Say Cheese: and eat some, too

From gouda, cheddar and chevre, a local cheese maker is on a mission to sell cheese while providing work for men and women who want a fresh start in life.

You can find it all over the country.

It's made right here in the Tri-States.

From gouda, cheddar and chevre, a local cheese maker is on a mission to sell cheese while providing work for men and women who want a fresh start in life.

KHQA's Rajah Maples visited Heartland Creamery to show you what it takes to get the cheese in the grocery stores.

Heartland Creamery's cheese can be found in Hy-Vee grocery stores, Schnucks, Whole Foods and the Mark Twain Cave in Hannibal. Heartland Creamery is also in talks to get its products into Costco stores. The creamery follows strict food safety guidelines, which is why everyone must put on white coats, hair nets and booties before entering.

We walk through a chlorinated sanitizer, then wash our hands before getting anywhere near the cheese.

"We're a farmstead company, Heartland Creamery, which what that means is we own all of our own cows. All of our own goats. So we milk the goats. We milk the cows," Jared McCoy said. "The milk is pasteurized, then transported to this area to make cheese."

This is the cheddaring stage. Workers cut the cheese then flip it to help remove some of the moisture and create an acidic Ph level. The cheese gets pressed into 20 pound blocks. It's then placed into a cooler, where it'll go through an aging process from anywhere from 30 days to 8 months.

"Also during the aging process, every day, we have guys come in here and the cheese gets flipped everyday. So that's just one of the other steps we do during the aging process. Once the cheese is done aging and we feel it's ready to go, we'll observe it, taste it," McCoy said.

Does it pass the taste test, Charlie?

"This is wonderful!" Charles Sharpe said.

"When we feel like they're ready to go, and they're ready to sell, the last thing we'll do is we cut it and package it," McCoy said. "Once the cheese is packaged, we put at least 6 months on it as a shelf life, and the cheese will last a long time."

This weekend, the Mark Twain Cave in Hannibal will launch its Cave-Aged Cheese, which comes from Heartland Creamery.

Area residents will have a chance to meet the so called, "cheese masters" who make the cheese.

There will also be a free petting zoo for the kids and wine tastings for the adults.

Heartland Owner and Founder Charles Sharpe hopes this cheese business will help fund a larger purpose.

He started Heartland ministries 17 years ago.

It's a faith-based community in northeast Missouri designed to help hurting people get a fresh start in life.

Heartland is located at the corner of the Lewis, Knox and Shelby county lines. The community has its own water tower, gas station, school, 2-year-college, restaurant, medical center and bank.

People from all over the country come here to Heartland to live and work. Many of whom have fallen on hard times or made bad choices. All staff live in provided housing. To pay their rent, they work to keep Heartland running.

Sharpe said, "We realized there was a great need because of the hurting people in the country. In 1970, there were 250,000 people in prison in the United States. Today, there are more than 2 million people in prison in the U.S., and that number is growing immensely. The problem is, the prisons are really not doing the people any good. The violent people, the people that hurt people. They've got to be locked up. But the other people, there's gotta be a better treatment. So we thought that starting Heartland would help give people a work ethic to teach them Biblical principles because we are a Christ-centered place and to give them an opportunity to know right from wrong. A lot of people really don't know right from wrong."

Sharpe says there are more than 100 people on a waiting list.

"We don't have beds, and we don't have jobs," he said. "You have to have a job for a person because a person without a job, they're not doing much for themselves or society. So we give them jobs when they come here, and we have to keep growing. We're getting ready to double our dairy size from 3600 cows to 7000 just so we have jobs for people."

Do you see an increased need for this kind of service?

"It's overwhelming," Sharpe said. "I don't even know whether most people have an idea of how bad it is. The millions of people who's on drugs and alcohol that are eventually, if we don't check this rate, it will destroy our country."

Is it difficult to keep this place open financially?

Sharpe answered, "It's difficult, yes, it is. We fund it personally. We don't take any $ from the government or anyone. now if someone wants to give us money, we'll take it. That hasn't been a big problem up to this point, so yes, we finance it. We started this out as something to make a profit, but so far, it's been non-profit and we hope to change that soon."

Charlie, you could've taken your money and built an island, why did you decide to do this?

"The lord spoke to me to do this," Sharpe said. "I had no idea. I was 67 at the time. I'll be 85 in june. I had no idea of doing this, but I felt like this is what god wanted me to do, so my wife and i decided to take our money and do this. We don't care much about islands. "

According to Heartland's Web site, several thousand young people and adults have passed through the program to get back on their feet.