Artisanal Cheese from Guernsey Cows

Farm: Guernsey Girl Creamery
Operator: Ashley Bridges
Production: Dairy, Livestock
Location: Shelby, Cleveland County, NC

“I knew I wanted to be a dairy farmer when I was about 8 years old, I knew I wanted to farm.”

Ashley Bridges knew that she wanted to be a farmer from the time she was an eight year-old growing up on her family’s fourth-generation dairy. Ashley’s family has been exhibiting cattle at the state fair since 1954. Her father and grandfather taught her about the dairy business and encouraged her interest in all aspects of the family’s dairy operation. In particular, she grew to adore her family’s Guernsey cows, which she firmly believes are “just the greatest cows in the world.” She studied agriculture in college, and after graduating in 2008 she took a position as a calf manager in Wisconsin. After a change in management on her family’s farm, she returned home to North Carolina take on a herd health management position.

In 2010, Ashley’s family had to sell their herd due to an extensive reduction in their farmland. She held on to her own herd with plans to reopen a small dairy in the future. Friends at a nearby dairy agreed to manage the herd until she was able to bring her cows back home.

Ashley set out to develop a new project for her family’s dairy. She settled on an idea to transform an old calf raising barn into a small stanchion parlor that could be used to milk up to four Guernsey cows at a time. She would transport the milk to a local creamery where it would be processed into artisanal cheeses. Renovating the barn would also give her a new venue to host visitors on the farm, including groups from local elementary and high schools.

Before committing to starting the new enterprise, Ashley did the groundwork to research potential markets and learn about the process of producing artisanal cheeses from cow’s milk. She conducted interviews at local restaurants, farmers’ markets, and stores to better understand the market opportunities and find a niche for her products. Eventually, she was introduced to the owner of Spinning Spider Creamery, primarily a producer of goat’s milk cheeses and later conducted a site visit to follow up. Ashley was able to establish a good relationship with the creamery, and they agreed to partner with her on the new venture.

Ashley received both a grant and a loan to complete her renovations and invest in the business, and her new dairy operation was up and running by the fall of 2011. She was able to milk four Guernsey cows twice a day and deliver the milk to the creamery. A price of $3.50 per gallon was agreed upon with a ceiling price of $5 per gallon. The only major problem Ashley anticipated was the potential for overproduction. When the creamery’s goats were in full production, Ashley learned, she would have to manage her cow’s excess milk herself. In no time, she developed a solution: building her own small-scale cheesemaking kitchen next to the new barn. One day Ashley hopes to establish a creamery on site at the dairy, but for now she’s content to be back on the farm milking her beloved Guernsey cows.

RAFI’s grant program is supported by a generous grant from the NC Tobacco Trust Fund Commission.