Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In rural Nerstrand: Of sheep & cheesemaking July 26, 2016

 

Approaching Shepherd's Way Farms, rural Nerstrand.

Approaching Shepherd’s Way Farms, rural Nerstrand.

I WAS SMITTEN, simply smitten by the two-day-old lambs at Shepherd’s Way Farms. I wanted to snatch one of the babies from an outdoor pen, tuck it under my arm and scamper to the van.

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 111 white lamb

 

Lucky for the owners of Shepherd’s Way, I am not the rustling type. And lucky for Shepherd’s Way that a hawk, eagle or other predator did not discover these unexpected pasture-born lambs—born out of the regular lambing season.

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 151 penned lambs

 

The lambs, penned under the shade of sprawling oaks, proved a popular attraction during a recent 2106 Eat Local Farm Tour at Steven Read and Jodi Ohlsen Read’s dairy sheep farm near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 143 Burr Oak cheese

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 173 sheep in pasture

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 145 Big Woods Blue Cheese

 

Here sheep graze pastureland, fueling up to produce milk for award-winning handcrafted artisan cheeses. Farm tour visitors sampled those cheeses which range from creamy Shepherd’s Hope to the denser, firmer Burr Oak to a blue cheese appropriately named Big Woods Blue. I found the cheeses especially flavorful and the softer cheeses exquisitely creamy, traits attributed to the higher fat content of sheep’s milk.

Farm co-owner and cheesemaker Jodi Ohlsen Read talks about Shepherd's Way Farms.

Farm co-owner and cheesemaker Jodi Ohlsen Read talks about Shepherd’s Way Farms.

The tour group heads toward the barn.

The tour group heads toward the barn.

Looking through a window, visitors get a look at the area where the sheep are secured and fed during milking.

Looking through a window, visitors see the area where the sheep are secured and fed during milking.

Again, through a window, visitors view aging cheese wheels.

Through an interior window, visitors can view the cheese.

Jodi led visitors on a tour past the milking barn and cheesemaking and aging rooms. As we followed her along a hallway separating us from the operational area, we learned about cheesemaking from start to finish. She’s the cheesemaker. Oversized windows allowed for viewing. Here, some 240 sheep are milked in a process that takes about four hours from set-up to milking to clean-up. Jodi noted that if you don’t like to clean, then sheep dairy farming/cheesemaking is not for you.

Jodi answers questions once the barn tour is finished.

Jodi answers questions following the barn tour.

It is clear from Jodi’s tour that she loves this rural way of life, this place where she’s raised four sons. Although grown, those young men still occasionally help, this day at the tour and also with marketing the family’s cheeses. Shepherd’s Way cheese sells primarily in the Twin Cities—at farmers’ markets and select grocery stores—but also as distant as Chicago and the East Coast. The farm also has a Community Supported Agriculture program.

Promotional art showcased inside the on-site store.

Promotional art showcased inside the on-site store.

Classes, tastings and tours are also offered at the farm by the well-spoken and knowledgeable cheesemaker who comes from a pre-dairy professional background in writing and editing.

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 127 sheep by barn

 

Listening to Jodi affirms the farm’s mission statement published on its website:

At Shepherd’s Way Farms, we believe there is a way to live that combines hard work, creativity, respect for the land and animals, and a focus on family and friends. We believe the small family-based farm still has a place in our society. Everything we do, everything we make, is in pursuit of this goal.

Shepherd's Way Farms, 150 bottle feeding lamb

 

I left Shepherd’s Way understanding this family’s passion, appreciative of their hard work and savory cheeses, and still wishing I could snatch a lamb.

BONUS PHOTOS:

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 106 silos & barn

This 1940s former dairy barn and the attached lower building have been converted in to a milking parlor, a cheese production room and a cheese aging room.

This is a beautiful old barn. I especially like the character of the entry.

This is a beautiful old barn. I especially like the character of the entry.

Incredible aged oaks tower near the old barn.

Incredible aged oaks tower near the old barn.

There's a second barn on the property, this one moved several miles from Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

There’s a second barn on the property, this one moved several miles from Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. The 120-foot long barn replaces the lamb nursery destroyed in a 2005 arson fire.

This farm cat hides in a wooden box outside the farm shop/tasting room.

This farm cat hides in a wooden box outside the farm shop/tasting room.

Outside the tasting room/store.

Outside the tasting room/store.

FYI: Click here to read my previous post about Simple Harvest Organic Farm, another Nerstrand area farm I visited during the 2016 Eat Local Farm Tour.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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12 Responses to “In rural Nerstrand: Of sheep & cheesemaking”

  1. Dan Traun Says:

    Love that mission statement. The cheese looks and sounds delicious.

  2. **we believe there is a way to live that combines hard work, creativity, respect for the land and animals, and a focus on family and friends**

    Now, this is a good SPEECH!

    Ok, the farm cat is the super-star!

    Super photos. Fabulous “YOU,” for bringing me there. xx

  3. You had me at cheese and then the lamb – ahhh – loving the captures 🙂 We had chickens, pigs and sheep on our small farm as well as 4 big garden plots. Happy Day – Enjoy!

  4. Love the kitty. Thanks for the neat tour. I have been in dairy barns before but not one that makes cheese. It would have been fun to tag along.

    • I grew up on a dairy farm, so it was interesting for me to see this operation. I even saw milk bulk tanks that looked like the one on my childhood farm. This dairy buys those tanks from dairy farmers who have gone out of business.

  5. Beth Ann Says:

    I am leaving now to kidnap that lamb…….


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