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At Many Fold Farm, cheesemaker Rebecca Williams and her husband Ross, head farmer, tend to a flock of a couple hundred sheep, seventy of which are "milkers" doing their part in the cheese production. There are chickens, too, 400 or so of them who are constantly laying eggs and generally causing a ruckus, but unfortunately aren't much help with the cheese. Rebecca says she and her husband are "simply dairy people," meaning they work really hard. But that hard work is paying off in the form of sheep's milk cheeses that could sit confidently on any cheese tray in the country's best restaurants. That Garretts Ferry cheese is an exquisite little button of sheep milk magic, creamy and complex. Many Fold Farm's Condor's Ruin is denser, ash-ripened, a small shapely pyramid of stark milk white lined with dusty ash black that manages to pack in even more depth of flavor. Both of these cheeses, if you taste them thoughtfully, convey a good deal about all the work and attention that went into making them. And don't expect to find them come autumn - Many Fold Farms' milking season takes a break until February, and so the relatively young cheeses yield way to longer aged cheese.
With the clearly burgeoning farmstead cheesemaking scene in Georgia, one might expect there to be a good amount of sharing of ideas and best practices. The community is certainly supportive, but the one thing that gets in the way is the inherent lifestyle of the dairy farmer/cheesemaker. Says Williams, "with the long hours, working really hard, we don't get to see other cheesemakers that often. But we do try."
If there's one place you can find multiple Georgia cheesemakers in one place, it's the Peachtree Road Farmers Market. On a typical summer Saturday morning, for example, you're likely to see Mary from Decimal.Place Farm and Ross from Many Fold Farm, as well as booths from Greendale Farm and Izzy's Local Cheeses. For cheese lovers, the farmers markets provide an opportunity to sample the cheeses, meet folks from the farm or the cheesemaker himself/herself, and know that any dollars spent are going right to the cheesemaker. For the cheesemakers, it's obviously a great way to get out and meet interested consumers, and it's one of the main retail outlets for some of the smaller producers. But as far as having time to swap stories with their fellow cheesemakers? It's hard to squeeze that in between all the customers lining up.
It's worth pointing out that some of the new crop of Georgia cheesemakers don't go the whole farm route: they buy their milk. That's not to denigrate their cheese or to say that it's any less "local" or "artisanal" – for these cheesemakers, it's just a matter of trusting someone else to hand over good milk. CalyRoad Creamery, for example, makes their wide array of cheeses and operates a shop of their own in Sandy Springs, using milk supplied by Johnston Family Farm. Izzy's Local Cheeses, out of Newborn, Georgia, also gets their milk from Johnston, and focuses on fresh mozzarella. Greendale Farm actually is a farm, complete with cattle and pigs and chickens and more, but they partner with a neighbor for the milk supply necessary to make their many cheeses. A more unique partnership is the one that Udderly Cool Creamery has with Berry College, sourcing their milk from the nearby college's student-managed herd of Jersey cows. These non-farmstead cheesemakers are still contributing to the wave of carefully crafted Georgia cheese; they're just not waking up on the farm and raising the animals themselves in advance of making the cheese.
Beyond the farmers markets, the support for these Georgia cheesemakers has come most prominently from restaurants like Linton Hopkins' Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch, or from top cheese shops like the one masterfully curated by Tim Gaddis at Star Provisions. If anyone is qualified to speak to the quality of Georgia's crop of local cheese, it's Gaddis (AKA "Tim the Cheese Man"), who stocks some of the best cheeses in the world, whether from near or far. Gaddis noted, "the local cheesemaker scene is exploding — I can count five new dairies off the top of my head that have started up in the last few years in Georgia."
Fortunately, Georgia is not a place where everyone tends to jump on the same bandwagon. Gaddis points out the variety of different styles of cheeses being made by Georgia cheesemakers, "I'm happy to say there really isn't one single trend the local cheesemakers are following. Everyone seems to have their own style, which is nice for me because I can carry several of them without worrying if one will compete with the other. The best thing is these dairies are not just making average, run-of-the-mill cheese. They are producing some of the best in the nation. Just look at the result from this year's American Cheese Society." Better yet, head over to Star Provisions or the Peachtree Road Farmers Market, and try a few yourself.