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Vermont Creamery Wins Big at U.S. Championship Cheese Contest

Vermont Creamery was honored for achievement in artisan cheesemaking this week with three awards at the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest (USCCC) held biennially in Wisconsin.

VC_MVCF_8OZ_2014Vanilla Crème Fraîche won “Best in Class” while Cultured Butter with Sea Salt and Maple and St. Albans both took third place in their respective categories.

“It’s a tremendous honor to be recognized by our peers in the cheese community, especially in the good company of other Vermont cheesemakers,” said Allison Hooper, co-Founder of Vermont Creamery. “These awards are the result of our entire team’s commitment to quality and innovation in cheesemaking.”

VC_STALBANS_FULL_ANGLE_GMO_2016This is the first USCCC award for St. Albans, the newest aged cheese to join the lineup; in 2015, Vermont Creamery products took home five USCCC awards.

This year, the contest garnered a record 2,303 entries, up 22 percent from the previous contest in 2015. Forty-eight judges from nineteen states evaluated all of the entries across 101 classes. Vermont Creamery’s Cultured Butter with Sea Salt and Maple took third in a new category—flavored butter.

Wisconsin Sweeps Top Three Spots at 2017 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest

Marieke Penterman of Marieke Gouda in Thorp, Wisconsin, with her USCCC Second Runner-Up Marieke Gouda Belegen; Mike Matucheski of Sartori Cheese in Antigo, Wisconsin with his Grand Champion Sartori Reserve Black Pepper BellaVitano, and Terry Lensmire of Agropur in Weyauwega, Wisconsin with his First Runner-Up Cheddar, Aged One to Two Years, at the Cheese Champion Reception in Green Bay, Wisconsin on Thursday, March 9, 2017.

Marieke Penterman of Marieke Gouda in Thorp, Wisconsin, with her USCCC Second Runner-Up Marieke Gouda Belegen; Mike Matucheski of Sartori Cheese in Antigo, Wisconsin with his Grand Champion Sartori Reserve Black Pepper BellaVitano, and Terry Lensmire of Agropur in Weyauwega, Wisconsin with his First Runner-Up Cheddar, Aged One to Two Years, at the Cheese Champion Reception in Green Bay, Wisconsin on Thursday, March 9, 2017.

Wisconsin cheesemakers continued their historic winning streak at the 2017 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest, sweeping the top awards and 31 competition classes. With the title of Grand Champion Cheese going to Sartori’s Reserve Black Pepper BellaVitano, Wisconsin has won top honors at the country’s three major cheese competitions over the past year.

Little Mountain from Roelli Cheese earned Best of Show at the American Cheese Society Competition in July, and Emmi Roth USA’s Grand Cru Surchoix won the 2016 World Championship Cheese Contest, marking the first sweep of this kind.

“This winning streak is a testament to the tradition, innovation and commitment to excellence that Wisconsin dairy farmers and cheesemakers exemplify,” said Suzanne Fanning, Vice President, National Product Communications, of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB). “It’s further proof that Wisconsin not only makes the most cheese in the country, but the very best cheese, as well. This starts with producing the finest milk and maintaining the highest standards from the farm to the aging caves and beyond.”

Made by Master Cheesemaker Mike Matucheski, Sartori’s Reserve Black Pepper BellaVitano is an original Italian-style cheese hand-rubbed with cracked black peppercorns. The contest’s award for first runner up went to Aged Cheddar from Agropur. Marieke Gouda Belegen was the second runner up.

With a record-breaking 2,303 entries from 33 U.S. states, the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest is the largest technical cheese, butter and yogurt competition in the country. Wisconsin captured 60 percent of all awards, winning 184 awards total, including the top three titles, 62 Best of Class awards, 63 second place, and 56 third place awards.

U.S. Championship Honors for Montchevre

Montchevre claimed seven awards at the 2017 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest®. Hosted by the Wisconsin Cheesemakers Association, the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest, is the largest technical cheese, butter, and yogurt competition in the country.

