There’s a new cheese in town.
The inaugural batches of farmstead chèvre (goat milk cheese) from Stepladder Creamery in Cambria have recently arrived at select locations.
The creamery is located on an idyllic ranch nestled back in the hills behind Cambria and San Simeon.
Established in 1870, the ranch has belonged to Jack Rudolph’s family since his grandfather purchased it in the 1970s and began running cattle and growing avocados on the property.
Today, the cattle have been replaced with Gloucester Old Spot heritage hogs that roam free on 150 acres, and on another 40 acres the avocados have been joined by citrus trees and a handful of subtropical crops.
Although he had spent many happy moments on the ranch, Rudolph had no plans of becoming a farmer, rancher and cheesemaker a few years ago. He had started a career in the tech world, but wasn’t really being fulfilled.
As luck would have it, Rudolph’s best friend from high school had a couple of goats, so Rudolph casually started making cheese in his home kitchen.
Bitten by the cheesemaking bug, Rudolph decided to add the new wrinkle to his family’s ranch. Last year, he was finally able to begin building the creamery inside an existing structure.
With plenty of his own labor, the help of friends and family “and lots of You Tube videos,” Stepladder Creamery was completed and licensed this spring. (Rudolph also credits cheesemaker Bev Michels of Alcea Rosea Farm in Templeton with “a lot of guidance” in getting the business up and running.)
The Cambria creamery, which overlooks the sweeping hillsides and the goat herd right in front, definitely has one of the best “office views” in the county.
The entire goat-raising operation takes up about four acres of the Stepladder property. The kids and their mothers frolic in spacious pens under the close watch of Rudolph’s Anatolian shepherd dogs. These dogs might seem like gentle giants, but any predators that attempt to get to those goats will have a very different impression of their canine temperament.
Currently, Rudolph machine-milks about 15 goats “every single day at 6 a.m. and at 6 p.m.,” he said. Ultimately, he’s aiming for milking about 30 to 40 goats, he said. “That’s a size that’s manageable for me.”
In terms of production, Rudolph is crafting cheese in single 30-gallon batches. He will gradually add more equipment so that he’ll make about 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of cheese annually, still following an artisanal, small-batch approach.
Because Stepladder’s chèvre is made on the farm from animals belonging to Rudolph that are milked on site, it qualifies specifically as “farmstead” cheese, an important distinction in the world of cheesemaking.
Stepladder is the third such creamery in the county with that designation, joining Alcea Rosea and Rinconada Dairy in Santa Margarita.
With the fresh springtime milk, Rudolph is crafting chèvre artfully garnished with edible flowers that are also grown on the farm. In late summer, he’ll start making Paso Vino, an aged cheese soaked in local red wine.
Rudolph plans to add more cheeses to his product line in the future.
All will be adorned with the whimsical Stepladder Creamery label, which features a goat climbing a stepladder. Anyone who’s spent any time around these amusingly active animals will know just how appropriate that is!
Where to purchase
Stepladder Creamery cheese can be purchased Fridays at the Cambria farmers market. For information about retail outlets and farmers market locations, call 927-2930 or visit the Stepladder Creamery website, http://stepladdercreamery.com, currently in the final stages of construction.