So, how do you know you made the right decision? Really? On anything? Is it after a certain period of time before you are able to look back and say, "Boy, I'm glad I did that!" Is it after a major failure or success? Well, I believe you know after each step you take towards your dream.
This was our first step.
In June, we traveled the southeast region and visited several dairies and creameries all in an effort to learn more about what we would hope to offer our customers. The first stop was Sweet Grass Dairy in Thomasville, Georgia. It was raining so we were reserved to an interior tour. We donned our foot covers, lab coats and hair nets. I was most surprised that the art of cheese making is more of a science rather than the romantic visions I had in my head. There was stainless steel everywhere you looked with folks cleaning, spraying and wiping each and every surface, guarding against the unseen that could potentially contaminate their treasures. The huge vats held curds and whey (little miss muffet was on break). The large walk in coolers held blue and tomme and small puffy cloud looking cheeses. In the most intriguing room, the natural rind cheeses were being washed by hand. We left there totally educated and even more exited about our decision to open a specialty cheese shop.
Next, we ventured to Sandy Springs, just outside of Atlanta, to Calyroad. Tanjia introduced us to the cheese maker as well as the other staff. Like, Sweet Grass, pride and stainless steel was everywhere. Their curds, feta, and black pepper rolled chèvre was fantastic. Could it be that the same industrial type operation could yield such different results in cheese? The answer is yes.
Our favorite farm was next, Dayspring. Greg and Ana were not only in love with their product of sheep milk cheeses, they also loved their lifestyles. The former IT professional turned sheep farmer showed us his animals, his operation, his livelihood ... and you could see how excited he was to offer us their cheeses. We bought the most there. Not only because of the quality but because of the passion. I wonder, do they question their decision to leave their former lives behind and their move to the country with sheep?
We then moved on to Belle Chèvre, with their refurbished cotton mill in the little town of Alexandria, Alabama. Their goat cheeses were beautiful as well as their goats. Dennis showed us around while the "ladies" processed a new order for a major grocery chain. They all spoke of the owner like she was royalty. You could see the pride in their product but also in belonging to something. The owner quit her corporate job to pursue her dream. Did she question her decision? If so, she shouldn't!
Then, right outside of Birmingham, we met with the good folks at Stonehollow. Their storefront was like walking into cannery heaven. They specialize in marinated Goat Cheese but their canned goods were mesmerizing. I've never thought that jarred okra and thyme infused jams could be beautiful, but they were...they are! We learned about the farmstead and how they believe in sustaining the local farms and it showed. We packed our coolers with more.
We learned that all of these farms and dairies were started long ago by families dedicated to their craft. We also learned that the new owners took a chance to learn about how to make cheeses and products that would continue these traditions, but they all had to make a critical decision to take on something completely new and even unknown. But they did. And they have done it well. I didn't get to ask them if they made the right decision. I wonder if they even know. I say they did. And we did.