Growing up in Libertyville, Ill., Saxelby developed a strong interest in …cheese. Her father said he didn’t know how, since their “classic Midwest” cheese connoisseur level was “Kraft Singles”, but she wrote a thesis — for high school — on the chemical processes behind cheesemaking. Still, when she went to New York University, she studied …art. But cheese kept her interest: after graduation she got a job at a small farm, and then moved to Murray’s Cheese, an artisanal cheese shop which was later purchased by the Kroger grocery chain. But she learned plenty, said the company’s owner, Rob Kaufelt: “She was among the most talented of those I trained.”
Saxelby took her training to the next level by moving to Europe, interning in Paris with cheese master Hervé Mons, and working on farms in France and Italy. She returned to New York City to discover small cheese makers along the east coast, and selling their cheeses at a stall at Essex Market. “We grew up in cheese together,” says Mateo Kehler, co-founder of Jasper Hill Farm. “Thanks to her, our cheeses are on menus all over the city.” She quickly outgrew the market, and with a business partner opened a warehouse in Brooklyn to continue her expansion. On the side she wrote a book, The New Rules of Cheese,* and was awarded the title of Small Business of the Year for Manhattan in 2011. She died October 9 from an unspecified heart ailment, at 40.