A day in the life of a Minnesota cheesemaker

Blue cheese from Shepherds Way

Jodi Ohlsen Read has a short commute, but still a much longer day than most of us.

Starting at 6 a.m., Jodi takes a short walk from her farmhouse to her dairy, where she is cheesemaker and owner of Shepherd’s Way Farm with her husband Steven. Jodi spends the day here, making small-batch sheep’s milk cheeses until 4 p.m. “on a good day.”

At a recent on-farm cheese-making class on a snowy February Sunday, several of us urbanites were able to tour Jodi’s space and learn what goes into this process.

During the milking season, Jodi starts her day heating and renneting milk from the farm’s 230 ewes early in the morning. Renneting involves adding small amounts of natural enzymes to milk to separate the solids from the liquids. Next, she heads inside for coffee as her 3,000 pounds of milk separate into curds and whey.

Then comes the creative part — stirring, cutting, pressing, washing and aging — the things, in addition to milk and other ingredients, that differentiate a crumbly cheese (Big Woods Blue) from a hard one (Fresiago) or a gooey one (Shepherd’s Hope). Her day is also full of lots of cleaning and record keeping, as many food business owners are too familiar with.

When we visited, the sheep were lambing, so the farm was taking a break from milking and cheesemaking. However, there really is no such thing as a break on a farm — especially a dairy farm. Jodi has been spending her time fixing equipment with her sons and doing maintenance and repairs in the dairy buildings.

Over the past 20 years, Jodi has been able to perfect this routine.

Jodi and Steven established Shepherd’s Way Farms in Carver County in 1994 with a small flock of 50 sheep. In 1998, after losing a major buyer, the Reads suddenly had a surplus of milk and decided to give cheese-making a try.

Despite being one of the only sheep’s milk cheese makers in the U.S. at that time, and with help from University of Minnesota researchers, their cheese making effort was a success! In 2001, the couple relocated their farm to a spot near Northfield, where it is today.

Shepherd’s Way Farm’s award-winning cheeses can be found all over the country, including at the at the Mill City Farmers Market, where they have been vending since the market was founded in 2006. Find details about their cheese CSA and cheese-making classes and taste their delicious cheeses at Mill City’s indoor Winter Market 10 a.m.–1 p.m. Feb. 23 inside the Mill City Museum.

Learn more at millcityfarmersmarket.org.

cheeses


Blue cheese walnut butter sauce

Recipe courtesy of Brenda Langton, founder of the Mill City Museum and owner of Spoonriver Restaurant. This sauce is great on grass-fed beef, grilled chicken, roasted vegetables and even bread. Makes 1/2 cup.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons walnuts
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 ounces blue cheese from Shepherd’s Way Farm, softened
  • 1 green onion, sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of freshly ground pepper

Method

In a small, dry skillet toast the walnuts on medium-high heat for 3–5 minutes, tossing frequently. Let cool. Chop the walnuts. Combine walnuts, butter, bleu cheese, green onion, salt and pepper in a bowl. Mix well.