|Sarah Stegner at Sweet Grass Dairy
stegner sweet grass dairy
| August 2002
When you find a product for the restaurant that you think
tastes great and your really excited, the next step is
to want to know every thing you can about where it comes
from. The more I've found out about Sweet Grass Dairy
and Green Hill Farm, the more I realized these cheeses
are special. I love the Fresh Sweet Grass Dairy Goat Cheese
and the Pecan Pyramid. This month I spoke with Jessica
Little one of the family members that owns and operates
Where is Thomasville Georgia?
We are located about 35 miles north of Tallahassee, Florida
and about an hour west of Valdosta, Georgia. Atlanta is
a short 4-hour drive from the farm.
How big is the farm and how long has it been in the
We actually have two different farms. One is located here
in Thomasville and the otheris located 25 miles away in
Quitman, Georgia (that one is called Green Hill Dairy).
My father has been a dairy farmer all of his life (and
from a long line of dairy farmers starting back in Germany)
with a short break when he went to University of Georgia
with the desire to be a vet. He decided that farming was
in his blood, so he and my mother actually got degrees
in animal science and moved to north Florida to start
a large conventional style dairy farm (conventional style
is one in which thousands of cows live in huge barns,
never spending time on pastures and only eating grain
and silage). They hated the life that they were giving
their cows so they decided to sell that farm and start
a New Zealand style (rotational grazing) here in Georgia.
Everyone thought that they were crazy, but it was the
best move that they ever made. Dairy cows have a two-year
life expectancy once they enter the milking herd in a
normal conventional dairy. At Green Hill, our cows live
at least 12 years on average. It's unheard of in this
country to dairy like this. We believe in taking care
of our land and animals and theywill take care of us.
When did you start making cheese... How did you learn...
My mother has been playing with the idea of making cheese
for many years, but she officially got the license in
December of 2000 and started making cheese here at Sweet
Grass Dairy in April of 2001. She decided to do it after
traveling in Europe (especially in France) and eating
all of the wonderful foods. She took a class out at UC
Davis to learn all of the scientific details of cheesemaking.
We also had a really wonderful guy from the Pyrenees Mountains
of France to come and stay here to teach us about making
cheese--it's amazing how much he knew. My husband, Jeremy
moved here in February to make cheese since we got so
big. He has a degree from FSU in psychology, but always
wanted to be a chef. After we worked in restaurants for
way too long, we decided that joining the crusade to change
the American perspective of cheese was noble and very
appealing. Making cheese is always a learning process,
especially when all of the cheeses are handmade and every
batch is different. We are very fortunate to have a gentleman
by the name of Raymond Hook as our guide and consultant.
He believes in us and we in him. He has taught us so much
as far as what people are looking for and how to get it
to them. He has also tasted some cheeses that were not
very good as well. What a friend!
Does the cheesemaker raise the animals to or is there
a division of labor in the family....Who does what?
My mother takes care of all accounting and makes cheese.
Jeremy is the other cheesemaker. I take care of marketing
and sales. My youngest brother is responsible for packaging
and the website. My grandfather is making little wooden
boxes for us to send our cheese to our retail outlets
in. And my father does a little bit of everything with
emphasis on taking care of the actual farm when he is
not at Green Hill. We have an awesome guy named Belardi
that takes care of all of the goats. My aunt and uncle
run Green Hill.
How big is your herd?
We are currently milking 102 goats and we also have 60
kids. We are currently milking about 500 cows--predominately
jersey cows. There are another 200 heifers and calves.
Where do you buy the pecan for your signature cheese
or are the pecan's from your farm?
We buy them from a local organic pecan grove Golden
Harvest Pecans Organics. I wish that we had pecan
trees on our property.
Are the animals ever fed anything other than natural
We feed a very minimal amount of grain while the goats
and cows are being milked. This is simply to motivate
them to go into the barn without having to force them
in. The goats are eating a mixture of summer clover, sunflowers,
cow peas, and millet at the moment. They also love to
spend time in the woods eating trees and other forage.
Sustainable means that we utilize science and nature.
We use technology when it is available and not harmful
to nature. We follow the natural laws of nature by
1.taking care of the soil, 2. feeding soil life, 3. rotating
crops, 4. balancing soil minerals, and 5. working with
nature instead of trying to overpower it. For instance,
if a bunch of Army Worms came into the farm, we would
not sit back and watch them destroy our farm. We would
use a mild pesticide when they were young to destroy them
instead of waiting until they took over everything and
having to put a really strong pesticide on the whole farm
to get rid of them. We wish that we could be organic -
hopefully, we will as soon as our soil can sustain and
protect itself. It takes many years to build up the necessary
minerals and nutrients that our animals and plant life
needs without fertilizer. As you probably know the Southeast
is known for its sandy soils.
Who are you selling to and is it alright for me to
name some restaurants?
The "biggest" names that we are selling to are Daniel
in New York, you of course, Joel in Atlanta, Bacchanalia
in Atlanta, The Woodlands in Charleston, Seeger's in Atlanta,
Five and Ten in Athens, The Dining Room in the Ritz Carlton
Buckhead, The Four Seasons in Atlanta, and Governor's
Club in Tallahassee. Hopefully, we'll have more in Washington
DC after the ACS conference. All together we have something
like 60 different restaurants and specialty shops with
most of our accounts in Atlanta. And, yes, it is okay
to name some of these restaurants.
Sweet Grass Dairy
19635 US HWY 19 N
Thomasville, GA 31792
Sarah Stegner is the Chef of The Dining Room
at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Chicago ( a Four Seasons Hotel)