Sheep’s Milk Cheeses in U.S. Earn Ribbons but Little Profit
Seated with hundreds of colleagues at the American Cheese Society awards ceremony in Des Moines this past July, Rebecca Williams heard her farm’s name announced not once but twice, for its acclaimed sheep’s milk cheeses.
“We make good cheese,” Ms. Williams said to herself as she approached the stage to collect the second-place prize for Peekville Tomme, the farm’s aged wheel. Her ash-ripened Condor’s Ruin had just taken a blue ribbon in another category.
Those two ribbons are probably her last. In October, cheese production ceased at Many Fold Farm, the six-year-old Georgia sheep dairy that Ms. Williams operates with her husband, Ross. “It’s really hard to get such great recognition for your work, have people banging on your door, and it’s not enough to make ends meet,” she said.
Tripped up by the tricky economics of sheep dairying, the Williamses are among several disillusioned dreamers who hoped to succeed with American sheep cheese, a niche that did not exist 30 years ago. Although consumers in the United States have a sizable appetite for European sheep cheeses — Spanish manchego, French Roquefort and Italian pecorino Toscano among them — comparably priced domestic alternatives remain scarce.
Photo credit: Dustin Chambers for The New York Times