ContactMessage BoardsLinks  Home  
Featured Chefs
Gourmet Articles
Current Articles
Tips From The Pro's
What's Cooking?
Food Event & Media News
Archive Articles
Environmental Kitchen
Cookbook Reviews
Recipe File
The Wine Guy
Career Center
Ask An Expert
Sarah Stegner at Sweet Grass Dairy
gourmet articlessarah 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 the dairy...

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 family?
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 grasses...
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
229.227.6170 fax

Sarah Stegner is the Chef of The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Chicago ( a Four Seasons Hotel)
American Artisinal Cheese...
Tomatoes In The Hood

Back to Top
Copyright © 2008