Jul 08 2014

Cheese with a (Traceable) Story

All that stood between me and the cheesemaking room was a set of steamy windows. Shielding my eyes against the bright Pacific Northwest summer sun, I strained to catch a glimpse of the interior: large vats, glimmering stainless steel, draining cheese, pristinely scrubbed floors. A ten second glance was as close as I would get to watching an American farmstead cheese be made.

Cheese is produced almost daily at Whidbey Island’s Glendale Shepherd, but access to the cheesemaking area and the aging rooms that extend along the back of the barn is exclusive to Lynn, Stan, and Erik Swanson and their employees. It wasn’t until Lynn heaved out an enormous binder, weighing at least 50 pounds, that my limited access began to make sense. The contents of the binder – the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point Program – wiped clean my idealized vision of farmstead cheesemaking as a romantic labor of love, where a tender cheesemaker pulls up a rickety three-legged stool to milk her animals before magically transforming the milk into a variety of cheeses fit for an adoring public.

To my series of questions on culturing, aging, protein content, and FDA regulations, Lynn had one answer: that binder. The binder is dense with lists and spreadsheets that track literally everything that happens in the cheesemaking barn, from product hazard analysis, to sanitation standard operating procedures, to process flow diagrams. “Every room is filled with things that are showing exactly what is going on at every moment,” Lynn explained as we paged through the documents, adding wryly, “If it didn’t get written down, it didn’t happen. You could say: I just cleaned that vat. Not unless I wrote it down!”

Here’s the reality of cheesemaking: the transformation of liquid into solid, of milk into cheese, is partially otherworldly; after all, cheese is a ferment with a multitude of variables that, once manipulated, can be the difference between a hunk of clothbound cheddar or a runny, oozing brie. But modern cheesemaking, no matter the scale, means obsessively tracking and manipulating the variables and recording every minute detail, leaving absolutely nothing to chance. In our present culture of headline-grabbing food borne illnesses and FDA raids, the risks – perhaps a foodborne illness, but equally worrisome (and far more likely), a lack of documentation that could permanently shutter an entire operation – are too high to not apply rigidity and structure to your fermented profession. And while Lynn was amenable to showing me around the vast 100 acre property that borders Puget Sound’s Saratoga Passage and feels like a perfectly laid-out summer camp, I couldn’t witness or take pictures of cheese draining or Lynn cutting curds: unsurprisingly, the Hazard Analysis log didn’t contain a special page for a visiting writer and photographer.

Glendale Shepherd is now in the middle of its third full year of production, joining a growing, though still small, group of farmstead cheesemakers scattered across the country, with large factions centered in Vermont, Wisconsin, California, and the Pacific Northwest. The history of cheese in America may be brief compared to France, Italy, or really anywhere in Europe, but it’s radically transformed in the past thirty years, landing us firmly where we are today: shopping at farmers’ markets for eggplant and zucchini while also having the chance to sample and buy traceable small-batch cheese at the neighboring stand.

Cheese began as an inadvertent discovery; Michael Pollan writes that “presumably some herder discovered [early forms of cheese] when he or she slaughtered a young ruminant, opened up its stomach, and found some lumpy curds of milk.” For thousands of years, cheese’s role in culture and society was one of necessity and craft: to create regionally specific, shelf-stable products when ruminants weren’t giving birth and producing milk. In the 19th century, American cheesemaking operations were smaller scale and community driven; the resulting milk was pooled into larger (though decidedly not large by today’s standards) cooperatives. The cheese produced from this pooled milk had its roots in basic German, English, and Italian traditions, writes Liz Thorpe, author of The Cheese Chronicles. Between World War I and the 1980s, cheesemaking became consolidated and industrialized, powered by the growth of mega-dairies and methods that could produce cheese in shorter amounts of time. As early as the 1920s, Kraft began to use skim milk to achieve a quicker turn-around on a cheese they dubbed “American Parmesan”; less fat meant that the desired cheese’s texture was achieved in half the time. The concepts of cheaper and faster began to transform and overwhelm smaller and diversified operations.

In the 1980s, a group of American cheesemakers began to experiment with farmstead cheeses – that is, raising and milking animals and creating cheese on the farm, instead of buying milk from elsewhere. Cheese using the milk of animals other than cows was a relative unknown until producers like Laura Chenel of Laura Chenel’s Chèvre, Allison Hooper of Vermont Butter and Cheese Company (now Vermont Creamery), and David Major of Vermont Shepherd showed up on the scene, refusing to compromise on freshness, taste, and pleasure. As with first wavers in parallel artisan food industries, from bread to coffee, these scattered farmstead cheesemakers laid the groundwork for today’s varied artisanal, small batch cheese environment.