At the 19th biennial U.S. Championship Cheese Contest held Thursday, March 9 in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Montchevre received the following honors:

Class: Flavored Soft Goat’s Milk Cheeses

Best of Class, Truffle Fresh Goat Cheese Log

Second, Four Pepper Fresh Goat Cheese Log

Class: Flavored Soft Goat’s Milk Cheese with Sweet Condiments

Best of Class, Blueberry Vanilla Fresh Goat Cheese Log

Class: Semi-Soft Goat’s Milk Cheeses

Best of Class, Crumbled Goat Cheese

Class: Flavored Semi-Soft Goat’s Milk Cheeses

Best of Class, Apricot & Sage Crumbled Goat Cheese

Third, Candied Cranberry Crumbled Goat Cheese

Class: Hard Goat’s Milk Cheeses

Best of Class, Trivium (in partnership with Crown Finish Caves and Creamery 333)

A record-setting 2,303 cheeses, butters, and yogurts from 33 states participated in the 2017 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest.

Three New Spreadable Cheese Flavors from President Cheese

Président® brand cheese launches three new flavors of its award-winning rondelé cheese: Thai Sweet Chili, Pineapple & Ginger, and Sea Salt & Cracked Pepper. Beginning March 2017, the new flavors, which emphasize a distinct balance of two contrasting yet complimentary tastes, will be available at retailers nationwide. To find the store closest to you, just use the store locator on the company’s website.

sea saltA testament to the superior quality and taste of rondelé by Président, the rondelé Sea Salt & Cracked Pepper Gourmet Spreadable was awarded first place in the Flavored Cream Cheese category at the 50th Annual World Dairy Expo Championship in 2016, the only contest in North America that includes all dairy products, and the Silver medal at the 2016 World Cheese Awards in San Sebastián, Spain.

rondeleBy combining simple ingredients with high quality milk and cream in the Old World tradition, Président brand produces gourmet spreads that are savory, flavorful and fit for any occasion. The rondelé gourmet spreads not only add a unique element to a number of recipes, they are also the perfect addition to a cheese board; served in a decorative, table-ready cup for easy and convenient presentation. Marketing Director Karine Blake adds, “rondelé by Président is already loved by consumers for its versatility. We are thrilled to offer these new flavors for recipe creators and we’re excited to see what they dream up.”

 

 

 

Gran Festa Italian Cheese Spreads from Bertozzi

bertozzi editphoto1Bertozzi Corporation of America’s Gran Festa line of Italian cheese spreads are artisanally crafted from high-quality whey, freshly ground spices and vegetables. They come in three varieties: Garlic & Herb, Pink Peppercorn and Sweet Chili.

Packaged in 8-ounce cups, a 2-tablespoon serving contains about 40 calories, 3.5 grams of fat and 1.5 grams of protein. The gluten-free, preservative-free spreads have a light and airy texture and mouthfeel with a rich, creamy flavor profile.

Gran Festa is imported from the Bertozzi Creamery, an Italian family-owned dairy established in 1901.

Kroger and Murray’s Cheese Announce Merger

The Kroger Co. has purchased the equity of Murray’s Cheese, as well as its flagship location on Bleecker Street in New York City, to form a merger of the two companies.

“For cheese lovers and connoisseurs, it doesn’t get more authentic than Murray’s,” said Rodney McMullen, Kroger’s Chairman and CEO. “Our customers are excited to buy the unique offerings of Murray’s Cheese right in our stores, and we’re excited to ensure this iconic cheese shop will remain a part of the Kroger family for many years to come.”

New York’s most iconic cheese shop, opened in 1940, Murray’s has been delivering the finest selection of cheese, meat and specialty food items to New Yorkers, chefs and cheese lovers nationwide through a robust online business. Since the two companies formed a unique partnership in 2008, Murray’s has offered the same fine foods and cheese expertise to the Kroger family of stores.

“When the Kroger and Murray’s relationship started in 2008, we wanted to figure out how to bring the finest cheese and charcuterie to more people,” said Daniel Hammer, Kroger’s Vice President of Culinary Development and Deli/Bakery Merchandising. “Today, we have more than 350 Murray’s Cheese shops in Kroger locations from coast to coast – and that is thanks to the incredible passion and commitment of the team at Murray’s to empower associates to share their love of cheese with customers. We look forward to learning from the very talented team at Murray’s and working together to grow the business and build the iconic Murray’s brand.”

