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Building Dairies and Memories in Northwest Arkansas


Imagine strolling around downtown Chicago and watching as an antique horse trailer with a yurt attached circles the block. That would be Tessa and Scott McCormick of White River Creamery.

White River Creamery opened in Elkins, Arkansas in May 2013, but getting there was no small feat. The McCormicks both spent their early years working on family farms before pursuing jobs as teachers in Southern California. However, a difficult year of medical issues combined with a house fire forced them to rethink their lives in the Golden State.

After much deliberation, the McCormicks decided to relocate their family to the rolling hills of northwest Arkansas to open a dairy. Although the new property came with a large barn and a bathroom…it only came with a large barn and a bathroom. The family researched alternate housing options and decided to keep it simple.

 “We knew building a dairy and starting a new business would take all, so we decided to live in yurts,” says Tessa. The family bought three used yurts to live in while they spent the next two years developing the property.

When it came to choosing their goat herd, the McCormicks made an unorthodox choice: Nigerian Dwarf goats. While most goat’s milk contains only 2 to 6% butterfat, Nigerian Dwarfs produce milk with 6 to 10%. While their diminutive size corresponds to less milk production, Tessa says, “What they lack in volume, they make up for in flavor!”

The goats weren’t cheap, and then there were the classes at Vermont’s Institute of Artisan Cheese. They decided to sell Scott’s Jeep and the third yurt to cover these costs. When a Canadian couple contacted them about buying the yurt, they drove to Chicago to get same-day passports in order to make the delivery on their way to Vermont.  

“We [hadn’t] realized how difficult finding parking would be,” says Tessa. “We took turns driving [around] while [we each got our] passport. We were quite the site with our rusty horse trailer and yurt circling the skyscrapers.”

White River Creamery now makes a wide variety of cheeses from their goat’s milk as well as local cow’s milk they have delivered. The McCormicks have one aging room for their feta and cheddar, and hope to build a second one that would allow them to make camembert, since bloomy rinds need their own cave.

While the journey has been long, the sacrifices have been worth it. “There are so many aspects we love about farm life,” says Tessa. “The beauty of nature, being able to create a product from the land, and having our family involved [are some of them.]”

“We’ve had a great time supplying Arkansas with artisan cheese,” notes Tessa. “But we’ve [also] enjoyed turning the challenges we faced into adventures and sweet memories.”

Madeline Upson

A longtime lover of cheese and wine nights, Madeline finally gets to use her love of cheese in an actual job as Editorial Assistant at Culture Magazine. She lives in Boston.

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