A trip to Italy sparked a love for cheese made from sheep's milk
By Katrina Turchin | April 20, 2022
Rhonda Zuk Headon told herself at 27 years old that if she didn’t have any long-term commitments by the time she turned 30, she would go to Italy.
Three years later she found herself in the valleys of Italy, going on olive-oil tastings and enjoying farm-to-table dinners. It was there that Headon discovered the unforgettable taste of cheese made from sheep’s milk.
After three months and an impromptu trip home to quit her job and rent out her condo, Headon was back in Italy learning how to make cheese (and a Ribollita soup recipe) on farms and in restaurants.
“When I got back home from Italy, my grandmother was telling people that I was going to open up a cheese factory, so then I felt a little bit obligated,” says Headon.
About six months after her second trip, she did pick up a long-term obligation, which worked well professionally and romantically. Her ﬁancé at the time (now husband) and his family operated a farm near Kitscoty that had a used milking barn. With the help of her husband’s family, Headon renovated the barn and opened The Cheesiry in 2010.
“When I went to go make cheese, it wasn’t like I was intending to do that as a career option after the fact,” says Headon. “That just sort of fell into place.”
The Cheesiry sells a variety of cheese and meat products including fresco, pecorino, sheep sausage and jerky. But Headon doesn’t sell her products out of a store — instead she has an honour fridge which operates on a trust-based system. People help them-selves and leave money for what they take, including meat products. The honour fridge is open seven days a week, 9 to 7 p.m., from June to October.
Headon always wanted to milk sheep, so she could recreate the cheese she ate in Italy, but there was a time when she almost bought milking cows instead. A complication with the dairy board switched up her plans.
“We only wanted to milk in the summertime so that it was strictly grass-fed milk and the dairy board said no, you have to milk them year round, and sell it through the dairy board,” says Headon. “And I’m like, ‘I don’t want to do that. I’m not milking cows for you. I’m milking cows for me.’”
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True to her original plan, Headon and her husband started The Cheesiry with 120 milking sheep and 75 lambs; they now have 20 sheep. Headon milks the ﬂock seasonally and feeds it a pure pasture grass diet in summer, with grains during the milking and winter seasons. Sheep milk has higher mineral and protein contents compared to milk from cows, and contains 36 per cent more calcium than cow milk, according to the 2018 study Nutrients in Dairy and Their Implications for Health and Disease.
They’ve recently added two Jersey milk cows, so cheese lovers can expect to see cow’s milk cheese in the honour fridge this summer.
“What’s really nice is having the two different kinds of milk,” says Headon. “It’s amazing the different cheeses that you end up making. This summer, hopefully, I will have the cultures to experiment with some different cheeses.”
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This article appears in the April 2022 issue of Edify