Murray’s former Owner and President, Rob Kaufelt, will remain affiliated with the business as a strategic adviser. Nick Tranchina will continue to lead the Murray’s Cheese team in New York and will report to Daniel Hammer at Kroger.

“Rob’s dedication to his craft has placed Murray’s on the map among the culinary elite while also making specialty cheese more accessible to mainstream consumers,” said McMullen. “We look forward to Rob’s continued influence on the business, helping to tell the Murray’s Cheese story and building its brand.”

“It has been my honor and privilege to work with so many tremendous, talented people over the course of my 45-year career in food retail, especially the last 25 years at Murray’s here in New York City,” said Kaufelt. “When I set out on this journey, my goal was simply to run the best cheese shop in Greenwich Village. I’m proud that we’ve been able to maintain the spirit and service of a mom-and-pop neighborhood shop amidst our growth into the national market. I am pleased to pass the torch to our able staff, who will carry Murray’s into the future.”

Murray’s Cheese shops in Kroger stores replicate the same experience customers enjoy at its Greenwich Village flagship store. Each shop carries hundreds of cheeses, charcuterie, olives, crackers and specialty food items from all over the world. Murray’s is deeply involved with product selection, staff training and development, merchandising and promotions.

Other highlights of the special partnership between Murray’s Cheese and Kroger include:

  • In December 2016, Kroger and Murray’s Cheese opened their 350th store location in Bloomington, Indiana. At the time, Kaufelt said, “This is an exciting milestone for Murray’s and the specialty cheese industry. In 2008, we pioneered a store-within-a-store concept at a handful of Kroger stores. Between 2008 and 2012, we opened 38 stores, and in 2016 we opened nearly 100. This partnership has exceeded our wildest expectations.”
  • Murray’s staff has trained thousands of Cheese Mongers and Certified Cheese Professionals through its relationship with Kroger. Between the two companies, the American Cheese Society named as Certified Cheese Professionals 29 team members in 2016, 20 in 2015, and 13 in 2014.

Financial terms of the merger were not disclosed.

13th Annual Oregon Cheese Festival March 18 -19 2017 @ Rogue Creamery

Oregon-inspired culinary events, including a farmer’s market-style artisan food, beer, cider and wine festival, will kick off with the Meet the Cheesemakers and Winemakers Dinner. The Oregon Cheese Festival will be open to the public Saturday, March 18 and Sunday March 19 from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at Rogue Creamery, 311 North Front St. (Hwy. 99), Central Point, Oregon. Held under two large heated tents, (15,000 square feet of space!), at Rogue Creamery’s Central Point facility, the thirteenth annual festival invites guests to shake hands with cheesemakers and other artisans. There will be baby cows on site to showcase the beginnings of great milk producers!  Activities will also be provided for children, including games, activity sheets, coloring, face painting and more.

“The farmer’s market format will present an interactive experience between makers and visitors, giving everyone an opportunity to talk about the product, the process and learn each individual cheesemaker’s story,” says David Gremmels, President of Rogue Creamery. “It’s a way to truly be connected with the source of the cheese being presented.”

At the festival thousands of visitors will sample cow, goat and sheep cheese from Oregon creameries, including: Pholia Farm, Ancient Heritage Dairy, Oregon State University, Ochoa’s Queseria, Tillamook County Creamery, Willamette Valley Cheese Co., Oak Leaf Creamery, Briar Rose Creamery, La Mariposa, Fraga Farmstead Creamery, Goldin Artisan Goat Cheese, Crushpad Creamery, By George Farm, Face Rock Creamery, Portland Creamery, Rogue Creamery, and many others.

