Utah duo's sheep dairy finds unexpected success
By BRAD GILLMAN
Standard-Examiner via Associated Press
OGDEN, Utah (AP) -- A new kind of farm is up and running in the middle of Ogden Valley, and it's making waves among cheese-loving circles around the country. The place is the Snowy Mountain Sheep Creamery in Eden -- thought to be the only dairy sheep farm Utah.
The sheep creamery, owned and operated by Stig and Susan Hansen, is just now wrapping up its sophomore year. But the results have impressed even the Hansens.
The couple took home the best of class award in March at the U.S. Cheese Championship with their Timpanogos Peak Blue Cheese. They also placed fourth in the mixed-blend category with their Strawberry Peak Cheese.
Sheep milk is a mild form of dairy -- the taste is more in line with cow's milk than goat's milk, Stig Hansen said.
The couple began discussing starting a farm several years ago. But Susan Hansen, who grew up on a dairy cow farm, was against the idea.
In 2009, they had the opportunity to care for a flock of sheep.
"We really took a liking to the sheep, and we especially love cheeses from all over the world," she said.
So they put together a new farm in Eden and investigated artisan cheese-making with Utah State University professor Donald McMahon.
The farm is a small operation with a big herd. Their animals aren't exactly run-of-the mill sheep -- the Hansens raise French Lacaune, Icelandic and East Freesian breeds.
Susan takes care of the large flock, Stig provides the expertise in creating the cheese, and Sasha and Kenai, two Great Pyrenees dogs, protect the farm from predators.
The creamery is coming off a whirlwind spring, experiencing everything that Mother Nature had to throw at them.
"It's been just unbelievable as far as the winds and the hail, and the snow and the huge, frigid temperature swings. That's really hard on all livestock," Susan said.
But the flock has grown by leaps and bounds; the two-person team handled 106 births. Susan said it was rare to get four hours of sleep a night during the season.
A single sheep can produce 500 to a 1,000 pounds of milk per year. It's Stig's job to turn it into winning products.
"The problem with cheese-making is you just can't buy the recipe. Everything is so different," said Stig, an accomplished chef and author of a Danish cookbook.
Everything must be precise, right down to a temperature.
The Hansens decided to enter the national cheese competition to give their farm more visibility.
"When I entered the contest, I was expecting to get some feedback from the judges," said Stig. He wanted tips from the pros.
But the tips never came -- instead, he won awards for both of his submissions.
The cheeses grace the shelves of several health markets along the Wasatch Front, and are now offered at Beehive Cheese in Uintah, Valley Market in Eden and Harmons stores.
The Hansens now have a strong, growing flock and a variety of four cheeses to date -- all in less than two years.
And they're open to showing others their unconventional dairy.
"We welcome people to come and have a tour of the farm," said Susan Hansen, "if they will give us a call first and let us know when they can come so we can arrange it."
Information from: Standard-Examiner, http://www.standard.net
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.