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 may be said that it was destined to happen, since at 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. The Clarks 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. Fortunately, Old Chatham began a program working with a number of Amish farmers in their area to increase those farmers’ sheep milk production. This ensured the Old Chatham was able to continue to produce all their products.
Their own flock now numbers over 800 ewes comprised of East Friesian, Dorset Finn and various crosses. As such, Old Chatham constitutes the largest sheep dairy in the United States.
Old Chatham’s Fresh Ricotta is unique in that it uses a mixture of cow and sheep’s milk. The process of making it begins with the sweet fermented whey left over from the production of a soft ripened winter cheese.
Cow’s milk and sheep’s milk is added to the fermented whey, which acts like rennet, separating the curds in the milk mixture. It is heated until fine curds form and the mixture is cooled. The curds are then removed and the Fresh Ricotta is born!