Thursday, February 3, 2011
Rebecca King’s 40-acre farmstead in bucolic Royal Oaks is like a scene right out of Babe: Her ewes roam placidly on the sloped green pasture, each one is named after a type of flower – Daisy, Bluebell and Hibiscus – and are watched over by a giant, fluffy, white Great Pyreneese named Bubba.
Up the hill is the ornery Miss Piggly, who struggles to eat enough cheese rinds to stay fat for her 10 newborn piglets. There are goats and kids, a duck and ducklings, and some 120 month-old lambs, still unsure on their feet.
King has been making cheese from her raw organic sheep milk under the name Garden Variety Cheese since March 2009, and the farm she has built, and the cheese she is making, is the realization of a dream.
“I don’t care if I can buy electronics, a fishing boat, whatever,” she says, “I get to do what I want.”
She started out farming with just sheep, but that presented a business problem: Sheep only flow milk six months out of the year, from January to June, and given that she was selling out all of her cheese, that meant six months with no income. She then created the “Adopt a Ewe” program, where $500 (the cost to feed and care for a ewe in the off months) gives fans of her cheese a chance to support her farm in return for $600 in cheese, wool and meat products the following January through June, as well as the opportunity to visit the farm and meet the animals. It was a hit.
She has since expanded into goat cheese, as goats produce milk year round and thereby allow her to make cheese in all seasons.
King’s milking animals are fed on a mixture of organic hay and organic barley that she gets from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing, and their rich milk creates sophisticated cheeses that take their names from the sheep, like Black-Eyed Susan, a raw sheep cheese aged 3 to 4 months, or Hollyhock, which is aged for a minimum of 8 months. While she sells most of her cheese at farmers markets in Santa Cruz, two varieties are available at Star Market in Salinas: Black-Eyed Susan and Beau’s Blend (made from sheep milk and Schoch Dairy cow’s milk), which both sell for $29.99/pound. Look for the cheese at Whole Foods in Monterey this spring.
GARDEN VARIETY CHEESE, 1481 San Miguel Canyon Road, Royal Oaks. 761-3630, www.gardenvarietycheese.com.