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Debra Dickerson on a trip to Sally Jackson's Farm in the late 1990s:
I remember first selling Sally's cheese at Zingerman's in the mid-90s. I called to purchase cheese and joyfully for me, Sally agreed. There was only one cheese available at the time, wrapped in leaves. I asked her about the name. 'Cheese in leaves' I believe she said. At Zingerman's we were looking for some of the details surrounding the cheese to help build a sense of place and identity for customers. Sally quickly lost patience with my questions. I thanked her for her time and thought - well, 'Cheese with Leaves' it will be. Summoning my courage, I called again. This time I got Sally's husband Roger on the phone. We went on to have a riotous and most informative conversation. The cheese became 'Okanogan at Zingermans.'
A few years later Daphne Zepos, Kate Arding and I took a trip to see Sally and Roger. Kate (former cheesemonger and one of the founders of Culture Magazine) was buying Sally's cheese for Tomales Bay Foods at the time. When we arrived, Sally met us without an ounce of fanfare, she was all business. I was surprised at what a tiny woman she was, her hair tied back in a kerchief. I remember having to hustle to keep up with her.
I will never forget walking into Sally's dairy. Functional. Spotless. Wood scrubbed and worn. Everything was spotlessly clean. A wood burning stove, a very large cauldron to heat the milk, an impeccably organized aging room and the perfectly bundled wheels, wrapped in leaves and twine. And a basset hound looking at us through the door, lovingly. Sally gruffly snarled at the dog, named Doris, who madly wagged her tail and sauntered away. It was love.
But it was the canning jars on the window that linger in my mind, small jars filled with the most magnificent vibrantly colored wild flowers. A jar on every window sill, the light reflecting through the crystal clear water. Were the flowers in honor of our visit? No, I think not. This Sally Jackson is a very complex woman, I thought to myself.
We met Roger, a big bear of a man who was clearly enamored with Sally. He had a big handshake, with paws that felt like they were strong enough to hold the world together. And such a joyous fellow - always a smile and twinkle in his eye. Sally and Roger told us the story of their courtship in New York City and subsequent transcontinental trip across the country. About the energy grant from Jimmy Carter that enabled them to begin their cheese making venture. And hilarious stories about Steve Jenkins!
The next morning when we arrived back at the farm, Sally piled us all in the car and we went out to pick chestnut leaves. She would freeze them for use in the future, for wrapping cheese. It was a wonderful experience, and made us feel like we were able to compensate a bit for monopolizing their time. I remember those huge old trees, and Sally telling us stories about the people who planted them. I felt as if I was in an enchanted forest.
I have always been proud to sell Sally's cheese. I wish Sally and Roger much strength. I know they have the good wishes of all of us who were lucky enough to share their cheese and their story with others.
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Debra Dickerson, a longtime cheese industry veteran, works for Cowgirl Creamery in Petaluma, California.
Tomorrow: Where it all began, and more.