With more than 900 farmstead and specialty cheesemakers across the country, I can visit curated cheese shops in most cities, order a cheese plate as a snack or dessert from numerous restaurants or wine bars, own gorgeous books dedicated exclusively to farmstead cheese and generally exist, in a culture where I feel enabled to branch out and sample domestic cheeses that might be a little different or even funky. The wave of innovative farmstead dairies continues to foster a passionate demand for traceable, unique cheeses, cheeses like Glendale Shepherd’s Island Brebis and Saratoga Passage.

If you look at an aerial map of Whidbey Island, an island that is 55 miles long and, at its narrowest, only 1.5 miles wide, Glendale Shepherd is at the bottom right tip, on the side that overlooks the ferries from Mukilteo, Washington. Unlike many farms that are positioned directly on top of a busy road, an unfortunate result of modern roads abutting older agricultural homesteads, Glendale Shepherd is not a farm property you would accidentally stumble upon. Pavement quickly gave way to gravel as I navigated my way to the property, driving miles past an arch proclaiming entry to the Swanson Homestead, deeper and deeper into the woods. It’s only when I saw the blue of the Sound that I knew I hadn’t taken an unfortunate wrong turn.

The property feels both cozy and expansive, a collection of handmade wooden buildings that include the cheesemaking and aging rooms, the homestead, a barn that houses rabbits and farm equipment, a small hutch for three pigs that act as happy whey-receptacles (a byproduct of the cheesemaking process), and a house for the creamery’s employees and interns. These buildings are clustered in a circle around a large garden; adding to the camp vibe was a tent pitched by Lynn’s grandson, who had slept outside the night before. In total, the property encompasses a couple hundred acres – Lynn and her husband Stan own 80 of these acres – and has been in Stan’s family for years. In fact, Stan grew up on the property before Lynn joined Stan there in the late 1980s.

We drove around the property on a little go-cart, an empty bottle of Deschutes beer in the cup holder, so Lynn could show me the East Friesian-Lacaune flock, which are separated by meat sheep, currently milking ewes, replacement ewes yet to be integrated, and two excitable rams. After swooping down a hill to see the milking barn, we drove around a pen of contentedly grazing reserve dairy sheep to check on the animals Glendale raises for meat. Lynn pulled the go-cart over to assess one particular sheep, the newest addition to the group, and I watched her gently examine the sheep in a calm, deliberate manner, similar to the way an experienced baker shapes dough – more tactile, physical, and innate than consciously thought-out.

In their lives before Glendale Shepherd, Stan worked as a dentist and Lynn as a pattern maker. As they built their house, raised their son Erik, and navigated island life, Lynn kept sheep for fiber, meat, and enjoyment. Her relationship to sheep began to morph when she was diagnosed with a cow milk allergy. Looking for a source of milk for her family, she initially milked goats, but no one in her family could get past the smell (“they couldn’t get it past their nose,” she laughed). So when her existing flock of sheep gave birth the following spring, Lynn began to milk them – and as it turns out, “the sheep milk was delicious!” Much like when Laura Chenel sought an outlet for her goat milk in the 1970s, Lynn found herself with more milk than her family could drink and started researching basic ferments for the milk, transforming the liquid into yogurt, labneh, and eventually cheese.

Cheese remained an enjoyable side project until her son Erik became involved. Initially, Erik aspired to convert some of the property into a vegetable farm, but after realizing that the property wasn’t suitable for larger-scale vegetable production, he switched gears and apprenticed at Washington-based Black Sheep Creamery. Once committed to creating a viable cheesemaking business, the family researched every last angle, from business management, to cheese cultures, to equipment, before they started building the facility. “We didn’t want to make lots of stupid mistakes,” Lynn explained. Erik took classes at University of Wisconsin’s Spooner Agricultural Research Station, and the family went on a cheesemaking tour in 2010, asking questions and learning from cheesemakers across the country, gathering advice from “anyone who was open to guiding us a bit,” elaborated Lynn. Before they officially opened Glendale Shepherd three years ago, Lynn also dedicated vast quantities of time to understanding regulations and market needs.

