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Finding Minnesota: Award-Winning Cheese At Shepherd's Way Farms

NERSTRAND, Minn. (WCCO) -- Wisconsin is known for its dairy farms as much as it is known for its Green Bay Packers fans.

Recently, you may have had your fill of Cheeseheads, but you should know that here in Minnesota, we have bragging rights when it comes to cheese makers.

Did you know that our state is home to some award-winning cheese, made from sheep's milk?

This week in Finding Minnesota, a family farm in Rice County shows how it has seen the best and worst of times.

It's easy to become mesmerized by the sights and sounds inside the big barn in the middle of the farm.

Sheep are backbone of Shepherd's Way Farms in Nerstrand, Minn.

The milk they produce is used to make hand-crafted cheeses.

The lambs, well, they're just cute.

Jodi Ohlsen Read and her husband, Steve, run the farm with the help of their sons. Periodically they give tours.

"I like to tell little kids that come visit the babies are saying 'Ma!' and the moms are saying 'What?' And you can hear them calling back and forth trying to locate one another, and the moms recognize their babies' calls," Jodi said.

The cheese they make is sold in grocery stores and gourmet cheese shops around the nation.

"That is our Friesago, a semi-aged sheep cheese. Food and Wine has called it a must try. It has placed first in its class a couple of times in the American Cheese Society," Steven said.

There's the also Big Woods Blue cheese that's won accolades, and Shepherd's Hope, which has a garlic and herb flavor.

Steven and Jodi are proud of the national recognition their cheese has received. But six years ago, this farm made national headlines for a something else: A tragedy.

In January of 2005, in the middle of the night, an arsonist set a barn on fire at this farm.

More than 500 sheep were killed, many of them were lambs.

The Reads have spent the last few years trying to rebuild their business.

A few years ago, they got some help from nearby Big Woods state park -- an old barn set to be demolished was moved to the Reads' farm.

"I found out about it, called and said, 'we'd be interested in saving that old barn.' He said they are there today to tear it down, our timing was right under the wire," Steven said.

The old barn needs some work. The Reads have been saving up money to renovate it.

Finally this month crews will start digging a foundation and building concrete walls.

"The new barn will be warm and heated and cozy for the lambs and the Moms. I can't wait. They can't wait," Jodi said.

The Reads explained that sheep's milk is creamier and sweeter than cow's milk  and gives cheese made from it a distinctive taste and texture.

Kowalski's Markets is one of the places here in the Twin Cities you can find products from Shepherd's Way Farms.

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