After starting business from scratch, Nettle Meadow’s cheese operations grow, gain recognition
By Holly Riddle
When Lorraine Lambiase and Sheila Flanagan began hobby farming in California, with a handful of Nigerian dwarf goats, they had no idea what the future would hold. Today, the two are owners of Nettle Meadow Farm and Artisan Cheese and gaining accolades for their line of specialty cheeses. Recent honors include landing in the top 20 of nearly 3,000 entries at the World Cheese Championships, as well as making Food & Wine’s list of top U.S. cheesemakers.
The two moved to the Adirondacks in 2005, to a farm in Thurman, complete with 36 goats and a 10-gallon pasteurizer.
“We were working out on the West Coast in the legal field and were looking for a change and so we came out, took a look at the place and thought that we could make it grow. We cashed in our retirement, sold our house, came out and tried to make a go of it,” said Flanagan. “I laugh because now we have 130-gallon pasteurizers, but it started out as just Lorraine and I. Lorraine did most of the milking and I did most of the cheesemaking.”
For the first few years, the couple also packed, wrapped and delivered all the cheese themselves, all the way to New York City and the Hudson Valley, where they quickly found a market, especially for their famous Kunik, described as a “semi-aged, triple cream wheel cheese” containing cow cream and goat milk.
They added more goats, barns and pasteurizers to meet demand for a growing line of cheeses. In recent years they’ve expanded to The Hitching Post in Lake Luzerne, which is serves a retail space, tavern and tasting room, as well as housing creamery operations.
Today, more than 30 employees work for Nettle Meadow Farm and Artisan Cheese. More than 700 goats, 300 sheep and 40 Jersey cows produce the milk needed for the approximately 2,500 pounds of cheese produced each day through the spring. The original farm is additionally now home to more than 100 sanctuary animals, ranging from retired goats to miniature horses, peacocks to chickens, open to the public for tours (and retail sales).
Despite successes, Flanagan remains humble. “We never expected that we would be this fortunate to receive such great recognition,” she says. “I have to say, in America right now, a lot of our small to midsize family cheese companies are being bought out by some of the larger, international corporations. It’s been an ongoing trend for the last 10 or 12 years, so it’s really quite something to still be an independent operation and still be able to bring in such great awards, because the competition is much bigger, with much larger pockets than we have. I’m really excited that we’re still able to pull it off.”
The aforementioned Kunik is one of the most decorated and popular cheeses that Nettle Meadow produces, accounting for a little over a third of all production. Flanagan calls it “a buttery brie with a goat kick.” Other favorites among the 40 cheeses the brand offers include a honey lavender fromage blanc, a newer “Adironjack” cheese, made with cow milk and Applejack Brandy; and Flanagan’s personal favorite, Briar Summit, a cheese made with sheep, goat and cow milk and infused with raspberry leaf tea.
Looking to the future, Flanagan’s hopes for her business include expanded reach in the Midwest, as well as in Europe, and also making the Lake Luzerne location more of an experience, where visitors can watch the cheesemaking process, and have a meal alongside those award-winning cheeses.