Last week cheesemaker Kathy Obringer of Oregon's Ancient Heritage Dairy passed away. According to husband Paul, she had a heart condition that turned critical suddenly. "It's so hard not having her here,"says Paul, "but she has left us a great reservoir of love."
Kathy and Paul started Ancient Heritage Dairy in 2006. Former city folk, their journey led them to the farming life after several of their children developed allergies. They went on to start the first all-sheep's milk cheesemaking operation in Oregon. Kathy, a painter and sculptor, found a new way to express herself in the art of making cheese; she developed the recipes for Ancient Heritage cheeses including the much loved bloomy-rinded Adelle and Valentine. Turns out Kathy was a natural and her cheeses became popular with cheese lovers all over the country. She continued to do fine art in her (rarer and rarer) spare time; you can catch a glimpse of her artwork on the labels of Ancient Heritage cheeses, which feature designs she painted.
I knew Kathy for just a few years as a cheesemaker. One of the things I found most striking about her is that she felt a mission that went well beyond the commercial enterprise of making cheese. She once said she felt joined, by the act of making cheese, to cheesemakers throughout the centuries, nurturing human health with their products. Kathy was a gentle soul whose passion for her family, her farm and her animals was evident in everything she did.
David Gremmels, owner of Rogue Creamery in Southern Oregon, visited the Obringer's farm several years ago with Max McCalman. He said that Kathy made a lasting impression on both of them. "Her talent, passion and commitment to cheesemaking taught me to see cheesemaking as art. She contributed greatly to Oregon's artisan cheese renaissance and she will be greatly missed by all of us in the cheesemaking community."
The Obringer family deeply appreciates all of your thoughts and prayers. While they request privacy during this very difficult time, they plan to hold an open house and celebration of Kathy's life next summer.