I fall in love at first bite with chocolate cheese.
By Jan Walsh
Photography by Beau Gustafson
I just love to meet folks who have found their calling. Greg and Ana Kelly are among them. I recently met the couple and discovered their scrumptious, Dayspring Dairy cheeses at Pepper Place Market. Several years ago the couple left their professional careers to purchase a beautiful farm in Gallant, Alabama and construct their own sheep dairy and creamery. Believing that God led them to this work, they named it Dayspring for the sunrise and biblical reference to Jesus.
This family owned and operated dairy is focused on sustainability and agri tourism and is the first licensed sheep dairy and producer of sheep milk cheeses in Alabama. All of the cheeses at Dayspring Dairy are farmstead—handmade only from milk of their flock of eighty dairy sheep. No pesticides or commercial fertilizer are used on the pastures. And the sheep are never given hormones. The sheep are shepherded by Greg, and Ana is the head cheese-maker. Their children also help work the business and are becoming even more important to it as they mature.
The cheeses change with the seasons. And each season brings something new. So only some cheeses are available every month. And the subtle flavors change throughout the milking season, depending on the grasses growing in these native pastures. Dayspring Dairy sheep milk is consistently sweet and nutty because their sheep have discriminating palates. They avoid weeds, and eat instead the tender grasses and clover. The family starts milking in late winter for eight months and begins making the aged cheeses, which take months to mature. In spring and summer the flock grazes on the lush clover covered pastures filled with fescue grasses. This bounty of grass produces lots of delicious milk keeping them busy making fresh cheeses for farmers markets. In early fall the ewes dry off, and breeding begins. And finally the wintertime brings a time of rest for the sheep, their shepherd, and the cheese makers, while waiting on the lambs to arrive.
At the Pepper Place Market, I found them in the main parking lot in the left, back corner. Here I also learned that Sheep milk is richer than cow or goat's milk and contains more protein, minerals, and healthy fats. It is also easily digested with few allergenic properties. Ana gave me a few samples to try. All were so lovely that I could not choose among them. So I bought them all. I spread the creamy, tangy Pecora Fresca on my sprouted breakfast bread, also bought at the market. The Pimento Garlic Fresca makes a great appetizer with veggies and crackers. Tipsy Farmer, made with blueberry wine makes a beautiful, fruity, dessert cheese. And the Chocolate Fresca, oh my! After sharing with the family, I stocked up the following week because sharing was becoming difficult. It is chocolate. It is cheese. It is my new favorite thing. I eat it for breakfast with Alabama strawberries from the market. And for dessert I crumble it over most any dessert with a heaping spoon of their Caramel, which is made of their sheep’s milk, raw turbinado sugar and vanilla beans. Looking forward to the market this Saturday, when I can try other varieties that I have yet to discover—ricotta, Gouda, feta, and more. Dayspring Dairy products can also be found at DayspringDairy.com.