Owned by Sheri Palko, Locust Grove, located near Knoxville, Tennessee, is the producer of La Mancha Reserve. Locust Grove became licensed in 2006 and is the first and only licensed Grade A sheep dairy, and the only licensed raw milk cheese facility in Tennessee.
Having raised sheep for almost 20 years, Sheri diversified into milking and cheese production and now makes around 9,000lbs. of cheese each year. She runs approximately 60 East Friesian sheep, along with some Lacaune ewes on the property, where the sheep are pasture-based and fed a seasonal organic supplement in autumn and winter. The farm is not certified organic, but practices organic methods wherever possible. They do not use antibiotics.
There are plans to move to a larger farm, which would allow an expansion of the herd to about 150 milking ewes and production of about 20,000lbs. of cheese each year. Sheri is also in the process of developing two new cheeses that should become available in 2010.
Locust Grove currently makes four raw sheep's milk cheeses, all of which are aged at least 60 days: Appalachian Spring (similar to a gouda), Galloway (a cheddar-style cheese based on a recipe from Scotland), Cumberland (a spiced cheese), and La Mancha, which is based on a Manchego recipe, and sold either young or more aged.
The La Mancha was developed with the encouragement of Margaret Morris of Glengarry Cheese in Canada. Similar to a Spanish Manchego, La Mancha has a distinctive basket weave imprint on the rind.
The texture of La Mancha is dense, close and smooth, with the younger cheeses being relatively moist. With age, the cheeses become slightly drier. The interior paste is milky white and fairly uniform throughout, except just under the rind where the color changes to a more ivory hue.
The flavor of La Mancha is grassy, milky, rich and very balanced, with a long sweet finish.