Sometimes, people happen upon their calling in life by chance. And for some, it’s like it was written in the stars. For Jul Lamb, it seems it was written in the name. Jul is the cheesemaker at Misty Meadow Sheep Dairy Farm in Woodbine. She discovered cheesemaking only four years ago at the farm by chance.
“I stayed home with my kids for a few years. I grew up riding horses. I have chickens, horses, bees and a big garden. I always loved being in a farm setting,” said Jul. “My daughter’s Girl Scout Troop leader lives next door to Misty Meadow. Eventually I was hanging out so much they said ‘Why don’t you come work here?’”
She had tried to make cheese before.
“I had a little bit of experience trying it out. I love learning new things. I’m never afraid to try something new. It was really here that I got my first hands-on experience. I did a lot of studying and mentored under master cheesemakers,” Jul said.
Jul also began to take classes on cheesemaking.
“Sometimes they offer classes at community colleges. There’s also a lot of online seminars. A lot of dairy places will offer them.”
Misty Meadow sells two main types of cheese.
“We do big wheel cheese and soft fresher cheeses,” said Jul.
One of their cheeses – Bloomy Sunflower – will be covered in mold before it’s ready to be sold.
“The Bloomy Sunflower is in the bloomy rind family. It looks very shiny and smooth when you put it in the molds,” Jul said. “For the Bloomy, I want this white mold to grow on the outside of the rind. When it fully blooms, that’s when you know it’s ready to go.”
Different cheeses take different amounts of time to make.
“Each cheese has its own set of rules – how long it has to sit, how long it takes to coagulate, how long it takes to ripen,” Jul said. “The spreadable cheese that we make sits overnight. In the morning, I scoop it into bags and hang it up for three hours.”
Feta and Halloumi are ready the next day. Aged cheese takes at least 60 days.
“Every cheese gets salted. Otherwise it won’t ripen properly. You have to use non-ionized semi coarse salt. Cheese is very picky. You really have to be on top of it,” Jul explained.
Making cheese isn’t simple.
“Cheesemaking is a very meticulous process. Everything has to be just right; temperatures, PH, humidity. My goal is to create the same cheese every time,” said Jul.
Misty Meadow only uses sheep’s milk for its cheeses.
“It’s the only animal we milk at the farm. We are milking about 65 sheep right now. We had about 140 lambs born this year,” Jul said.
Misty Meadow prefers not to freeze their sheep milk. They typically milk their sheep for six months.
“We only milk our sheep seasonally. They would keep making milk as long as we keep milking them. We dry them up at the same time that we breed them. Our farm is usually closed for a few months over the winter,” Jul said.
Sheep’s milk also has nutritional benefits over cow’s and goat’s milk.
“Sheep’s milk is much more nutrient dense. It’s much easier to digest. Sheep’s milk is naturally homogenized. Some people who are lactose intolerant can have our products. Sheep’s milk is closer in taste to cow’s milk than goat’s milk.”
Sheep are also much easier to work with than goats.
“Goats might be cute but they’re massive troublemakers. They get into everything, out of everything, climb on everything. Sheep are content to hang on in their farm and graze in their field and not give you any trouble,” said Jul.
Jul estimates that you can get one pound of cheese from a gallon of cow’s milk. However, you can get two pounds of cheese from a gallon of sheep’s milk.
“Early March is when we usually first start milking. We wait until at least a dozen or so lambs start to give birth. The first thing that we make is yogurt. Everybody wants yogurt.”
They sell plain yogurt as well as vanilla, honey, and mixed berry. They also make bar soap made with sheep’s milk.
“It has a really smooth lather. The bars we make are all natural. We use essential oils and natural colors. It’s gentle on your skin and moisturizing,” Jul said.
They also offer frozen yogurt sheepsicles.
“It’s really hard to run a micro dairy in New Jersey. It’s very expensive. We take a lot of pride in what we do. We’re really proud of everything that we make but we want people to come see the farm. We want to educate people and show them. We’re just a couple of miles from the beach,” said Jul.
Cheesemaking these days is helping Jul’s healing process.
“I make cheese about three times a week right now. I was diagnosed with breast cancer a few months ago and I get chemotherapy every other week. It’s been a really good motivator to not sit around the house and wallow in my misery. I have a purpose to get up and out of the house,” said Jul. “Coming here needing to make cheese and be on the farm is a big way for me to heal.”
Read this and other stories in our July magazine.