Editor’s note: This is the first of many interviews with award-winning cheesemakers across the country, brought to us by Raymond Hook, a NYC cheese consultant. Enjoy.
Sweet Grass Dairy in Thomasville, Georgia is owned by Jessica and Jeremy Little, who have been making award winning cheese for 10 years. I’ve known them almost as long and have visited the dairy numerous times, especially when I lived in Atlanta. I spoke to them recently about their history and their success.
Raymond Hook: You guys bought the dairy from Jessica’s Mom and Dad about five years ago. What has been the best and most challenging thing you discovered about making cheese?
Jeremy Little: The best thing for me, personally, is the realization that we are chasing something that we’ll never find: the perfect cheese. The most challenging has been accepting that fact and try to always remain positive.
RH: What is your one wine and cheese pairing favorite? Can be your cheese.
Jeremy: Green Hill with Dow’s 20 year Tawny Port
RH: Jessica, your whole family is involved in the dairy business — your Mom and Dad have three farms and milk 1,000 cows; your brother Kyle and his wife, Janelle, make Dreaming Cow Yogurt; and your other brother Clay works for Whole Foods selling your cheese — so I see how you found the dairy business. How hard was it to convince Jeremy to join in?
Jessica Little: It was Jeremy’s idea. I just had to wonder if he knew what he was getting himself into… which I knew he didn’t have a clue.
RH: Of the cheeses you make, what are your four sons’ favorites?
Jessica: Asher’s favorite cheese is obviously Asher Blue Cheese because it bears his name, but they all enjoy eating Gouda, Tomme, Fresh Chevre and Dante too.
RH: You’re a farmstead goat dairy and buy cow’s milk from Jessica’s Mom and Dad from a nearby farm. All the animals live in pastures, not barns – why is this important?
Jeremy: It allows cows to be cows and goats to be goats, on terrain that they’re comfortable being on versus concrete, which is horribly uncomfortable.
RH: Why not organic?
Jessica and Jeremy: It doesn’t hold much meaning any more since there are too many diluted certifications. We still believe in what we do, and I think that’s what matters, not all the certification you have. I don’t need a certification to tell me whether I am doing my best.
RH: What is your favorite restaurant dish that includes cheese?
Jeremy: Asher Blue Cheese with Hard Pears, and Local Pecans at Avenue Sea Restaurant in Apalachicola, Florida.
RH: What inspires you as cheesemakers?
Jeremy: Very simply, making people happy.
RH: Are there challenges associated with making cheese in Georgia, compared to say California or Vermont?
Jessica : We think that all operations face their own individual challenges based on their locality and also their personal product style. It would be hard to make a mountain cheese or cheddar in Georgia since it would cost a fortune to cellar a cheese for a long time in this heat. But humidity is not a problem; bring on the soft-ripened cheese.
RH: What is the future of cheese in America, from a producer’s point of view?
Jessica and Jeremy: Every region will have local cheese suppliers, much like Europe but I don’t think they will be so regionally specific. It seems like with technology, we’re able to produce a lot more diversity of product in regions where you would think it would be impossible.