Sandor Katz, of The Art of Fermentation fame, and a frequent reference in this ongoing fermentation series, writes that “[b]etween fresh and rotten, there is a creative space in which some of the most compelling flavors arise.”

A few Christmases ago, I personally encountered that fresh/rotten line.

I’d arrived at my relatives’ house, opened the unlocked door, and almost immediately turned around, leaving the presents at the stoop. I was overpowered by a truly noxious smell, best described as rotting food unpleasantly mixed with a dirty diaper (or two). Attempting to be gracious, I stepped inside and didn’t complain about the odor. An hour later, the cheese plate was brought out. There hadn’t been an unfortunate sewage spill inside their brick colonial house, after all. Rather, my brother-in-law had unwrapped Meadowcreek Dairy's Grayson cheese to allow it to breathe. A wash-rind cheese that Murray’s Cheese describes as “stinky”, Grayson is worshipped by cheesemongers and cheese lovers alike for its funky smell, oozing texture, and barnyard-like taste. The bacteria responsible? Brevibacterium linens.

It literally takes a scientific textbook to sort through the complicated and massive interplay among bacteria, yeasts, and molds on cheeses currently in production today. But all cheeses, no matter the milk, region, or ultimate style, begin life in a similar fashion. First, the milk is either pasteurized or left in its natural state.

Raw milk is as it sounds: straight from the animal. Pasteurized milk involves heating the milk for thirty minutes at 145ºF or for 15 seconds at 161ºF. This essentially creates a blank slate for the milk to then be cultured and turned into something greater than a liquid (or of course, simply drunk as milk, as it’s illegal to drink raw milk in most states in America). “To pasteurize or not” forms an intense debate among consumers and cheesemakers. On one hand, raw milk, from healthy animals like the sheep roaming around Glendale, is full of vitamins like C and B6, lactase, phosphotase, and beneficial bacteria including lactobacillus acidophilus, a probiotic that produces vitamin K, lactase, and anti-microbial substances such as acidolin, acidolphilin, and lactocidin. These beneficial bacteria are in abundance when sheep or other ruminants graze on their natural diet: grass and forage materials, with a diet free from sub-therapeutic antibiotics and steroids.

As regulated by the FDA, all fresh soft fermented cheeses and cultured milk products, such as yogurt, fromage blanc and cottage cheese, must be pasteurized to be legally sold. Lynn pasteurizes the sheep’s milk for the non-aged products she sells, which includes labneh and a spreadable cheese called Brebis Frais, because “it’s the law.” Lynn emphasized, “I’m not into taking risks. I’m into low risk products. I’m not one of those people who want to push the envelope and try to make a 60 day aged brie, even though it’s legal. That’s just setting yourself up.”

After that initial decision of pasteurization or raw, starter cultures are added to the milk. Raw milk already contains enough lactic acid bacteria to kickstart the cheesemaking process, but raw milk cheesemakers usually choose to add additional starter cultures for consistency, predictability, and reliability. Some cheesemakers, such as Sister Noella, a nun cheesemaker prominently featured in Michael Pollan’s Cooked, rely on the consistency of the cheesemaking environment to influence the reliability and strength of the innate cultures, which are present on everything from the spoon with which the liquid is stirred to the vessels in which the cheese is made. Rather than sterilizing everything and starting from scratch each time, Sister Noella creates conditions that encourage the prevalence of certain bacteria and discourage the presence of others.

For her aged cheeses, Lynn uses raw milk, but in a way still treats the milk like “blank slate ferment” by adding starter cultures to influence the fermentation. When asked why, she explained that she’s never tried to make cheese without using starter cultures, adding that “you don’t know what they are and have little control over what you’re going to get.”

These lactic acid bacteria starter cultures fall under two categories: thermophilic or mesophilic (or both). Mesophilic starter cultures work in moderate heat and are slower acting; thermophilic cultures are active at higher temperatures and continue to play a role in the aging process. Some starter cultures are ideal for semi-soft and fresh cheeses like Cheddar, Colby, and Chevre (MA011), while others, like LH100, work in combination with thermophilic cultures and aid in flavor development of mountain style cheese like Gruyere.

