Producer Feature: Nettle Meadow Farm and Artisan Cheese
In these unsettling times, we’d like to take a moment to highlight our hardworking producers. Small farms and creameries have certainly taken a huge hit in the economic devastation caused by the pandemic. We’ve asked some of our producers to give us an update on how they’re doing – here’s Sheila from Nettle Meadow introducing her animals at the sanctuary.
If you’re not familiar with Nettle Meadow – where have you been?? Here’s a bit about these two amazing women whose love of animals led them to a cheesey adventure:
Two lawyers with a passion for animals from Oakland, CA, quit their jobs, bought a farm in Thurman, NY, and started a brand-new business. That alone should give you some insight into what kind of people Sheila Flanagan and Lorraine Lambiase are, and how they run Nettle Meadow Farms. Located just south of the Adirondak Mountains, the farm itself was broken down, but included a cheese room and 36 goats; 15 of those goats needed to retire. With a lot of gumption, dedication, and perseverance, they turned that old farm into a creamery with 300 working goat and sheep and home to over 100 rescued and retired animals.
The duo developed a series of award winning cheeses, their first and most popular Kunik, a goat and cow triple crème. It has continually won awards such as the Gold Medal at the 2016 World Cheese Championship. Others followed suit; Three Sisters, a mixed milk bloomy rind cheese, and Briar Summit, a bloomy pyramid shaped cheese made with mixed milk and cow cream infused with raspberry tea, all have taken home awards. Compared to the big boys in cheese making, Nettle Meadow’s facility is quite small. They have 4 cheese vats 15 gallon being the smallest and 100 gallon the largest. In the busy season, they make 7 batches of cheeses per day, meaning that it takes great effort and technical skill to achieve a consistency level as they do. One of the secrets to the flavors of their cheeses is their underground aging room. It used to be a subterranean butter cellar in the 1800s. Giant stone walls and arched ceilings help the humidity drip down along the sides and not hit the cheese. It inducts a unique taste to each cheese, and a real sense of terroir.
No one can deny Lorraine and Sheila’s love and dedication to animal welfare. The animals on their farm are treated with special care, everything from their environment to their feed is all for their comfort and health. Their diet, listed on the label of their cheeses, consists of wild raspberry leaf, nettle, kelp, comfrey, garlic, barley, and goldenrod; all vegetation that grow on their farm or brought in for their antibiotic properties and digestion aide.
While most farms slaughter their older working animals, Sheila and Lorraine do something different. They started the Kemp Animal Sanctuary, a non-profit sector of their farm that serves as a place for retiring animals, like those goats they first acquired. The idea was to have a “retirement plan” for the animals. “The goat and sheep, they put in a lot, we let them tell us when it’s time to retire” says Sheila. Once the word spread that they were taking in retired and rescued animals, the flood gates opened. They started getting calls from neighboring farms about taking in not just goat and sheep, but animals of all types, horses, lamas, even peacocks! They do this solely out of donations and little profits they get from the business.
With rising costs and strict food safety programs that take up time and additional money, it’s hard for smaller creameries to keep afloat. Sheila says “there is one goat and sheep place closing every month.” Despite that fact, they make sure to pay their staff of 20- 25 well. The area isn’t exactly a hot spot for employment. It was financially downtrodden for generations. For Sheila and Lorraine, that made it even more important to find a livable wage along with the best health insurance available. They pay double what most do in insurance because for them, the people who take care of the animals they love are just as valuable.
It’s clear that the hard working team at Nettle Meadow is made up of superheroes. Besides cheesemaking and running a business, she also acts as the town judge on Tuesdays. Their main assistant Sal studied Old European languages, which helped them learn old techniques in cheese making. We at Zuercher and Co. couldn’t be prouder to offer Nettle Meadow’s cheeses and support such a passionate team of animal lovers and cheese makers. With evident play and creativity they have with their cheeses, along with the philanthropic work they do with the sanctuary, Sheila and Lorraine are truly inspiring women.