Southern Oregon and other local culinary artisans and beverage providers who are expected to participate include: Lillie Belle Farms, Gary West Meats, Applegate Valley Artisan Breads, Ledger David Cellars, Jaxon Vineyards, South Stage Cellars, Serra Vineyards, Caprice Vineyards, EdenVale Winery, RoxyAnn Winery, La Brasseur Vineyard, 30 Brix Winery, Willamette Valley Vineyards, Wandering Aengus Ciders, Hot Lips Soda, Clear Creek Distillery, Bend Distillery, Wild River Brewing, Sierra Nevada Brewing and Rogue Ales.

A $15 entry fee includes tastings and demonstrations; tickets purchased at the door will be $20. Entry tickets can be purchased in advance at http://oregoncheesefestival.com. In addition, a $10 wine, cider, beer and spirit tasting fee is available and includes a commemorative glass with the Oregon Cheese Guild logo.

Friday, March 17 – Dinner

To commence the festival, a sumptuous meal introducing guests to participating guild cheesemakers will be held Friday night at the Inn at the Commons in Medford, Oregon on March 17 from 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. The dinner is held for the benefit of the non-profit 501(c)(6) Oregon Cheesemakers Guild. Each course will spotlight a cheese made by one of the festival’s artisans, paired with a local wine, beer or cider. Tickets available for purchase at http://oregoncheesefestival.com.

Special Guest for the dinner and festival will be Brian Keyser, Founder of Casellula Cheese & Wine Café, a tiny restaurant with a huge cheese selection. He opened the restaurant in New York City in 2007 and Casellula at Alphabet City in Pittsburgh in 2016.  Together with Chef Leigh Friend he is the co-author of “Composing the Cheese Plate,” a book of easy recipes and creative ideas for fun and inventive cheese plates (Running Press, 2016). Keyser is a co-Chair of the 2017 (ACS) American Cheese Society Annual Conference and Competition in Denver, Chair of the ACS Scholarship Committee, and a board member of the American Cheese Education Foundation.

The festival would not be possible without the generous support of the City of Central Point, the Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council, Wandering Aengus Ciderworks, Rogue Ales, Oregon Department of Agriculture, Face Rock Creamery, Oregon Economic & Community Development Department, Culture Magazine, Travel Medford, Cheese Connoisseur Magazine, Umpqua Bank, Rogue Credit Union, and the members of the Oregon Cheese Guild.

For more information, visit www.oregoncheeseguild.org or www.roguecreamery.com

Rockin’ and Rollin’ in the House that Humboldt Fog Built

By Lorrie Baumann

Field of Goats - Cypress Grove ChevreCypress Grove originally started in 1983 in a couple of old barns in McKinleyville, California, before moving 13 years ago to its present-day home in Arcata, a small agricultural community just north of Eureka and just south of the border between California and Oregon.

DSCN0155

“We realized we needed a proper cheesemaking facility,” says Cody Wandel, Cypress Grove Quality Technician. “That gave us our first purpose-built cheese facility…. Our kind of cheese is very difficult to make and get to market in good condition. We’ve been evolving our ability to provide the optimum environment for the cheese.”

Mary 1In those days, Cypress Grove Chevre, as it was known then, consisted of about 15 or 20 people following the lead of Founder Mary Keehn in making high quality goat cheeses that adventurous eaters who weren’t familiar with goat milk cheeses found easy to love. An American food movement that valued the local, the sustainable, the artisanal, had just started gathering momentum, and Cypress Grove’s Humboldt Fog exploded into the scene as an American Original with aesthetics that combined a visually striking appearance with a mellow flavor that reminded precisely no one of the barnyard. “We were there and we were well established,” Wandel says “People in America decided they were willing to give goat cheese a try.”

Today, Cypress Grove is owned by Swiss holding company Emmi, a company with majority ownership by a cooperative of farmers and dairy operators that bought Cypress Grove from Keehn in 2010. Cypress Grove now employs over 70 people, including those at a new demonstration dairy made possible by Emmi’s capital investment, and Keehn is still the spiritual leader guiding the values that appeal to consumers concerned about the environment and social justice as well as flavor. “Emmi’s model is not to be involved in the day-to-day, so we really operate as an autonomous company,” Wandel says. “It’s been one of the challenges – how to grow and keep the sense of intimacy we all used to have with Mary back in the old days…. We pretty much are rolling the way we always did…. It’s very important that our goat cheese is the best you can get.”

