In tonight’s edition of “Things Around Erin’s Shanty,” I’m featuring the print of a painting I made for my brother Corey several years ago, to memorialize our legendary trip to Sugarcreek, Ohio. We went to Heini’s, a cheese place, and encountered several fascinating characters and peed our pants from laughing so much.
One of those characters was the guy doling out samples of THE BEST BUTTER IN THE WORLD. Would you care to read about him and our magical visit to Heini’s? Sure you would. You’re self-isolating – you need shit to read!
Once the world reopens, I would like to go back to Sugarcreek. I need some butter.
I felt kind of bad that Corey and I opted to visit Heini’s Cheese Chalet over our dad’s suggestion of Walnut Creek Cheese. He’s a self-professed expert on Ohio Amish Country, so I don’t doubt that Walnut Creek Cheese is a wonderful establishment. However, when I did my own research last week and stumbled upon Heini’s Cheese Chalet, I was like, “Holy fuck, this is the one.” Because:
- it’s a cheese CHALET
- it’s called HEINI’S
- it offers cheese factory tours!!
I texted Corey and he was like FUCK YES HEINI’S. I noted that some of the Yelp reviews mentioned it was imperative to get there before 11:30, because that’s when it gets really crowded. We made it to Millersburg around 10:45, after squealing and pointing at all of the Amish buggies we passed along the way because we are Those People Who Remind the Amish Why They Chose That Path. …because they don’t want to be American assholes like us. We pulled into the parking lot of Heini’s at the same time as a large tour bus, and I was like “WHAT IF THE CHEESE TOUR FILLS UP?!” so we ran toward the entrance at the same time as four older woman, who laughed at us because they too were trying to beat the bus. THEY EVEN HELD THE DOOR OPEN FOR US. Corey and I thanked them sweetly and then exchanged excited LOOK AT US, MAKING FRIENDS! looks. If those old ladies really knew! I went straight to the restroom, knowing that an empty bladder was imperative considering how quick I am to laugh to the point of pee-drops.
When I came out, I found Corey standing near an information kiosk with a comically-old man who said he was willing to give us a tour anytime we’d like. Which obviously was RIGHTNOW. This was around the time that I realized literally no one, not one single fanny-packed Midwesterner, was trying to get a spot on this critically-acclaimed tour. It was just me and Corey with some old guy in a Cosby sweater who was extremely stoked to tell us the story of how cheese is born. We got started at the beginning of a hallway, where we could peek through windows into a large factory-room with industrial-sized bins where milk apparently does things. There was no cheese being made at the time, so our guide kept expecting us to “imagine” the process, but you guys. I have to admit, it was pretty boring. Curds and whey and blah blah blah. Corey looked extremely bored. He spent most of the time looking away, and all I could think was, “Oh no. Corey’s not having fun! I built this cheese tour up too much!” But then I quickly realized that he was trying not to make eye contact with me because he knew, and I knew, that we would both start laughing. While fidgeting to get my phone to start recording, I tried to occasionally nod my head and say things like, “Wow” and “Whoa.” I mean, this guy was so into it, almost treating it like it was the greatest bedtime story ever told, and I waited for him to invite Corey and me to sit on his knees so he could be better inspired to tell us wayback stories about how he used to walk 40 miles in cardboard-soled shoes in the winter to fetch Heini cheese for his mother while Father was in town watching nudies at the theater.
“And this is the man who invented yogurt cheese right here at Heini’s!” Father Cheese proudly exclaimed, and then stepped back to watch Corey and I gape at the portrait. I was surprised that the yogurt cheese man wasn’t a Heini! Man, he must be heralded by all those lactose intolerants.
We moved at a snail’s pace down that hallway, pausing to peer through new windows that offered the same views of large, steel vat-things, and I became acutely aware of the fact that the cheese shop had become twice as crowded since we started our tour. People were shoving cheese samples into their gluttonous maws mere feet from where we stood, listening to Father Cheese talk about the aging process for sharp varieties, like your CHEDDARS AND SUCH. I could feel the giddiness begin to churn deep inside my gut, just like all that HOT MILK THAT MAKES THE CHEESE. I just kept chewing on the inside of my cheek, digging my fingernails into my palms, and repeating “Don’t make eye contact with Corey” over and over. I was thinking that maybe I was going to make it through without making a complete asshole of myself! I found out later that Corey too was employing the physical pain infliction method of curbing the giggles, along with the classic “thinking about depressing things” tactic.
