Local cheesemaker Kelly Jeffus and her cheese factory have been voted “Oxford’s Favorite New Business”
Take a drive down Molly Barr to Three-Way, and you’ll spot a shop that made its quiet appearance just a year ago: Johnston Hill Creamery. If you love cheese and shopping local, this place is for you.
Kelly Jeffus hasn’t always made cheese, though her grandfather told her that one of his great-aunts was a cheesemaker generations ago. Originally from the Mobile, Alabama, area, she and her husband Justin moved to Oxford about eight and a half years ago for his dental practice.
Kelly caught the cheese bug while working at GRIT in Taylor; she made a chevre for a New Year’s dish and a feta for another. It quickly became a hobby, then a business plan. She decided on the name Johnston Hill to honor her grandparents, Janice and Jimmy Johnston.
“I actually made cheese in my basement for a while, practicing, and then I went to Vermont back in 2019 for a bootcamp…to learn to make cheese on a larger scale.” She learned to make ten different types of cheeses there and has kept in touch with the consultants for the last two years.
“They actually taught me how to use my vat over Zoom because of the pandemic.” They also shared the plans for their cheese press, which they’d purchased some thirty years ago in Holland and is no longer in production. Kelly had a friend construct one for her business, which opened December 5, 2020.
She says the Oxford community has been very receptive and enjoyed her products, which gives her confidence to keep trying new ideas. Kelly manages the shop’s social media herself, which has generated a lot of business, and she credits local restaurants—GRIT, The Sipp, Snackbar, and Saint Leo–for serving Johnston Hill cheeses and pointing diners her way. Chicory Market also sells a few of her cheeses wrapped.
Some staples on the Johnston Hill shelves are Farmer Brown, a semi-hard Trappist-style cheese with a mild, buttery flavor, and Velvet Dutch, a gouda-style variety rubbed in olive oil, peppercorn, coriander, and garlic. She named Sadie Lady, a double-cream Camembert, after her daughter and Smithy, a sharp manchego-style cheese, after her son, Smith. She is happy to give tips on wine pairings for each of her products.
Kelly also mixes it up with seasonally-inspired cheeses. For the holidays, she’s offering Snowbell, a tomme-style brined in red wine, and Sugar Magnolia, a soft-ripened cheese with pink peppercorns and flowers and wrapped in magnolia leaves. A third holiday variety wrapped in spruce bark sold out almost immediately.
When it comes to entertaining, Johnston Hill has a catering and tailgate menu full of fresh salads, charcuterie trays, dips, honey, olives, desserts, and more. Small bites include hand pies, cannoli, cheesecake dip, and cheesecake bars. Because products do not contain preservatives, Kelly requests 48-hour notice on bakery orders like whole German-style cheesecakes, buttermilk pies, and seasonal tarts.
In addition, Kelly regularly has cheese-making classes open to the public and hosts private classes for six to twelve people, as well. She starts the classes off with a cheese pairing, followed by a ricotta demonstration. Finally, she teaches cheese board-building. Each guest takes home the wooden cheeseboard they designed full of cheese, fruit, crackers, and a new skill to brag about.