Located in the upper reaches of the Hudson River Valley, Old Chatham Sheepherding Company was founded in 1993 by Tom and Nancy Clark, with 150 East Friesian ewes. It could be said that it was destined to happen, since at aged 10, Tom won a blue ribbon at the Dutchess County Fair for his Hampshire Sheep. At the time he pronounced to a local newspaper reporter that he wanted to raise a flock when he grew up.
After life took his career in a different direction for a number of years, the Clarks did, in fact, end up raising that flock when they built Old Chatham Sheepherding Company.
The couple has been involved in every aspect of the company, from the design of the barns to cheesemaking to working to maintain the property.
Old Chatham not only produce cheeses, but also sheep’s milk yogurt. In fact, in 2007, the yogurt was in such demand that the milk supply on the property was strained. Consequently, they began a program working with a number of Amish farmers in their area to buy their milk as well as helping to increase the farmers’ sheep milk production. This ensured the Old Chatham was able to continue to maximise production of their cheeses and yogurts.
Old Chatham’s own flock now numbers over 800 ewes comprised of East Friesian, Dorset Finn and various crosses and as such, constitutes the largest sheep dairy in the United States.
Both Tom and Nancy harbored a long desired to make a blue sheep’s milk cheese in the style of Roquefort. However, they were also aware that in order to prevent cross-contamination of the blue molds with the molds used in their other cheeses, they would require a separate production facility.
Initially, they struck up an agreement with a Wisconsin creamery already producing a sheep's milk blue, to make the cheese and label it under the Hudson Valley name. However, the arrangement didn't work out and Ewe's Blue production ceased. Unable to find an alternate facility, Tom and Nancy finally decided to construct a purpose-built cheesemaking room on their own land to continue making Ewe's Blue.
Ewe's Blue is a pasteurized cheese and is a staple of the Old Chatham repertoire. However, to expand the range further, it was finally decided to produce a raw sheep's milk version which is called Shaker Blue.
According to Tom Clark, Old Chatham's Shaker Blue is even closer to the Roquefort-style blue he and his wife envisioned.