“What kinds of things do you like in your cheese?” he interrupted his curd-y fact-sharing to ask us. Corey just stared back blankly, so I quickly blurted, “You know, I like FRUIT in my cheese.” WHICH IS A LIE! WHY DID I SAY THAT?! I mean, I’ve had cheese with dried cranberries in it that was pretty tasty, but fruity fromage is not something that I would consider a staple on my cheese board. I wanted to take it back and tell him that I meant dill or fennel, horseradish even! But he had already plunged head-first into a passage of fruit-infused cream cheese spreads. By this point, he had backed us into a dead end while explaining to us how the cheese got its shape or something, I can’t remember. Full disclosure, I retained absolutely nothing from this walk down Learning Lane except that the men working in the factory were wearing BEARD NETS.
While I was gawking at two of them pushing a cart of cheese up a ramp, Father Cheese made some comment about how heavy such large quantities of cheese is. “Look at them, pushing that booger up there,” he said adoringly, and in my head, I was like HAHAHAH HE SAID BOOGER, DON’T LAUGH DON’T LAUGH. But then bits of pieces of the last 15 minutes came flying back into my face: the fact that Father Cheese’s wife made him a breakfast shake out of WHEY that morning, the picture of the man who invited YOGURT CHEESE, the tour bus full of people HUNGRY FOR CHEESE, the bonnet-wearing cashiers who I’m not sure were actually Amish, Father Cheese’s sweater, us racing the passengers of the tour bus because we thought they were going to fill up the cheese tour…. THE IDEA OF PASTEURIZATION ALONE WAS INJECTING ME WITH GIGGLES, RIGHT IN THE FACE! LIKE THE GIDDIEST ROUND OF BOTOX OF ALL TIME.
And then I accidentally made eye contact with Corey right as Father Cheese was ticking off the BIG CITIES where one could find Heini’s cheese (Pittsburgh is one!). Corey made some kind of painful squeak from trying to contain the giggles, and that was all it took. Flood gates opened. We laughed so hard that it actually, physically hurt and even though I had purposely peed before the tour started, I felt a drop threaten to fall. It was hilarious and horrifying all at once because I have never actually been busted laughing in someone’s face like that before. I mean, at the Bayernhof, there were people (and music boxes) to hide behind. But here, it was just the three of us, and I was backed into a corner. Literally. This used to happen to me a lot when I was a kid. In church. Sitting on a pew among hundreds of silent parishioners, and there I go. Snorting and wheezing and my whole body shaking because YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO LAUGH IN CHURCH WHILE THE PRIEST IS TALKING ABOUT A MAN WHO WAS CRUCIFIED.
But it was never this bad. Father Cheese stopped talking and slowly looked from Corey to me. He was confused, yet trying to keep a smile on his face. He knew that nothing he was saying was funny, but Corey and I were fucking scream-laughing at this point. I was slightly squatting to stop myself from peeing and Corey’s face was bright red from the exertion of hilarity. You need to know about Corey and me that we are basically human hyenas. We will laugh at nothing and everything and then proceed to feed off of each other’s hyper-inappropriateness and it’s just a hot, douchey mess.
So, that’s all it took: one quick contact with the eyeballs and there went our sanity, slipping off our faces like rotted banana peels. I thought about how disappointed our dad would have been right then, at his kids making a mockery of Amish Country; and how disappointed Henry would have been, at the mother of his child setting more examples of assholery. And how disappointed Father Cheese certainly was, at these two spoiled brats who were laughing all over his very livelihood. We might as well have been squirting Easy Cheese into mouths right in front of him, that’s how badly our laughter was desecrating the entire Amish cheese process, right down to the Amish milk shooting out from Amish teats. What probably only lasted for 30 seconds felt like watching a wheel of cheddar being aged. It was so uncomfortable, awkward, mortifying, embarrassing—-but SO FUCKING FUNNY.