After cultures are added, the lactobacilli begin to rapidly reproduce, desperate to consume the milk’s lactose, the sugars naturally present in the milk. Similar to bread and sauerkraut, the lactic acid bacteria convert the lactose into lactic acid. As the pH starts to fall, the resulting mixture becomes inhospitable to virulent, pathogenic bacteria. This acidic environment also stimulates the rennet, an enzyme that cheesemakers add to separate the curds from the whey, a process known as coagulation. Coagulation expels water from the mixture while retaining as much fat as possible. This rennet traditionally comes from an enzyme called chymosin that resides in a calf’s stomach (the source of that initial “cheese discovery” thousands of years ago); while this protein-linking enzyme is still sometimes sourced from a calf’s stomach, most modern cheesemakers, both farmstead and factory, use rennet from a naturally occurring mold (Mucor miehie) or genetically modified organism.

Once the rennet is added, the milk is left undisturbed until it coagulates. The liquid (whey) is then drained off and the curd is usually cut and stirred before being drained again. From there, cheeses are salted, placed into molds, and aged. Just like with bread, kombucha, and other ferments, the cheese is “finished” when a stable community of bacteria and fungi exist and the desired taste and texture is achieved.

A cheesemaker manipulates all of these steps and factors, from time, to temperature, to cultures, to brine, in order to create a tomme instead of a camembert. Lynn wasn’t comfortable sharing details about the specifics of her cheeses, only saying that the process is part of what makes the Glendale cheeses unique and that each cheese stems from years of experimentation. Every cheesemonger or writer has a slightly different way of categorizing cheeses, but in general, cheeses are grouped according to fresh or aged (and in the category of aged, either uncooked pressed or cooked pressed), mold-ripened/bloomy, washed rind, and blue. Bloomy cheeses like brie and camembert are distinguished by their ashened furry rind and runny, moist interior.

Glendale Shepherd produces both aged and fresh cheeses. The fresh products (which also include yogurt) start with pasteurized milk, are inoculated with a selection of cultures, and then transform into yogurt and Brebis Frais, a spreadable cheese. Glendale Shepherd’s other cheeses include “Island Brebis”, a Good Food Award winning tomme-style cheese that’s washed, brushed, turned, and aged for up to a year. Creation of tomme cheese involves heating milk to a lower temperature and shaping curds into wheel-shaped molds. After being packed in a salt brine, the cheese wheels move to the aging room, which is kept at a steady temperature of 52 degrees and 90 percent humidity. Another aged Glendale cheese, the “Saratoga Passage”, is a washed curd style. Washed curd cheeses are created when part of the whey is removed as the curds are stirred and replaced with hot water. The hot water forces excess whey out of the mixture and reduces the lactose (milk sugar) concentration, resulting in a milder cheese, as there is less lactic acid. Havarti and Gouda are well-known washed curd style cheeses.

There are numerous beneficial bacteria found in a cheese’s interior and rind – including B. Linens, that dirty sock bacteria common on washed rind cheeses, and Goetrichum candidum, a microorganism with both mold and yeast forms that colonize bloomy rind cheeses. With Goetrichum candidum, different strains of the mold eat different nutrients in the milk while producing chemical byproducts that ultimately contribute nuanced flavor to the cheese. Washed curd cheeses like Saratoga Passage have been found to be rich in Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 and Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM, both probiotics that boost the immune system.

So what is the 50 pound binder’s role in this controlled-yet-spontaneous fermentation of milk? The binder tracks the output of the cheesemaking facility and controls any outbreak of virulent pathogens, namely Listeria monocytogenes. Listeria is a bacteria that exists everywhere and in multiple forms, but if the wrong form is present on a piece of cheese or in the facility, the potential for a food borne illness arises. The challenging part about regulating one bacteria over another is that cheese IS bacteria. Cheesemakers create conditions where beneficial bacteria remain (both to the eater and to the health of the cheese), and virulent forms, like Listeria or E. coli, are kept at bay via the acidity of the ferment and presence of inhibitory microbes.

The gut of a ruminant is also a fermented environment. Cows, sheep, and goats are herbivores and access nutrients from plants. These nutrients are trapped in cell walls, making them impossible to unlock without some assistance. This assistance comes in the form of microbes; ruminants have been in a fruitful symbiotic relationship with them for thousands of years. The process of “chewing the cud” occurs when a ruminant regurgitates and re-chews to break the food down into a more accessible surface area for microbial action. The microbes ferment greens and other forage, providing the ruminant with fatty acids and sugar, all while existing contentedly in the gut, eating and digesting. In the end, ruminants obtain most of their nutrients from microbes, not directly from plant material.

