I always ask cheesemakers how they got started…everyone (including me) wants to know, and it’s almost always the icebreaker on the way to a good story. The answer is never “I just fell into it,” or “this job was passed down to me by my grandfather/mother.” The story is usually more of a meandering, twisting and turning tale that ends up with the protagonist making cheese. For Brad and Meg Gregory, making cheese came almost as an accident. The Gregorys live on a beautiful 100+ acre farm on the Chehalis River in West-Central Washington, and had been farming their land and raising crops like many other farmers in the area. But when their second son developed an allergy to milk, the Gregorys acquired a few sheep and experimented with milking them. Soon enough, they had enough milk on their hands that they wondered what else they might do with it all, and the idea to make sheep’s milk cheeses came about. This idea evolved into a formal commercial cheesemaking operation called Black Sheep Creamery, which is also currently the only sheep’s milk-exclusive cheesemaking operation in the state of Washington.
Brad is an engineer by training. His wife, Meg (who is originally from the area), was the cheesemaker when the family first started experimenting with making cheese, but they soon realized that her “real” job as a public health nurse (with benefits) was important to retain, so since then Brad has taken up the cheesemaking duties full time. Brad makes cheese three days a week in the farm’s old cow milking parlor that he’s converted to a cheesemaking facility. The cheese cave, fashioned out of an old trucking storage container, is a recent addition which also serves as a packaging facility, allowing Brad to separate the cheesemaking and storage/packaging functions of cheesemaking.
The Gregorys currently keep about forty milking ewes (they keep East Friesian and Rideau-Arcott varieties), and would like to eventually increase their milking ewes to at least fifty or so. They milk sheep in the milking parlor around six months out of the year, generally April through September. Then, come spring, the lambs arrive and milking begins all over again. As on most farms, the male lambs are sold off once they’re weaned, and typically the females are kept and become milking stock their next year.
Black Sheep Creamery makes several styles of cheese: Mopsy’s (named after one of the family’s original ewes) is aged for three months or more; they also make a fresh cheese, Feta, which won a second place for Sheep’s Milk Fetas at the recent American Cheese Society competition in Portland; Muenster; an Alpenzeller style cheese, and a hard aged Romano.
Black Sheep Creamery cheeses are available in Oregon at Market of Choice stores, at the Resident Cheesemonger in Edmonds, WA; Porcella Urban Market in Bellevue, WA; at the Chehalis Farmer’s Market in Chehalis, WA and the Moreland Farmer’s Market in Southeast Portland. See the listing on their web site for the most up to date information on where to find Black Sheep Creamery cheeses. Also check the "musings" section of the web site for a flavor of day to day life on the farm.
Black Sheep Creamery Brad and Meg Gregory 345 Bunker Creek Rd. Chehalis, WA 98532 (360) 520-3397