Poor Father Cheese though, he was so confused. Finally, I was able to psychically bitch slap myself hard enough to stop laughing long enough to explain that we had been in the car all day and were extremely slap happy. Father Cheese smiled and placed a hand on my arm. “I understand. Why don’t we just end it here,” he said in grandfatherly tones lightly seasoned with exhaustion and a desire to suckle butterscotch; he handed me a sheet of paper with additional information, including great advice such as: Do not put cheese in your car trunk [on hot summer days]. This would be the hottest place. Corey and I had to walk back down the hall with him after that and it was excruciating. We purposely fell behind and then pretended to be SUPER INTERESTED in a bulletin board full of children’s cheese drawings until we were certain that Father Cheese was far enough away for us to safely proceed. This was the first time in my life that I ever had to flat out confront my immature and out-of-place bray and it was A REAL EYE OPENER. Not enough to suddenly put us in check though. We were practically hiccuping at this point from all of the fermented laughter. I texted Henry:
Me: Well, I peed my pants from laughing so hard at our first stop. Henry: I’m glad it’s just the two of you. Me, Oh, you would be so pissed!
Henry: I’m sure of that.
And then we proceeded to get in a line that would eventually herd us like cattle past veritable troughs of cheese samples.
Somehow, Corey and I were able to stifle our giggles long enough to devour Heini cheese samples. I was delighted to see that nearly every type of cheese had a tupperware container in front of it, loaded with tiny tastes in cube-form. Corey and I grabbed toothpicks and got to samplin’. The store was very crowded, and nearly every person in line was also buying stuff, so the line moved pretty slow. To the man behind me, this was unacceptable and rather than wait 20 seconds until I moved forward, he stretched his body across me so that he could blindly spear spear. I gave him a good once-over with my judging eyes and he did not appear to be OMG STARVING. I guess he was just in a hurry. Buddy, I don’t think they were going to run out of cheese.
Corey and I were intrigued by the weird cheese flavors in the aisle next to us, flavors such as rainbow sherbet, which looked beautiful but I thought for sure would not taste as such. Then that entire aisle turned out to be fudge, so I guess Heini’s isn’t really that progressive after all. I didn’t try any fudge samples because I knew it would culminate into my shaking entire containers of the minuscule slivers into my mouth because I can’t do stuff like that in moderation. One sample would quickly turn into an easy 5 new pounds on the scale Monday morning. Sigh. Corey tried some and said it was amazing. Of course it was! It was Heini’s brand. At one point, I looked around and felt sad at the urgency these people were popping sample after sample past their cheese-lusting lips. Sad and sick. Welcome to America! In fact, after crawling past the cream cheese spreads (the fruity ones were great, thanks for the heads up Father Cheese!) and beef sticks, Corey and I decided that we really didn’t care to stand in line and eat anymore, especially since we were going to be headed to lunch afterward. So we took our wares to the nearest register.
Corey bought some Amish noodles for our dad, and I showed tons of restraint by only snagging two types of cheese: horseradish and Vidalia onion. I really, really love cheese, but I’m also super cheap and don’t enjoy spending money on food. I also grabbed a jar of gooseberry jam, though. Because I could always go for a good gooseberry.
We ALMOST left right after this. The joint was a madhouse of directionless tourists and I can’t stand crowded stores. But I needed a souvenir! There were other areas of the chalet, like a candy room, a cafe, and also a room in the back that was full of Americana home decor, cat calendars and souvenirs…but also samples of butter. AND NOT JUST ANY BUTTER. Father Cheese had mentioned this butter during our excruciating cheese tour, and told us at least twice that we were lucky to have come to Heini’s that day, because the butter was ON SALE. I remember thinking that I didn’t care. In fact, I had forgotten all about this highly-touted Heini butter, until we walked into the back room where a man in a blue shirt stood behind a counter and cried out, “THIS IS…THE BEST BUTTER IN THE WORLD. YOU WILL NOT FIND A BETTER BUTTER!” while methodically slathering Wheat Thins with smooth, yellow globs.
Corey and I exchanged wide-eyed looks of hyperbolic wonderment and marched over for a sample, fully prepared to refute this man’s lofty claim. But goddamn if that wasn’t the best butter in the world. I mean, maybe I’m just really sheltered when it comes to the best butters, but this seriously was the BEST BUTTER that ever touched my tongue.
