPOC cheese careers. We will celebrate the 1,505 BIPOC lives that we have touched through spreading the love of cheese to whoever has the passion for it, because after all, cheese is for everyone.