Head “twenty paces from the ole’ oak tree” on Bellair Farm and you’ll most likely find Tom Pyne tending to sheep and goats while they graze away on lush, green pastures and cozy up in the nearby barn. Take in the bucolic surroundings, hang out with the happy, well-fed herd, and then direct yourself to the creamery, where a different kind of idyll awaits. There, you’ll watch Bridge Cox and Kyle Kilduff turn the dairy animals’ sweet, grass-fed milk into complex, flavorful wheels—an example of just another Virginia cheesemaker embracing the Blue Ridge Mountain terroir.
“Our cheese is unique because our milk is unique. Our milk is unique because it is truly the product of our pastures,” says Kilduff who, along with Cox, Pyne, and Pyne’s wife Melanie (a jack of all trades who does a little bit of everything on the farm), makes up the team behind Twenty Paces—a farmstead, pasture-based, seasonal raw-milk dairy and creamery in Charlottesville, Virginia.
It all started in 2012 when a serendipitous move to the area put the Pynes right next door to Kilduff. The Pynes had begun building a dairy goat herd and Kilduff and Cox were already working together at a local creamery. Fueled by a common passion to produce high-quality sheep and goat cheeses from pasture-raised animals, the four began working on turning that goal into reality.
They eventually found a home at 853-acre Bellair Farm and began to grow their flock of East Friesian sheep, Alpine, Oberhasli, and Saanen goats.
“We are one of three agricultural businesses operating on Bellair Farm, and through the process of delineating fields the idea of “twenty paces from the ol’ oak tree” became a running joke. During one epic business planning meeting, the name Twenty Paces was floated and it stuck.”
After several years of securing adequate investment, the team built a creamery and put the final touches on the facility at the end of 2015. With the proper equipment and space, Twenty Paces was officially in the business of making cheese.
Fast-forward to the present and the crew is now at the tail-end of its second season of production. In addition to their seasonal flagship sheep and goat’s milk Ricotta, Twenty Paces is currently crafting three types of aged raw-milk varieties (not to mention limited batches of one-off experiments).
Their cheeses are beloved throughout Virginia and the D.C. metro area but are already popping up in specialty stores and restaurant menus beyond the local vicinity. The Obstinate Daughter in Charleston features Noah’s Arcade—a semi-soft aged tomme made from sheep and goat’s milk—on their menu, alongside pickled peaches. The same cheese is also now carried by Small Goods Cheese & Provisions in San Diego.
It’s all about the final product for Twenty Paces, and their commitment—to putting the health and well-being of their animals first, as well as maximizing the potential of their land—has already begun to pay off.
“I’m really excited about Twenty Paces because the cheeses I’ve seen from them are simply fantastic—and I’m thrilled that they are producing such a great lineup right out of the gate. I can’t wait to see how they develop in the next few seasons,” says Virginia monger and Cheesemonger Invitational award-winner Sara Adduci.
For more information on where to find Twenty Paces cheese, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their Facebook page.