Ten miles inland from Alabama’s Gulf Coast, the little town of Elberta is home to farmstead cheesemaker Sweet Home Farm. Owners Alyce Birchenough and Doug Wolford are Michigan transplants who in 1985 relocated to become Alabama’s first licensed farmstead cheesemakers.
They were launched on their careers by a wedding present.
It mooed. That’s right, somebody gave them a cow.
It was the Seventies.
After pondering on the best approach to her new bovine, Alyce decided to pursue cheesemaking, taking a course at University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. When the couple felt ready to embark on their cheesemaking career, they did extensive research before settling on South Alabama, where the favorable climate allows the cows to eat fresh grass nearly year-round, as their headquarters. Today, the Sweet Home herd includes twelve to fifteen milkers at any one time. The cows enjoy browsing on grass grown without herbicides or pesticides—and, when necessary, on locally-grown hay. The farm’s other residents include chickens—which have their own deluxe coop—and friendly dogs.
The little shop next to the farmhouse is open every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and currently stocks sixteen varieties of cheese for sale along with local honey and what Alyce calls “go with” items including crackers, dried fruit, and preserves. The cheeses are aged ninety days to intensify the flavor. The most popular cheese is the house special recipe “Elberta,” a creamy, semi-soft cheese with an appealing tang. Another favorite is “Tuscany” which incorporates basil, tomato and garlic. Alyce also produces seasonal cheeses like “Southern Fox,” which is soaked in grape crushings, as well as holiday specials.
Demand has always exceeded supply, and Alyce and Doug concentrate on keeping their stock replenished. Though the farm has a Facebook page (Facebook.com/Sweet Home Farm—and make sure you get the page for the Alabama one, not the one in Oregon), it hasn’t succumbed to the lure of internet sales. Most of the business still comes by word of mouth, and Sweet Home Farm is a popular stop with picnickers, people headed to the Alabama beaches, and anybody who just loves cheese.
Getting there: Sweet Home Farm is located at 27107 Schoen Road off US Highway 98, two miles east of the town of Elberta in Baldwin County, Alabama. The shop is open Saturdays year-round, with occasional extra hours; check the Facebook page or phone 1-251-986-5663.
Photos by Jack Purser