Unfortunately, most milk comes from ruminants fed vast quantities of grain (to say nothing about growth promoters or antibiotics). Those helpful microbes residing within each ruminant are not adapted to digest grains, and as a result most ruminants become sick when they transition to a grain-based diet, triggering a round of antibiotics. These antibiotics are indiscriminate in their lethality, obliterating all kinds of bacteria, including the protective and beneficial varieties. As the animal continues to eat corn and grain, slime begins to cover the rumen, and gas, a natural byproduct of fermented digestion, becomes trapped. A bacteria called Spretoccoccus bovis proliferates, producing vast quantities of lactic acid. This acid decreases the blood pH and creates an environment in which E. coli can adapt and thrive in the animal, and, scarily, even continue to thrive in our acidic stomachs after the animal is butchered, immune to acid that would normally kill it.

The milk that is delivered from these stressed-out animals is teeming with potentially virulent strains of bacteria and should be pasteurized. Common cheese-linked illnesses come from ruminant carried pathogens like Campylobacter, E. coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes, and Salmonella. As Liz Thorpe writes, “Bacteria, yeasts, and molds are not inherently bad. Pathogens that result from sick animals, unsanitary milking or cheesemaking conditions, or careless milk handling are.” On a farmstead dairy like Glendale Shepherd, where the animals graze happily on appropriate food, ensuring healthy guts and cheese full of beneficial bacteria, Lynn’s raw milk doesn’t need to be pasteurized for her aged cheeses: she wants the flavor the raw milk brings to the cheese. But unlike in Europe, where cheesemakers can determine the length of time they age their raw milk cheeses, the FDA states that American raw milk cheese must be aged a minimum of 60 days, as this aging creates conditions in which pathogens like Listeria, E. coli, Staphylococcus, and Brucellosis can’t survive. This growth suppression is referred to as the “Jameson effect”, described as an inter-bacteria race to use the resources of their environment to maximize population and growth. If conditions are correct, the fuel (milk sugar) is used up and there’s no food to allow the pathogenic bacteria to survive.

Lynn concisely explained this concept: “The thing about the bacteria that you’re worried about is that they’re very weak, they’re not players. The cultures that we’re using to make cheese for the lactic acid fermentation, they’re robust. They are such rapid producers of lactic acid that they consume all the fuel like bam. If there’s any lactose left after the first short amount of time – there’s no fuel for a pathogen. Our low moisture raw cheeses are so dry, there’s really nothing there. You’d have to put a lot of stuff on the outside to recontaminate it. [But] you could put it there and it probably wouldn’t grow."

My visit to Glendale Shepherd happened to coincide with a controversial FDA statement that has since been revoked. About a month ago, the FDA issued a document stating that wooden cheese shelves could harbor dangerous bacteria because they aren’t “adequately cleanable”. Many observers feared that the FDA’s move was a preemptive message that would lead to the elimination of all cheese aged on these boards, essentially wiping all farmstead cheeses from the shelves, not to mention numerous imported cheeses from Europe. The FDA focuses much of their attention on one particular pathogen, a specific strain of Listeria, L. monocytogenes, and views these wood boards as potential harborer of the pathogen, despite little evidence to support this claim, and no food borne illnesses reported from farmstead creameries who age cheese on wooden boards.

In fact, if you look at the FDA’s own statistics, food borne illnesses from cheeses, even factory cheeses, “barely make a line on the pie chart”, Lynn shared, compared to foods like bagged salad, lunch meat, and cantaloupe. Outbreaks of E. Coli, Salmonella, and Listeria happen not from the mere presence of Listeria on the sidewalk outside of the facility but because of improper animal husbandry or food handling conditions, including factors like contaminated water, contaminated equipment, and unmonitored pH changes that can trigger an environment in which specific kinds of bacteria thrive.

If milk comes from a healthy animal and is prepared by a cheesemaking expert who understands the nuances of bacteria and the differences between clean and sterile, those wood aging shelves, or Sister Noella’s wooden spoon, will be teeming with protective bacteria that counteract the presence of that one particular strain of listeria. Sister Noella believes that “a cheesemaker’s techniques operate like forces of natural selection to determine which species will succeed.” Gianclis Caldwell, an Oregon cheesemaker at Pholia Farm, writes on her blog that “contamination of any aging shelf can happen when poor practices occur at any stage of cheese production, but it is not any more likely when wood is used.” Instead, because wood breathes and holds moisture, it is teaming with beneficial microbes. Caldwell goes on to write in great detail about the various ways her facility protects against a listeria outbreak, including monitoring goal pH, final moisture content, and proper aging.

