faces behind the food
Blue Sage Farm's
by Matt Furber photos by Roland Lane
For Laura Sluder, the cream of her cheese-making operation at Blue Sage Farm near Shoshone is the slow, quiet pace of farming with Belgian draft horses. "I like the sustainability of it. It doesn't take any diesel fuel," she said from her farm, tucked in the fragrant sagebrush of southern Idaho's high desert country.
Eight Belgian draft horses work the 80 acres of the farm, helping Sluder bring a variety of handmade sheep and goat cheeses to market. From Borrego, a sheep cheese, Del Verde feta and Teton Basque to a wide variety of goat cheeses, including natural, cracked peppercorn, dill, and lavender-fennel, the fruits of Sluder's labors are a small slice of heaven for cheese connoisseurs.
After growing up on a cattle ranch in southeastern Wyoming, Sluder chose to work with sheep and goats over the cows of her childhood. The farm runs some 45 ewes and 20 goats that feast on legumes and waving pasture grasses. In the cycle of an annual farming season, Sluder sells the wool from her sheep to a commercial mill, and lamb is butchered to order through the winter holidays. Lambing in November is followed by the cheese-making season. "I make cheese through the middle of April," she said. "Then, I start farm work–field prep, discing, planting. I plant a variety of things—annuals for grazing, oats for later harvest."
Farmers' markets, irrigation and cultivation keep Sluder busy all summer. "I do some haying, and there's the fall grain harvest," she said. After separating grain from straw using a horse-drawn threshing machine called a binder, Sluder uses a stationary horse-powered baler to make small rectangular bales. "It's Lincoln County's first baler," she said proudly. "My husband's great uncle remembers running it when he was 15. He's 91 now. It's actually a family heirloom."
Stacking hand-tied bales signals the end of the outdoor season and a return to the dairy parlor. Sluder's initial training in making cheese came from three years at Vallard's Dairy in Gooding. Today, making cheese is not just a job for Sluder, it's a lifestyle. One frozen winter day she had a baby lamb in the house that had gotten cold. "It was camped out in front of the wood stove," she said. Soon enough, however, the sheep shearer will be back on Sluder's farm, bringing another kind of relief to the little lamb as it joins the other lambs and kids for the new grazing season while Sluder heads to market.
Blue Sage Farm's cheese can be found locally through Idaho's Bounty, Wood River Farmers' Markets and at Nourishme and Main St. Market in Ketchum.
Laura Sluder displays the cheeses from her southern Idaho farm.