Photographer and Mill City Farmers Market regular shopper Iglika Petrova takes a visit to Shepherd’s Way Farms in Nerstrand, MN to capture the story behind Jodi and Steven’s award-winning sheep milk cheese–complete with her recipe for Bacon, Poached Egg, Asparagus and Morcella Cheese Toast.
It takes a special person to be a farmer. It takes someone who can see and appreciate the wisdom and the beauty of nature. Someone who can see themselves as part of nature and not as the center of it. A person that can think creatively and use that creativity to share nature’s gifts with the world. Someone who is passionate and determined. And someone who chooses to see all the good things that come with the work, without denying the hardships and the challenges of the calling.
It’s a balancing act of having one foot in reality and making smart business decisions, and another foot in passion and creativity – two opposite worlds that most of us find very challenging to balance.
Steven Read and Jodi Ohlsen Read from Shepherd’s Way Farms embody these qualities and live them out on a daily basis. Their passion for farming, their animals and the cheese that Jodi makes is evident in everything they do – from how freely their animals roam in the open green fields, to the grass the sheep eat and the life they live.
Everything on Shepherd’s Way Farms goes through the creative path of transformation. It starts with the air and land, back to the animals and the milk they give, all the way to Jodi – who like a magician transforms the milk to an amazing cheese, which in return with Steven’s marketing skills makes its way to our homes and tables. As the Read’s say: good milk makes good cheese. And good cheese is good for our bodies.
The Read’s farming journey started in 1994. They left their nine-to-five jobs and created a new life for themselves. Neither of them came from a family of farmers, or knew how to farm. They learned on the go as they fully dove into farming.
The Reads started as milk farmers and out of necessity in the years to follow Jodi took the plunge of cheese-making. Talking to Jodi one can feel her passion and excitement for cheese-making. She has such a great sense of curiosity for learning, which combined with her creativity gives life to the Shepherd’s Way Farms’ award-winning cheeses.
Transforming milk to cheese is a process unknown to many of us, and it’s so fascinating to learn that what turns the same milk into different types of cheeses is a combination of many factors such as, temperature, size of curds, type of culture, different salting and aging processes. Change, add, or subtract one of the steps and you get different cheese.
One can feel Jodi’s respect for the milk her sheep give, and when asked how often she attempts to make a new cheese she explains that “When I want to make a new cheese I go through extensive research beforehand. I don’t want to waste any milk by making a mistake. Even if I make a mistake, I want it to be an edible (by my family) mistake.”
It is striking and humbling to see how Read’s respect and appreciation of nature’s gifts keeps being the guiding philosophy in everything they do, small or big.
The Read’s choose the farming life as a way to be close to nature and to witness the growth of their sons. Everyone is involved in helping with the family business as their three sons work around the farm or sell the cheese at farmers markets, including Aiden who now lives in Minneapolis but runs the Mill City stand for the farm on Saturdays.
It is hard not to notice how much pride they have in the fabulous cheeses that Jodi makes. And Steven, as the other half of the Shepherd’s Way Farms, has been the balancing force between great farm products and smart business decisions. Prior to Aiden taking the reigns in 2021, Steven has been the face at their stand at the Mill City Farmers market for many years, and it is hard not to notice how proud and passionate he is about all their farming goods.
The family’s passion is contagious when talking to them it makes you want to buy all of the cheeses as well as their recent additions of chicken and duck eggs, honey, meats and coming soon–bottled sheep milk, funded with support from our Next Stage Grant program.
To meet the Reads and chat about cheese and anything farming, stop by their stand in the train shed at the Mill City Farmers Market where you can find their full selection of farm goods. You can also pre-order for pick-up at markets or sign up for their 6- or 12-month cheese CSA on their online store.
To experience Shepherd’s Way deliciousness in all its forms try the recipe to follow which includes their seasonal ‘Morcella’ brie-style morel mushroom cheese as well as bacon and eggs from the farm.