“The Flavor is Up to the Cheese”: A New Producer Profile on Twenty Paces
A product of well managed sheep and four partners who share a commitment to making great cheese, Twenty Paces is a business that we can really get behind here at Fall Line Farms and Local Roots (FLF&LR). This delicious sheep’s milk cheese is produced in a way that prioritizes the health of the animals and the responsible use of the land they graze. Located in Albermarle County, nestled in the rolling hills between Charlottesville and Scottsville, Twenty Paces is one of three agribusinesses that operate on Bellair Farm, a 1200-acre farm established in the 1700s.
For our members who value artisanal foods, Twenty Paces is sure to become a favorite. There just aren’t many cheesemakers in the country who focus mainly on sheep’s milk cheese—only about fifty in the whole United States. That already makes Twenty Paces unusual. But it’s the rest of their story that makes Twenty Paces such a good fit for Fall Line Farms and Local Roots. We think our members will fall in love not only with the taste of this absolutely delicious local, artisanal farmstead cheese, but also with the love, thought, and care with which it is produced.
“We make farmstead cheese,” explains Kyle Kilduff, who oversees the cheesemaking part of the business with his colleague Bridge Cox. “Farmstead cheese is produced on a farm and made solely from milk that’s produced on that particular farm. It’s a European artisanal model. It compares roughly with estate wines, made on a particular estate with grapes that were grown on location.”
Great farmstead cheese requires deep attention to the farmstead itself, and that element of the business is handled by Tom Pyne, who, with his wife Melanie, make up the other half of the Twenty Paces partnership. Tom’s background is in grassland agronomy and forage-livestock systems. He designed and oversees the Management Intensive Grazing model followed by the partners. This system ensures the good health and milk production of their sheep, while also contributing to the taste and flavor development of Twenty Paces cheese. As the pastures change throughout the growing season, the changing flora influences various components the milk produced by the grazing ewes (notably fat and protein). This, in turn, results in nuanced textural and flavor changes in the cheese.
“Management Intensive Grazing, or MIG as it’s called in the livestock world, is a pasture-based system that’s way more specific than the broader practice of simple rotational grazing,” explains Kyle. “Rotational grazing, done the normal way, can sometimes mean that one part of the animal’s pasture gets pretty beaten up and bare. At Twenty Paces, we pay attention to what’s growing in the area during different times of the year. Even in one field, there are differences. For example, one area of an individual pasture might have more growth and different plants in it because it gets more sun.”
“Our animals are moved twice a day, after each milking.” Kyle explains. “We used netted fences that are easy to move around. We do that for pasture health, to keep the sheep from grazing down to the dirt. That helps with internal parasites [a common issue with sheep production in Virginia], because they don’t stay in one place long enough to pick them up from the ground. Also, new forage entices them to graze more. They sort of compete with one another to get the new food, so you get more milk. It’s a good system for the animals and for us. If we used a more traditional rotation method, we’d have to feed more grain and hay in the [milking] parlor.”
According to Kyle, focusing on the forage means that, for the most part, grain is offered only in the parlor during milking: “For us, it’s all about the health of the sheep. Animals in great shape give great milk. We supplement with some grain while they’re milking so that they’re healthy and get a little extra nutrition beyond what they gain from the forage. Because we milk twice a day, the small amount of grain they enjoy gives us insurance that they have top-notch nutrition.”
Twenty Paces will be selling three types of cheeses on our pages. The first is a feta, which they have only been making for about a year. Their feta is dense, crumbly, salty, and acidic. They’ll also be selling an aged pecorino-style cheese that they call Hardware. This is a raw sheep cheese made in the style of pecorino and aged 12 months. It can be enjoyed by itself of shaved in salads or pastas. The hardware and feta will be available year-round.
Their delicious and delicately textured ricotta, a seasonal cheese, was previously available only to restaurants and chefs through wholesale. Sarah Adduci, cheesemonger at RVA’s Belmont Butchery, says that she considers Twenty Paces ricotta a “signifier of spring,” with its delicate texture and flavor and its ability to blend with both sweet and savory garden-fresh elements.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Twenty Paces will now be offering this lovely cheese through sellers like Fall Line Farms and Local Roots and other local outlets. What a treat for us!
“We had always meant to offer it for retail sale eventually,” says Kyle, “but the pandemic has changed our plans. Now we hope that local folks will enjoy adding it to their market shares. It’s delicate and it can’t be shipped, unlike the aged cheeses.”
Twenty Paces ricotta will be available only from April through October, as it can be produced only while the sheep are lactating. Unlike cows, which lactate for 12-14 months and goats, which lactate for 9 months, sheep only provide milk for six months. That’s one of the challenges in focusing exclusively on sheep’s cheese.
“It’s a fast and furious cheese-making season,” laughs Kyle. “Sheep’s milk is almost double in fat and protein compared to goats and cows. It allows lambs to put on their growth faster. All of this is why we focus on aged raw milk cheese and not just fresh. If we made only fresh, we’d only have a 6 or 7 month window for production and sales. Making aged cheeses allows us to go all year. We try to lamb and begin milking in mid-to-end march because we know we can put the animals on pasture then. Then we finish up milking in September. We can sell the aged cheese when the fresh isn’t available.”
Twenty Paces works hard to be a good neighbor to other local food businesses. “We have a unique situation,” explains Kyle Kilduff. “We leased land from Bellair Farm, which is a private property, and built on that leased land to create the rest of our operation. We formed our LLC in 2013 and began with both sheep and goats. In 2015, we built the creamery and produced our first aged cheese. We’re separate from the Bellair CSA, but we work closely with them and they sell our cheeses. It’s a good relationship.”
They have another close relationship with Caromont Farm, which just joined FLF&LR recently. Bridge and Kyle began making cheese professionally right down the road at Caromont, and they maintain a cordial and cooperative relationship with Gail Hobbs Page. In fact, it was Gail who suggested that they contact FLF&LR to consider selling through our pages. They will be coordinating to deliver products of each farm to our market each Thursday, further showing that they fit right in to the collaborative community that we value here at FLF&LR.
So order your Twenty Paces cheese and get ready for a treat. There’s a lot of imagination, good faith, and great practice that leads to delectable, noteworthy sheep’s milk cheese!