“The goal of an artisan cheesemaker is to create a cheese that is roughly the same every time, as opposed to a commodity cheese, which is exactly the same every time,” he continues. “All of our cheeses are almost entirely hand-made, and they’re all made in the same process we’ve always made.”

Cypress Grove’s cheeses include the fresh chevres that were among the first products that Keehn made when she found herself with a herd of show goats and more milk than she and her family could use.

“I started raising goats as a show herd, but if you have enough animals to have a strong genetic base, it’s too much milk to drink,” she says. Her first thought was to sell the milk locally, but it was quickly apparent that there wasn’t enough of a local market for fluid goat milk, so Keehn began making cheese and selling it to retailers wherever she could find them, which was sometimes at the Winter Fancy Food Show, where she’d bring cheese in ice chests – or even in her purse – and urge show attendees to have a taste. “From the very beginning, I was selling out of the area,” she says. “I don’t know why we survived. The cheese was always good, but nobody liked it then…. If you have goats, you’re a little stubborn in the first place – and weird.”

Then came a chance for Keehn to go to France and learn more about traditional European cheeses, including the Morbier that was something of an inspiration for Humboldt Fog. Morbier is a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese traditionally made from evening milk and morning milk, separated from each other by a layer of vegetable ash. On her way home from that trip, Keehn had a dream in which she saw, almost photographically, an image of a goat cheese with a black layer of vegetable ash bisecting it like the coastal fog layer that frequently floats among the hills around her Humboldt County home. “The naivety of it – it’s wrong in many ways,” she reflects now. “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

“Nobody liked it for quite a while,” she adds. “We threw away a lot of cheese.”

Some of the people who did like it, though, were rather influential: New York Times food critic Florence Fabricant mentioned Humboldt Fog in a 1997 article about growing interest in fine cheeses, and Russ Parsons, a former food editor and columnist for the Los Angeles Times, asked Keehn to send some to Julia Child for her birthday. “She happened to taste it, and she liked it,” Keehn says.

Humboldt Fog is still made in essentially the same way that it was in those early days: by hand, by cheesemakers who are asked to remember that they’re not just making cheese – they’re making Humboldt Fog. There are a couple of differences: the cheese is now inoculated with some Geotrichum mold as well as the Penicillium culture in its original recipe, which extends its shelf life a little bit without affecting its flavor, and Cypress Grove is making – and selling – a great deal more of it now that Humboldt Fog has become one of America’s most popular artisanal cheeses. “It just takes time and really sticking with what you care about,” Keehn says.

The path from Cypress Grove’s earliest days is marked along the way by new cheeses, some of which are no longer made, although they’re remembered in plaques outside the meeting rooms in Cypress Groves’ new offices. Truffle Tremor, another aged goat cheese that’s fancied up with the addition of real truffle pieces for an earthy taste of knee-buckling decadence, is a hearty survivor of a ruthless market.

Truffle Tremor started as an experiment in whether truffles and goat cheese could find happiness together, and it wasn’t exactly love at first sight, Keehn remembers. She added some truffles to fresh chevre and realized immediately that the bright, clean flavors of her chevre and the mellow earthiness of the truffles conflicted, as did the contrasting textures of the truffles and the fresh cheese. “It was like a fight in your mouth,” she said. “It was so bad.”

Keehn responded by trying the same strategy that worked for the kids in “The Parent Trap” – putting the pair she loved away by themselves so they could fight it out, in the hope that maybe they’d find a way to get along. Two or three weeks later, she brought the aged truffled cheese out into a staff meeting and asked people what they thought. “We tried this cheese – I swear, this was my, ‘You coulda heard a pin drop’ moment,” recalls Cypress Grove Sales Director Bob McCall. “Nobody said a word for a long time, and then somebody just said, ‘I think you have a winner.’”

“I love it when they do the happy dance,” Keehn adds. “I don’t believe in doing something unless you can really knock it out of the park. There’s no need for another mediocre cheese…. For us, cheese is a vehicle to make people’s lives happier.”

