May 30th, 2006
Name: Everona Dairy
Owner: Pat Elliott
Location: Rapidan, VA
Animals: 100 East Friesians
Cheeses/Products: Piedmont (there are a number of specialty cheeses made by adding various herbs to the Piedmont recipe or smoking the cheeses after they are made), Old Rag, Stonyman
We were greeted by Carrie Ganoe when we pulled into Everona Dairy. She makes cheese there four days a week and the owner Dr. Pat Elliott makes cheese as often as she can when not tending to her patients. Yes, she is not only a sheep dairy farmer; she also has a full time medical practice which is located on the farm, adjacent to her home. The dairy at Everona actually began because Dr. Elliott bought a Border collie puppy on impulse one weekend back in 1992. Approximately a year after, she bought some sheep because the puppy needed something to do.
Dr. Elliott was a hobbyist cheesemaker for years, using milk from her neighbor’s cow. She had also worked in a sheep barn when she was in college so it wasn’t such a stretch for her to consider making cheese from the sheep milk from her own animals. As you can imagine, running a medical practice and a farmstead cheesemaking operation is a bit much for one person to handle. Over the years, Dr. Elliott has had a few people on to assist with milking and cheesemaking. Last July, Carrie drove out to the farm to meet Dr. Elliott and see the operation. Having worked for a couple years in restaurant kitchens and also retail cheese shops, Carrie was feeling an urge to get a closer look at where cheese is made and what it takes to produce it. After spending the afternoon speaking with Dr. Elliott, they agreed that it would be a good fit for Carrie to come on board and make cheese four days a week at Everona.
We didn’t make it to the farm in time to see Carrie making cheese that afternoon; she was finishing up cleaning from her second batch that day. The vat they use is a 20 gallon stainless steel stock pot, so during peak season Carrie often makes cheese multiple times each day to keep up with milk production. We watched as she cleaned up the heating element they use to warm and cool the milk and carved the batch numbers into the cheeses that had been made the day prior. She walked us through the aging room and around the farm.
The following day we got to spent a few hours with Dr. Elliott while she made a batch of Piedmont (the ACS award winner in 2005). She often makes cheese during lunch hour, before her afternoon patients arrive. She had a hunch that we might slow her down a bit and so she cleared her afternoon schedule so we could follow her around closely and ask all of our questions. After cheesemaking we sat down with Dr. Elliott to taste the range of cheeses made at Everona. Their cheeses are sold at the local farmers’ market and also at some retail stores around the country. Although the herd has grown considerably, Dr. Elliott shows no sign of slowing down…and she hasn’t stopped breeding border collies either.