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Sheep cheesemakers credit destiny for their success

Bellwether Farms is an example of an old-fashioned success story.


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Call it karma, fate or maybe it was just old-fashioned good luck, but whatever the reason, the way that Bellwether Farms became one of the most successful artisan cheesemakers in the country is a perfect example of an old-fashioned success story.

You see, Cindy Callahan wasn't even thinking about cheese when she and her husband bought some property in Sonoma County back in the '80s. This former nurse, lawyer and real estate broker just wanted a rural retreat from her family's frenetic life in San Francisco. Then fate stepped in--in the form of a few sheep used to control the grass on their property. That, and the realization that sheep were behind one of their favorite cheeses, Roquefort, gave them an idea for a unique new product.

"Once we looked into it, we found there were millions of pounds of sheep-milk cheese being imported into the U.S. but there were only two or three sheep-milk dairies in the United States," Liam Callahan, Cindy's son, said. "One was in New York and one was in Vermont, which were so far away. So we thought, let's look into this and see what we can do."

So in a perfect case of being at the right place at the right time, the Callahans capitalized on America's new trend of artisan cheeses. Today, the result of this family effort is cheese that is indicative of the pioneering effort going on in cheesemaking today. As one of only two ovine dairies in the state, everything at Bellwether Farms is handmade, right from sheep milk that is literally a stone's throw away.

Some of their favorites are a Tuscan-style cheese studded with peppercorns, called Pepato; a hard cheese called San Andreas, named, of course, after the fault that lies beneath them; and an award-winning ricotta that is by-product of separating the curds and whey from the San Andreas.

The family now raises about 1,200 lambs and produce more than 10,000 pounds of prize-winning Tuscan-style sheep-milk cheese a year. Both are featured prominently on the menu at Santi, a rustic, Italian-style restaurant right up the road in the heart of Healdsburg.

"We love it," Executive Chef Dino Bugica said. "We look forward to it every spring."

And while some may see fate, an accident or just plain dumb luck as the key to their success, the Callahan family has a different answer to their all-American success story--they call it destiny.

"Well, you wonder if you end up where you're supposed to be. I had a professor at Sarah Lawrence--his name was Joseph Campbell--a professor of philosophy. He said, 'Follow your bliss.' So by hook, or by crook, I have found my bliss. And I wouldn't want to be anywhere else," Cindy said.

For more information on Bellwether Farms, visit www.bellwethercheese.com.

For more information about Santi Restaurant, visit www.tavernasanti.com.


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