KABRITA USA Expands Goat Milk Yogurt and Fruit Pouch Line

KABRITA USA, a line of premium goat milk formula and goat milk baby foods made with naturally easy-to-digest, non-GMO goat milk, is introducing a new flavor, Sweet Potato Apple Cinnamon. The new flavor is shipping to retailers nationwide this month.

KABRITASweet Potato Apple Cinnamon Goat Milk Yogurt is made with organic sweet potato, organic apple puree and organic cinnamon, as well as gentle, antibiotic-free whole goat milk yogurt for a comforting and nutritious snack or breakfast. High in vitamins A and E, it contains no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives, and comes in convenient, squeezable BPA-free packaging.

“KABRITA is excited to present this new, unique flavor that will add some warmth to the winter months,” said Simona Irwin, Director of Sales at KABRITA USA. “We know that little ones will be more likely to choose healthy snacks from a young age if companies like KABRITA provide delicious, nutrient-rich flavors that appeal to all palates. Our goat milk yogurt pouches are also a great alternative for the many parents out there whose kids are sensitive to cow’s milk.”

The full KABRITA product line includes Goat Milk Formula for Toddlers in small and large sizes, and Goat Milk Yogurt and Fruit pouches, which are also available in Mango Peach, Banana and Natural Vanilla Bean and Mixed Berry. The pouches can be introduced from six months of age and are approximately 70 percent organic. All products are naturally easy to digest and may be a solution for little ones with a cow’s milk sensitivity, which can surface as digestive discomfort, congestion or eczema. Goat milk is one of the most commonly consumed milks worldwide. KABRITA goat milk is produced without any exposure to antibiotics, growth hormones or preservatives and is free from artificial colors and flavors.

KABRITA is available at natural and traditional grocers nationwide, including Sprouts Farmers Market, Safeway, Whole Foods Market and major online retailers like Amazon.com, Walmart.com, Target.com, Costco.com and more. To learn more about KABRITA, the benefits of goat milk, and for expert nutrition insight via its Nourish Blog, visit http://www.kabritausa.com.

It’s Springtime for Bellwether Farms

By Lorrie Baumann

DSCN0213Liam Callahan measures his days out in minutes: 10 minutes until time to cut the curd for Carmody, another 10 until time to add the rennet to Crescenza and then a few minutes to come back to his tiny office at the front of the creamery to attend to paperwork and keep an eye on the newly installed “lamb cam” that watches over the activity in Bellwether Farms’ sheep barns. The metronomic ticking away of the tasks is a calm measure of certainty that stands in sharp counterpoint to the uncertainties in which Callahan, as well as every other farmer and artisanal cheesemaker, operates: the vagaries of weather that decide feed availability and costs and therefore the production costs of milk, the threats from new regulations decided in Washington and the weight of the paperwork they entail, the whims of consumers who might decide that dairy products are the villain behind the bulge at their waistlines.

Baby_Lamb_300dpi_1.2Outside the Bellwether Farms creamery, in the wake of a tumultuous 2016, it seems like anything could happen. Inside the creamery, the aging rooms full of Pepato and Blackstone are milk in the bank, the lamb cam monitor behind Callahan’s desk reassures that the farms’ future is fine, the clock says it’s time to drain the whey from the Carmody and prepare to turn it into basket-drained ricotta made in the traditional Italian way, and at 50, Callahan is optimistic about the future of the American artisanal cheese industry and his place in it. “I don’t think we’ve begun to exhaust the possibilities of people knowing where their food comes from,” he says. “People have realized that they enjoy knowing more about their food.”

BF_Cheeses-2Let’s take a step back for a moment to introduce you to the cast of characters here. Carmody is a firm cheese made from pasteurized Jersey cow milk made by cheesemaker Liam Callahan at Bellwether Farms, which is near Petaluma, California. Crescenza is also made from pasteurized Jersey cow milk, but it’s a soft-ripened rindless cheese with a tart flavor. Pepato is an aged semi-soft sheep milk cheese studded with peppercorns. Blackstone is an aged mixed milk cheese studded with peppercorns and hand rubbed with vegetable ash. Liam Callahan is the cheesemaker at Bellwether Farms, which was founded by his mother, Cindy Callahan, who began raising sheep to keep the grasses under control on the farm she and her husband bought as a country home. “We were just basically looking for lawnmowers,” Callahan says.

