At Sweet Grass Dairy in Thomasville, the cheese speaks for itself.
Husband-and-wife team Jeremy and Jessica Little co-own the dairy, working together to produce the highest-quality cheeses possible. Jessica grew up on a conventional-style dairy farm in North Florida. Her parents, Al and Desiree Wehner, sold their part ownership in that farm and moved to South Georgia to start a New Zealand rotational grazing- style farm in 1993. In an effort to show people the difference of high-quality milk from cows that live their entire lives out on grass, Desiree began making cheeses in 2000. They became so popular that she could not keep up with demand. Seeing the opportunity, Jeremy and Jessica decided to join in the efforts to change the American perspective on cheese and grass-based farming.
It was a success, and Jessica and Jeremy purchased Sweet Grass from Desiree in 2005.
“I come from a very loving and hardworking family,” Jessica says. “I feel so fortunate to have the strongest, most amazing female entrepreneur and visionary role model since childhood – my inspiring mother!”
Care for the Cows
Sweet Grass Dairy’s cheeses are unique because of the high-quality milk used in production. Jeremy and Jessica are able to source milk from three different dairies in Brooks County owned by Jessica’s parents and brother. The Wehner family is committed to practicing excellent stewardship of their land and treatment of animals, including an intensive grazing management system. This means that the cows are unrestricted, grazing on one paddock of grass, and then rotating to different paddocks after a specific amount of time so they’re always feeding
on fresh grass. Because of the mild climate where they never get snow and the unlimited water from the Floridian aquifer, the cows are able to graze 365 days per year – never confined in a barn. This sustainable system provides a very healthy and happy lifestyle for the cows and employees.
“This is the No. 1 differentiator for us,” says Jean Bates, marketing and culture coordinator for Sweet Grass. “It’s the right thing to do, but it also makes our product so much better. The amount of butterfat that is in the milk we have makes incredible cheese, and that comes from the low stress of the cows and the grass they eat.”
Some of the dairy’s most popular cheeses include their Green Hill – a bloomy rind cheese with a very distinct flavor component that highlights the high-fat butter content, and the Thomasville Tomme – an aged cheese with a smooth, rich, buttery flavor, named after their town. The Asher Blue is also a crowd pleaser and is one of very few natural rind blue cheeses in America. All three have won awards.
Many of the dairy’s products are carried at some of the top cheese shops in the country and are known worldwide.
“Jessica and Jeremy have created an incredible monster,” Bates says. “They’re both very focused individuals and don’t do anything without each other.”
Jessica attests to this as well. “If anything, running the company with my husband has been a very rewarding challenge because we are dedicated to supporting each other’s career goals,” she says.
The couple shares responsibility evenly as far as the cheese making, and Jeremy handles more production roles while Jessica handles fulfillment and runs the cheese shop they own in downtown Thomasville. Jeremy comes from a food background, and it shows in his cheeses. He wanted an awesome grilled cheese sandwich, so the dairy’s Georgia Gouda variety was born.
As for the future, Bates says the dairy plans to continue its stewardship efforts and hopes to open a larger plant to make more cheese and meet the demand.
“Sweet Grass Dairy has been blessed with success through hard work, passion and teamwork,” says Jessica. “We see ourselves as a unit that has balance of curious personalities that contribute to overall success.”