In 1995, Steven and Jodi Ohlsen Read founded Shepherd’s Way Farms, a sheep dairy about an hour out of Minneapolis. On this family farm, Steven shepherds the flock of 500 East Friesian-cross dairy ewes and Jodi makes every wheel of cheese. Their four sons grew up working on the farm and continue to play various roles in addition to their off-farm jobs.
In 2005, a devastating fire destroyed the farm, suspending milking and allowing only a limited amount of cheese production. The Reads were able to rebuild and they resumed full production in 2011. The farm has continued to earn awards for their farmstead cheeses.
Shepherd’s Way's flagship cheese is Friesago, a natural rind sheep milk cheese, and a 2017 American Cheese Society first place winner. They introduced Friesago in 1998 as an accessible sheep milk cheese. Originally, it was a waxed cheese, comparable in style to Spanish Manchego.
Over the years, the Reads have changed Friesago: Now, it's a natural rind cheese. The current iteration keeps the dense texture, subtle flavors, and gentle finish of the original—but has added complexity and a more rustic appearance.
When Jodi makes Friesago, she cuts the curds by hand, stirs it out, and presses, before placing the blocks of curd in hoops and stacking them for additional pressing. The wheels are brined and then undergo a drying period, during which they’re washed daily with brine and flipped by hand. Aged for a minimum of 90 days, Friesago is allowed to grow a range of molds including Spordendonema casei, which adds to its earthy, nutty finish. The wheels are brushed before leaving the farm, giving them a stone-like patina.
Flavors are mild and milky. Notes of grass give way to a nutty finish.
Friesago is a solid addition to a cheese platter, served with fig spread. It's ideal melted onto pizza or grilled cheese. Try on flatbread with roasted tomatoes and pesto, or on a biscuit over sautéed mushrooms with thyme. Pairs well with bright Italian reds and wheat beers to cut through the rich sheep's milk.