Maryland Cheese Guild hosts inaugural open house

More than 40 cheese aficionados made a pilgrimage to the Maryland Cheese Guild's inaugural open house at Colleen and Michael Histon's Shepherds Manor Creamery in New Windsor to share ideas and inspire one another to create new and better cheeses.

"An open house is a fantastic opportunity to tour a working farm, talk to local cheese makers and learn how we can work better together to promote artisanal cheese making in Maryland," Maryland Cheese Guild founder Alicia Clugh said at Wednesday's event.


Maryland Wineries Association Executive Director Kevin Atticks addressed the attendees about the importance of a guild, saying it creates community, encourages collaboration and fosters the product's culture.

"Farmers need value added products to remain profitable," he said. "It looks like the local food movement is not just a trend."

Clugh said she hoped the event would encourage the public to learn more about cheese and be able to shop at their local farmers market with confidence. The open house was made possible by a North East Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant, and Clugh said the funds will allow the guild to host an event every month.

Colleen and Michael Histon welcomed visitors into their home to sample cheese and then gave the group a guided tour of their cheese making and milking facilities. The Histons purchased their first dairy sheep in 2008 and bought their farm in 2009. In 2011, the couple built a dairy to harvest and process the sheep's milk. In 2012, the Histons started milking the sheep twice a day and Colleen began making cheese at night; now she makes cheese full time.

The couple said they decided to milk sheep because they thought they'd be able to take off during the winter. Instead, they have found that the off months fill up with marketing, fixing equipment and networking. They are currently milking 80 East Friesian and Lacaune sheep at 5 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. every day.

"A good milking ewe will produce a quart in the morning and a quart at night until the summer solstice," Michael said.

From the milk, Colleen makes several varieties of cheese, including Tomae, a wash rind semi-hard Italian-style cheese; a Tomae with an olive oil and cocoa powder rind; Colbere, a Colby-style cheese aged in shrink wrap like a cheddar; Colbere with herbs; Fetina, a salt-brined, shrink-wrapped Feta cheese; and a fresh cheese called Ewe Crème. She produces 850 cheese wheels a year.

Esther Arrington, of Frizzleburg, was excited to see the sheep-milking demonstration.

"I grew up on a dairy farm, and this is very different," Arrington said.

Hampstead Farmer's Market co-managers Marlene Duff and Sharon Callahan used the opportunity to meet cheese vendors.

"It's a good networking activity. We're getting to meet more people from the farm community," Duff said.

"We're learning so much about how farms function," Callahan added.

Firefly Farms co-owner Mike Koch, of Accident, has been making goat cheese for over 15 years. He came to the event to support the emerging guild.

"It's great to see cheese makers working together and helping each other. We succeed together," Koch said.


Charlottetown Farm cheese maker Pam Miller, of Newport, Pennsylvania, has been making goat cheese for five years and is acquainted with many of the guild's members.

"I'm glad to see Maryland cheese makers becoming one voice," Miller said.

Sherry Saunders, of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, recently purchased 20 acres and is researching what she would like to do with it.

"I'm thinking about raising dairy goats," Saunders said. "I would like to use some for meat and some for cheese. I've always wanted to learn how to make cheese, and this is my chance."

Jessica Keahey, owner of Sweet Freedom Creamery in Fayetteville, Arkansas, said she recently embarked on a monthlong research and development quest, exploring different creameries and cheese shops. While researching her trip, she found out about the open house and contacted Clugh.

"I'm visiting a facility a day," Keahey said. "I've learned something from every facility. This one carefully segmented the rooms for food safety."

Keahey said the open house helped her make connections in the Mid-Atlantic cheese industry.

"We don't have anything like this at home," she said. "It's nice to see this kind of gathering and support for other cheese makers."

Dairy farmer Rebecca Tucker, of Jefferson, came to learn more about cheese making.

"We're looking for new sources of income," Tucker said.

Dairy owner Wes Miller, of Rising Sun, said he also came to learn how to catch more of the consumers' dollar.

"We're here doing some networking and making connections," Miller said.

Self-proclaimed cheese hobbyist Andrew Gross, of Clarksville, said he is intrigued by the cheese industry.

"I find it fascinating that you can take the secretions from animals and make something delicious," he said.

Gross, who has made his own cheese at home for eight years, said he makes the time to visit dairies and cheese shops when he travels.

"People are always more than happy to share their experiences," Gross said.