LAURA CHENEL Founder and Owner of Laura Chenel's Chevre, Inc.
1979: After studying cheese production methods in France, Chenel originates American Chevre, which quickly becomes a signature ingredient in the then-new American cuisine.
Laura Chenel, founder and owner of Laura Chenel's Chèvre, Inc., originated American
chèvre in 1979. Her cheese quickly became a signature ingredient in the newly-emerging
American cuisine. Her success brought visibility to American specialty cheese, inspiring
producers to develop new varieties and providing chefs with a new range of ingredients to use.
Born in 1949 in Sonoma County, California, Chenel has long championed flavorful food. Her innate curiosity took her to Holland and the rest of Europe as an exchange student at the age of seventeen. Later she became an organic gardener and was general manager of her parents' Sebastopol restaurant. Her interest in gardening expanded to small animal husbandry, including dairy goats. Intrigued by the rich flavor and abundance of her goats' milk, she began her experiments with cheese making. In 1979 she turned to Jean-Claude Le Jaouen, the foremost French authority on chèvre production. As his protégée, she traveled to France to live with and study the methods of four producers over a three month period. Upon her return to Sonoma County, she combined the cheese making techniques she had learned with her own ideas. When she offered her cheese to Alice Waters at Chez Panisse restaurant, Alice immediately placed a standing order and Laura Chenel's Chèvre was launched.
In 1981, Chenel purchased and remodeled a small food plant in Santa Rosa. She imported French cheese forms while local fabricators built other equipment to her designs. In order to concentrate on cheese making, the goats were sold. Because her cheeses were unfamiliar to chefs, retailers, and consumers alike, Chenel sampled, demonstrated, lectured and worked individually with chefs and buyers. To educate consumers, she wrote Chèvre The Goat Cheese Cookbook in 1983 with Linda Siegfried. In 1987 she and Siegfried wrote American Country Cheese, featuring American specialty cheeses and recipes for their use.
Throughout the '80s, Chenel focused on producing consistent, high quality cheeses. As
production grew to meet demand, she hired qualified staff to oversee and streamline daily
production and introduce new procedures for quality control. By the early '90s, she began planning the next stages of growth and, in 1993, moved the business into Al Stornetta's historic Gold Medal Dairy south of Sonoma. At Stornetta and Laura Chenel's Chèvre renovated the milk bottling plant into a thoroughly modern cheese making facility. There is additional room for a retail shop and a dairy goat herd.
Chenel served on the Board of Directors of the American Cheese Society throughout the
'80s. In 1984, in recognition of her unique influence on the development of American
cuisine, she was among the first 50 inductees to "Who's Who of Cooking In America". Also in 1984, she won the Sonoma County Woman of Achievement Award. In 1989 the
Northern California Chapter of the American Institute of Wine and Food presented her with the first Wine and Food Achievement Award In Food Processing.
Chenel continues to oversee all aspects of her business from the development of new
cheeses through production and sales. Success and growth have not modified her original
inspiration: an unyielding desire to make exceptional goat cheeses.