The family bought its first 20 bred ewes at a Petaluma livestock auction and the first lambs were born on December 24, 1986. “Our heads were spinning. We knew nothing from nothing,” Callahan says.

Suddenly, Cindy was the farm’s herd manager, a role that she is just beginning to step back from, in favor of what Callahan calls “a high hover” that will free her from the exigencies of the lambing schedule. The family kept those first lambs, bought more sheep and started selling extra lambs to local restaurants in 1987. “One of our very first customers was Chez Panisse,” Callahan recalls. “Our primary product was the lamb until 1990, when we built the dairy.”

LiamLamb_300dpiCallahan was just finishing college when a family friend visited from the Middle East. He noticed the sheep grazing on the slopes of Bellwether Farms’ hills and pointed out that where he came from, sheep were milked to make cheeses. That was when the Callahans realized that many of their favorite imported cheeses were, in fact, made from sheep milk. “That summer, we built the dairy, started milking the sheep and making cheese and going to farmers markets,” he said. That timing dovetailed with the growth of farmers markets and with the American food movement in general, and local chefs who had learned in Europe to go to farmers markets to find the freshest of local ingredients found Bellwether Farms cheeses at the farmers markets around San Francisco. “A lot of the value of these products is in explaining the story of how they’re made,” Callahan says. “Everything we’ve done has been because we were interested in it…. For the most part, the things we were interested in have aligned with the direction the market has gone.”

DSCN0190“I’m not doing anything, really, that hasn’t been done for centuries. But is it innovative to say, ‘I want to do it that way again?’” he adds. “The fact that this is done in a unique way resonates with a lot of consumers…. It’s more than cheese – there’s a history there. There’s a story there.”

blackberryToday, Callahan makes highly regarded sheep milk yogurts and an array of award-winning cheeses from both his sheep milk and from cow milk purchased from local organic dairy farmers, and he’s planning the construction of a new creamery that should be finished in 2018 and that will expand his capacity with space for aging more cheeses and for giving him a little more elbow room around the cheese vats. He has recently been elected to the board of directors for the Dairy Sheep Association of North America, taking his place as a husbandman of sheep as well as the farm’s cheesemaker as his mother steps away from her herd management.

There’s been some controversy about the future of the sheep dairy industry in the U.S. after both Many Fold Farm and Barinaga Ranch ceased cheese production recently. Journalist Janet Fletcher discussed the reasons for that in a New York Times article in which she suggested that the American sheep dairy industry might be doomed by the economics of competing with European sheep milk cheeses. She noted that the cheeses produced by both Many Fold Farm and Barinaga Ranch were excellent cheeses, as evidenced by the many ribbons that their cheesemakers were taking home from competitions, but that wasn’t translating into profits for the farmsteads behind them.

Callahan believes, though, that despite these regrettable losses, there’s no immediate necessity for gloom about the future of the sheep dairy industry as a whole. “We really feel that we’re on the cusp of turning the corner, but I still feel there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about what sheep milk has in the future,” he says. “The consumers respond to the milk and the products we make from it.”

He pointed out that recent nutrition research has shown that sheep milk has valuable health benefits, and the U.S. government has recently approved the importation of a limited supply of dairy sheep semen from France and that there are efforts under way to begin importing dairy sheep from Spain as well. “That’s a game-changer,” he says. Callahan plans to incorporate some of those genetics into his flock, which should result in lambs that will eventually grow into ewes that will produce more milk than do the ewes he has today. That should reduce his production costs for milk, and it will also make his lambs more valuable as potential breeding stock. All of that will give him a more solid economic base for his business. “We’re loving the sheep milk,” he says. “We’re just stuck on production…. Our ability to grow depends on our ability to use peak milk and put it in a cheese bank.”

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