Sue Kurta is cool.
There are tons of endearing terms that could be used to describe the cheese-making, rabbit-rescuing, art collecting, Kingsley woman, but as I sat in Sue’s cheese-making facility and listened to her story, all I could think is, ‘This lady is cool.’
If you don’t know Sue, you may be familiar with her local business Boss Mouse Cheese. Her cheesemaking facility sits behind her Victorian-era farmhouse, and next to a historic barn that a crew of rescue bunnies call home. If anyone would have told her 20 years ago that this is what her life would look like, she probably wouldn’t believe it.
Sue is part proud Michigander, part proud New Yorker.
“I lived in New York in the ‘80s, when it smelled like pee. I had a walkup apartment, it was another life. I was working in the record industry. I’m crazy for music, so I worked in it for a long time.”
But with the fast-paced work life came long nights, and eventually, burnout. She left the industry but took with her the strong management and administrative skills that she had built up.
She took on doing management consulting independently, which led to her getting a job at a consulting firm.
“I had great bosses. I worked at their offices in Chicago, Atlanta and New York. At that time, I was also a fitness teacher and I had a class at the American Express home office. One day I was teaching a class and I heard that the CFO of Amex was looking for a secretary. I thought, ‘I’m gonna try for that job.’ Long story short, I got the job. I was very proud.”
Her outstanding administrative skills at American Express landed her another opportunity with corporate Citigroup. It was there that she started taking small steps to figure out how she could be her most authentic self. Sue’s arms are covered with colorful tattoos that represent pieces of her life that are important to her, including one of a rabbit, and of Michigan. Her first executive assistant job with American Express she kept her tattoos covered.
“I took it so seriously, but what I learned, and I still believe this – that wasn’t really me. So when we moved to Citigroup I thought, ‘you know what? I’m just really going to be me. All the time.’ I still dressed professionally, but I let my tattoos show or I’d wear my cool vintage dresses. It was so much better.”
It was one of a series of awakenings Sue had about herself and the direction of her life.
Like a lot of people, she hadn’t yet fully realized that a job doesn’t define who you are. Of course it provides a sense of accomplishment but we need to work. Sue started considering other facets of her life, like her hobbies and where she spent her free time. The answer she kept coming back to was cheesemaking.
A wine and cheese class held inside of Murray’s Cheese Bar in New York City sparked a flurry of cheesemaking projects in her own kitchen.
“So I started to dabble at home, it was just a hobby. Then I wanted to go further with it. Because I lived on the East Coast there was this really robust cheese scene. I would go upstate New York and sign up for stuff like Beginner Cheesemaker Weekend. I began spending a lot of time on farms and with cheesemakers. I’d be on these farms thinking, ‘I think I love farms.’
When a three month apprenticeship opened up on a farm that makes cheese in Maine, Sue jumped at the opportunity. The owners were going to Europe for a few months and needed a farm sitter.
“It was an epiphany moment in my life. I made cheese, milked goats, lived in the country, met my first rabbit. I took care of it all and I loved it. That’s when I really knew – this is how I want to live.”
She took that rabbit home with her. He had been in bad shape and in need of care. It was that rabbit that led her to rescuing others that now all happily live at her Kingsley farm.
She bought it sight unseen while still living in New York. After relocating from NYC she worked full time while making cheese at home and selling it at the Sara Hardy Farmers Market on the weekends. When the cheese started bringing in more money than her full time job she quit and started doing Boss Mouse Cheese full time.
She built a cheesemaking shop on her farm to get a full dairy license from the Department of Agriculture.
“It’s been six years of doing it full time,” she said. “I never wanted to be a cheese maker, I just wanted to do a little bit but when you’re pursuing something you like you feel so fulfilled.”
Her cheeses can still be found at the farmers market, but now, is also available locally and throughout Michigan restaurants and food markets.
As for the name?
“I love humor, everything makes me laugh. Mice and cheese go together, and I’m such a tiny cheesemaker in the scale of things so it’s like a big-little thing.”
Find out more about Sue and her small but mighty Boss Mouse Cheese at www.bossmousecheese.com
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