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Scene in South Bend: Oh Mamma’s on the Avenue

| Thursday, March 19, 2015

scene-web-bannerKeri O'Mara

Oh Mamma’s on The Avenue, a cheese store and deli located in the market district of South Bend, exists somewhere between the past and the present. Equipped with all the features of a typical restaurant, the establishment still exudes a certain kind of old-world charm: pictures of previous farmers line the walls, patrons that shuffle in are greeted by their first name, cannolis are generously handed out while customers wait in line. The tradition of dairy farming is an established one for owner Joe Klinedinst, with three generations of dairy farmers serving St. Joseph County. “I raised dairy goats my whole life. I’m from an Italian-German family — of Italian descent — and that picture right there is circa 1929, and that would be my great uncle in Mishawaka,” explains Klinedinst. The third generation of dairy farmers in the area, Klinedinst and his wife Jody have continued to maintain the family business. “It’s a family operation, it’s myself and my wife, Jody, and then we have three children, Sophia, Joseph and Francis, and then we have one on the way,” explains Klinedinst. “The [children] are in 4H, the 4H goat club. They get up and help milk and do chores both before and after school.”

Despite the coziness and name, an effort to capture the “Italian, European flair” of the establishment, Oh Mamma’s is anything but antiquated. While speaking to Klinedinst, I learn how Oh Mamma’s is very up-to-date on the latest techniques in cheese making and dairy farming. “We are working on putting in Indiana’s first underground cheese cave,” explains Klinedinst. I quickly inquire as to what exactly a cheese cave is, perhaps showing my rudimentary knowledge of how exactly cheese is created. “It’s underground, six foot [sic] of Earth on top, 12 x 40, and we’ll age cheeses in there, all different types. Cow, goat, mixed species.”

To the uninitiated, milk is milk. We buy it from the store, whole, two percent, one percent or skim. For Klinedinst, however, the selection of dairy is much more nuanced than that, and patrons should expect some differences when they taste his farm fresh goat cheese. “Goat’s milk is naturally homogenized, which means the cream doesn’t rise to the top. You get a jug of cow’s milk from the store, and the cream doesn’t rise to the top, so it’s easier for you to digest. Goat’s milk just comes out that way, it’s naturally like that,” explains Klinedinst. “More people in the world actually drink goat’s milk and not cow’s milk, and when you compare the milks, [goat’s milk] is a little richer and higher in butter fat, but if it’s handled properly shouldn’t taste any different. As far as the cheeses go, goat’s milk cheese can just be a little more tangy or tart, they can be really rich.” Deciding to taste the cheese for myself, I sample the Farmhouse Feta, one of the over 300 cheeses offered along with cured meats, olives and a variety of other products. Marinated in an olive oil and olive brine, this cheese had me reconsidering my previously expressed distaste for feta. Between the delicious sandwiches, cannolis and olive salads, it’s easy to spend an afternoon at Oh Mamma’s eating and preemptively deciding what to purchase during a future visit.

Klinedinst also taught me a thing or two about the cheesemaking process, and what makes his product unique from other cheeses. His family has always been committed to dairy goats, but now it seems the rest of the world is catching up.

“I actually just read an article in agribusiness in the U.S., in Indiana agribusiness and goat’s milk and goat species and their products are one of the largest growing farm segments in the country,” he said.

The Oh Mamma’s storefront located at 1212 Beyer Ave, South Bend, IN is just one of many locations that cheese-lovers can find Klinedinst’s products. Selling out of the South Bend Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, a 45-goat farm in Walkerton, IN, open-air markets in New Buffalo and several South Bend establishments such as South Bend Brew Werks and LaSalle Grille, patrons all across St. Joseph’s County have the opportunity to sample the cheese. With cheese baskets and catering for Easter, graduation parties and weddings, Oh Mamma’s is preparing for a busy season. After tasting the delicious and expansive selection of deli products offered, patrons may find themselves coming back time and time again.

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