Making farmstead, artisan cheese at Sweet Grass Dairy

Sweet Grass Dairy goat in a field
Sweet Grass Dairy goat in a field of crimson clover

This is the second in a two part series on what it takes to own and run a farmstead dairy and make high-quality cheese. I based my observations on Sweet Grass, a family-run dairy in Thomasville, Georgia. Read the first one here.

Cheese Needs to Be Nurtured

Now that you have milk, you need a functioning dairy. This includes cheese vats, stainless steel pipes, as well as ageing, ripening and storage rooms. Space for packaging and shipping. A dairy has to be clean like a hospital surgery room.

And, in order to make money, you’ll want to sell the cheese, right? So you need a sales department, marketing plan, website, accounting and inventory procedures. Bankers. Taxes. Lawyers. Insurance agents. Personnel management. It takes an amazing amount of artistic creativity, a scientist’s understanding of chemical composition and intellectual depth to make great cheese. Not to mention patience. Even though you need to sell cheese, if the product isn’t ready for market, you wait — quality cheese must be nurtured.

Cheese vats at Sweet Grass Dairy
Cheese vats at Sweet Grass Dairy

Just a few more things. Did I mention government? Before you can sell an ounce of cheese, you have to get the OK from several government entities (USDA, FDA, Georgia Agriculture Department, GA permitting offices). Your milk source, the farm, the animals, your production room, storage facilities, water supply — will all be inspected. If one doesn’t pass, your cheese may not make it to market. If it does, it’s time to snag some customers. Will they like my product? Is the price right? Will they buy it? How long until people buy it? Oh, the anxiety…

Why the Relentless Pursuit?
Farmstead dairies endure all this because they can influence American food culture. By adding an option of artisan quality rather than a large industrial producer, they can contribute to a better food supply. It offers consumers the choice of wholesome, healthy, non-processed food. And if they give people a better choice for feeding their family, their loved ones and the people they care about, these cheese producers make this a better place to live.

The People
Jessica, Jeremy and their four sons live on the farm South Georgia, producing highly-acclaimed, award-winning cheese since 2000. “Passion” is not the correct word for their commitment to great product and all that’s is involved. It’s so much more. They balance providing a warm, loving home for their young sons with a business that employs ten people, and making some of the finest cheese sold in this country. They’ll never be the largest. They don’t want to be — their goal is to be the best at what they do.

What does all this mean?
This is a story of love, not cheese. It’s the only way artisan cheese makers like Sweet Grass Dairy can justify the work they put into the product. Not to us… to themselves. We cheese lovers thank them.

Have a cheese question? Email Raymond

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