“And today, you can buy not one but THREE for $5!” the butter-slinger announced. I had a vision of myself splayed out on a hammock somewhere in Georgia, maybe, spreading perfect smears of the best butter in the world on hot biscuits and quite honestly not giving a FUCK about anything else, because why would I? The best butter in the world was melting in my mouth. I made a beeline for the cooler behind him, where I snatched up three tubs of the perfectly-churned bread lotion before the tour bus people caught on and another grotesque lined formed. I won’t be beat by the fanny-pack set. Across from the Best Butter-slinger was a small section of postcards, mugs, magnets and t-shirts for those sentimental types (me me me) so I grabbed a magnet for my collection at work. (I like to show my new magnets to Glenn right before I stick them on my closet-thing; he will say things like “wow” or “cool” without so much as a glance.) There was also a pile of red Heini shirts. A bright wheel of cheese was displayed prominently on the back, right above the informative phrase: WHERE THE CHEESE IS MADE.
Corey said, “Should we?” and I said, “Oh my god, definitely!” He had to go out to the car to get more cash, which left me alone, unsupervised and undistracted for way too many minutes with the Butter Monologue. It was like falling inside an infomercial at 3am: monotonous, cheesy (oh hahahaha), outrageously boastful…the only thing missing from his hyper sales pitch was a BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE! I guess probably because there wasn’t more. The best butter in the world was enough on its own. Do you think Butter-slinger wakes up at 6am every morning without the aid of an alarm, bounds out of bed and brushes his teeth with a squirt of that slick pasteurized cream while reciting facts to the mirror, such as BUTTER IS GOOD FOR YOUR LIVER, before rubbing the best butter all over his nude body while making orgasm-faces before going to his woodshed and slaughtering the Amish hostages he has chained up and frying up their flesh in the best butter? Does he bring his own to-go tubs of Heini’s best butter to restaurants with him so he doesn’t have to use disgusting, white trash Land o’Lakes? (The horror.) I wonder if he’s married. If so, did they have a butter sculpture at their wedding reception? TELL ME YOU’RE NOT WONDERING ABOUT THIS NOW. I sat on a bench with an old lady who totally busted me filming Instavids of the butter show, so I got up and moved to a different area, where people were too busy looking at racks of wind chimes and other such Amish novelties to notice me being weird.
The line had grown a bit by the time Corey came back to buy his shirt, so we had to endure an additional fifteen minutes of butter superlatives barraging our ear drums. Corey made eye contact with the cashier while he was purchasing his t-shirt and he said she gave him this “I know, right?” look. Once Corey paid for his shirt, we fled the butter room before we wound up having another fit. As we made it closer to the main area of Heini’s, we realized that Father Cheese’s voice was emanating from the ceiling, like God himself, and then we saw him with a HEADSET ON! And not only that, but somehow Best Butter had made it to the front of the store without us knowing and was HAVING A CONVERSATION WITH FATHER CHEESE! WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE! OUR TWO FAVORITE HEINIS!!
We had originally wanted to say goodbye to Father Cheese, mostly so that we could show him that we bought things, maybe that would convince him that his cheese tour wasn’t all for naught, that Corey and I aren’t so bad after all and at least Heini’s made a few dimes off us. But there was an actual wall of people blocking us from his information table and I was starting to sweat at the idea of trying to Moses my way through. As if that wasn’t a great note on which to end our visit, we noticed that some broad was arguing with Father Cheese.
The joint had become so packed with tourists hungry for cheddar that Father Cheese was trying to direct foot traffic. It appeared that he mistakenly told the poufy-haired broad to get into the wrong line, and she was FUCKING PISSED. Corey and I stood there in horror. How could anyone yell at Father Cheese?! He’s so old and frail and has TWO hearing aids! I wanted to march over and save him, but then a ginger-man standing nearby began speaking to me, because apparently this is what people do in Ohio Amish Country: cultivate small talk. “This is ridiculous!” he spat through a set of interestingly-directioned teeth. “I been standing here watching people cut in line this whole time! My wife has been standing in line forever trying to pay and I seen THREE WOMEN—I’ll just leave it that, three WOMEN, I won’t say anything else about them—walk past all those people and cut right in front of my wife!”
OMG OK “I’m Not Racist, But…” Guy.
It was incredibly awkward and he just kept ranting about how out of control the place was. We stood in mutual silence for a few seconds, taking in the rowdy cheese epicure-wannabes, 80% of whom I guarantee have a fridgeful of Velveeta and individually-wrapped Kraft slices, anxious to taste the next sample and buy all of the cheese before it had a chance to age anymore. Finally, I shrugged and said, “I mean…it’s just cheese” while slowly backing out of the door.
As soon as we got outside, we absolutely lost our minds all over again. IT’S JUST CHEESE.