Sally Jackson Could be Forced to Close


Wrapped Cheese

The Washington State Dept of Agriculture has given Sally Jackson 30 days to upgrade her facilities or be forced to close.

As many know, Sally Jackson was one of the first of the new wave of cheesemakers in the Pacific Northwest. She started in 1979 and has been quietly making cheese ever since - that's 31 years and counting. Unfortunately, now her days could be numbered. State regulators are requiring the Jacksons to upgrade their facilities to meet the standards of a Grade A dairy. "They've allowed me to make cheese for thirty years and now all of the sudden I'm using unapproved milk," she said. "I'm struck dumb."

The problem stems, I believe, from the very fact of her longevity. In 1979, with few other cheese facilities operating in the state, regulators likely did not give much attention to this tiny farm making cheese way out in the middle of nowhere on the east side of the Cascade Mountains. As times changed, Jackson's operation was essentially grandfathered in. While she underwent the same inspections as other cheesemakers, the state allowed her to continue to make cheese without ever acquiring a formal Grade A dairy license - a requirement that did not exist in 1979 (or at least not in its current form). So at first blush, this situation looks to be at least in part a result of the state's inaction over the years.

Now, however, the regulatory environment is changing. As we've seen in other contexts, state and federal regulators are taking a closer look at small cheesemakers, and Sally Jackson has evidently become the most recent target of their scrutiny. Here's hoping that this can be resolved, as forced closure would be a really unfortunately scripted ending for one of Washington's longest running cheesemakers.

update: on December 17th, Jackson issued a recall of all of her cheeses due to possible e coli contamination. It's not clear if this notice is related to the later recall.

update: Bill Marler has copies of state inspection reports and other communications related to this situation here.