Yet these protective factors, a broad understanding of bacteria’s inherent role in cheese production, and a recognition of how a clean environment doesn’t mean a sterile environment, appear to be absent from the FDA’s single-tracked pursuit of listeria. The FDA has a history of shutting down small cheesemakers when listeria is found, including beloved farmstead dairies in Washington and New York’s Finger Lakes region. Did the FDA feel forced to shut these operations down because of a food borne illness epidemic on the scale of Jensen Farm’s cantaloupes, where 147 people were sickened and three people died? Actually, no one was negatively affected by the cheeses produced at Estrella Dairy and Finger Lakes Farmstead. Unlike in Europe and Canada, which allow up to 100 cells of L. monocytogenes, the presence of a single cell of L. monocytogenes is enough to shut down a farmstead cheesemaking operation for good.

Of the three main milks for cheese, Lynn’s sheep milk cheese is still the least common, with Lynn occasionally fielding questions like “What kind of cow is sheep milk from?” and “You can milk a sheep?” You can certainly milk a sheep; sheep have a seven month lactation period, and a ewe produces the most milk right after she lambs. In our era of year-round dairies and industrial methods like artificial lighting, artificial insemination, and selective breeding all designed to ensure a vast, reliable source of milk, sheep milk remains an incredibly seasonal proposition. Sheep mate naturally, and only in the fall, which makes a sheep farmstead a true glimpse into how sheep have been reared and milked for centuries, and how Lynn, despite that binder full of regulations, is able to hone into the romantic, seasonal qualities of her herd.

The connection to seasonality and to the land stands as a vital and necessary balance to the rules, paperwork, regulations, and classes that Lynn must navigate as a Grade A dairy and farmstead cheese. That binder she showed me took an entire winter to complete, as she went back and forth from Whidbey Island to Oregon State University taking classes. She shared that she’s had a few friends who have quit because they didn’t feel like they could handle the paperwork. “You’ve got to continually go back and monitor your monitoring. It goes on and on,” she added.

Many fermenters, kraut slingers and bread bakers alike, have a free flowing approach to bacteria and the complicated reaction happening on a microscopic level. My conversations with them haven’t led to binders full of regulations being heaved out or discussions about the FDA. Cheesemakers must exist in dual worlds, with respect and awe of bacterial fermentation, and with awareness of the exact conditions that could lead to regulatory issues. This duality attracts a different personality to the profession, less freewheeling Sandor Katz and more agricultural scientist, as Lynn must temper her romance and love of animals with a clinical, lab-like approach to the final product. Luckily for Lynn, she seems to thrive under these FDA-dictated conditions, aware that her facility is operating at an extraordinarily high level. Just like cheese has to find a balance between the rind and paste, Lynn finds a daily balance between the orderly side of the cheesemaking facility and the natural side of the farm. She may have to record every action in the cheesemaking room, but she can visit the ewes and walk the property as often as she wants, unrecorded – walks that might stimulate new thoughts about cheese types and flavors.

As I strolled around Glendale Shepherd after our conversation, everything appeared as it should: sheep were resting, eating, grazing, bleating. The cheesemaking room was scrubbed down and pristine. The cheese case was brimming with milk and cheese, surrounded by cute and kitschy dairy antiques. Outside, the pigs ate the whey, the garden flourished, and the sun shined. Unseen were the microbes existing inside and on us, in the soil, and in the milk and cheese. These microbes operate out of sight, but not out of mind, and with a creamery like Glendale Shepherd – a clean, orderly, Animal Welfare Approved farm, home to content sheep and award-winning products – you have faith in the balance of multilayered microbial action, aware that these microbial reactions lead to amazing cheese.

The Swanson family’s deep connection to and knowledge of the land and animals creates conditions that stimulate experimentation, allowing Lynn to culture her cheeses according to the season and to be intrinsically tapped in on several levels: to the sheep and to the land, and to the interplay of microbes in the curds and whey. Lynn’s love for land and sheep, the ever-present binder, the teeming microbes, the heritage of past cheese and the experimentation of present, cannot hope to be adequately explained – except that it is, completely and totally, in every bite of Glendale cheese.