The Makers: Greg and Ana Kelly
Dayspring Dairy, Gallant
Six years ago, Greg and Ana Kelly decided to leave the city for greener pastures.
“We were a suburban couple with two kids living in Hoover,” Ana says. “Then we visited a sheep dairy in Tennessee — and decided to buy our own farm and start making sheep milk cheese. We had no experience doing that kind of thing. It was a major leap of faith.”
They found some property about 20 miles west of Gadsden with a “fixer-upper house on it,” Ana says. Over the next year or so, Greg continued his job as an internet technology manager and Ana her position as a test kitchen staffer and food stylist for Southern Living and Cooking Light magazines, while both went back to school for lessons in raising sheep and making cheese.
“We visited dairies around the country, and then Greg attended dairy sheep school in Wisconsin and I went to cheese school in Vermont,” Ana says. Using her culinary training and his construction skills, the couple fixed up the house, started gathering a flock and built a dairy and creamery.
After spending about three years filling out forms and finding the right ewes, Ana and Greg opened Dayspring Dairy, Alabama’s first licensed producer of sheep milk cheese, in 2013.
“It took years to satisfy all the federal regulations. Then we had to find the right kind of sheep by crossbreeding those that could handle a Southern climate,” Ana says. Now Ana serves as head cheesemaker, while Greg shepherds about 70 ewes that provide the milk.
“Sheep cheese production is very rare in this country, especially in the South,” Ana says. “But there is a market for it — a lot of people don’t like the taste of cheeses made from goat’s milk. But sheep’s milk is mild, with a smooth, creamy finish.”
And since Ana and Greg never put pesticides or commercial fertilizers on their pastures, or hormones in their sheep, Dayspring’s products are tastier and healthier than many other commercial cheeses, they say.
In addition to cheeses such as a Greek-style feta, a fresh, spreadable product called “Fresca,” and Halloumi, a Mediterranean cheese used for grilling and frying that doesn’t melt when cooked, the dairy also produces True Ewe Caramel, a sweet treat that recently won a 2016 Southern Living Food Award.
“We sell primarily on our website, at farmer’s markets in Birmingham, Huntsville and Anniston, and in some stores such as Whole Foods,” Ana says. “And Greg just finished a farm store so folks will be able to get the products here.”
Perhaps best of all, Ana’s and Greg’s two children, Everett and Sofia, are getting old enough to help out around the dairy. “Instead of being raised in the suburbs they’re growing up on a farm,” Ana says. “That’s just one of the blessings we’ve received by taking that leap of faith.”
The Product: Four handcrafted cheeses and a caramel spread made from sheep’s milk.
Take Home: A 10-ounce jar of True Ewe Sheep Milk Caramel ($14).
Dayspring Dairy, 212 Dogwood Drive, Gallant, AL 35972