Not terribly far from the Florida Georgia border, a sustainable family-owned farm (farms really, but more on that later) is churning out some of the creamiest, gooey-ist, buttery-ist double creme this side of the sea. I picked up a wheel of Sweet Grass Dairy‘s award winning Green Hill Double Creme Camembert some time ago when I was merely a customer at Artisan Cheese Company and instantly fell in love as I slathered thick smears of it on freshly warmed baguette while standing at my kitchen counter. Now that I’m behind the cheese counter, Louise has to regularly check my purse to make sure I’m not stealing the inventory. It’s that good. I would lose my job for this cheese.
Heavily influenced by Temple Grandin’s (please tell me you know who Temple Grandin is) approach to animal husbandry and rotational grazing, Sweet Grass Dairy cows are always on pasture, which, as you cheese lovers know, means richer, more complex milk, thus richer, more complex cheese. Decadent might be the best word to describe this beautiful soft and bloomy. (What is a soft and bloomy? Think Bries and Camemberts and the like – thin, white rinds cradling young, soft cheeses.) At times, when it’s still young, it’s like eating softened salted butter, but as it ages and breaks down a bit, the denseness turns into a thick creamy center…it’s like eating velvet. Personally, I prefer it when it’s super ripe – it’s like a mini fondue.
Sweet Grass Dairy is a family affair. After decades of getting the ball rolling, Desiree and Al Wehner (who started as dairy farmers) sold their farm in 2005 to their youngest daughter, Jessica, and her husband, Jeremy Little, who had been helping form this remarkable farm for years. Since 2005 the Littles have turned Sweet Grass into something big. It’s worth reading this sweet background story on how this award-winning Southern farm, famous for their cow’s milk cheeses, started with 11 goats and a German immigrant.
So, how are cows always on pasture in the hot, hot South? Sweet Grass utilizes New Zealand style rotational grazing which moves herds ‘regularly, strategically and systematically to fresh pastures in an effort to maximize the quality and quantity of the each paddock.’ Umm, what? Pretty much they have different plots of land in which they water at varying intervals so the grass is always growing on one area at a time, allowing the cows to always eat what’s best for them. You guys already know how I feel about keeping animals happy. Happy animals = better cheese. Better cheese = a better world.
Their site says, ‘Rotational grazing reduces the amount of animal waste and allows farmers to have more pastures at their maximum peak production. Having a constant water source that the farmer controls helps increase the herd’s productivity, reduces runoff, and limits erosion. At Green Hill Farms, we have anywhere from 600 to 800 cows spread over three separate farms. The majority of the herd are Jersey cows and are moved every 12 to 24 hours depending on the needs of both the animals and the farm.’ Let’s review. Jersey cows – awesome. Meeting the farmers’ and animals’ needs – awesomer. Rotational grazing – awesomest.
They go on to proudly say their ‘family-owned cows are treated like they are supposed to be treated: out on grass, free to run around and enjoy nature as intended. We never use hormones and we rarely use antibiotics and even then it’s strictly on a case-by-case basis. We treat our animals like we would treat members of our family, because to us they are.’ How sweet is that? I love you, Littles! Thanks for caring so much, it shows in your cheese!
And, back to that beautiful cheese, Green Hill has won a shit ton of awards. Which awards? Eight awards from the American Cheese Society, mainly first and second place for simply being the most ridiculously delicious cheese ever.
Each batch of Green Hill takes approximately five hours. Every wheel is hand-ladled and ripened for two weeks before being shipped out to their respective destinations. Hey, guess where you can find some? Come see me at Artisan Cheese Company where we’ll rip open a wheel and binge until Louise tears us away.