Follow-Up File: Rinconada: Only has eyes for ewes

Name: Christine Maguire

Job: Owner

Business: Rinconada Dairy

What she said then: In August 2008, The Tribune featured Santa Margarita’s Rinconada Dairy, where Christine Maguire crafts fine cheeses from the milk of her sheep and goats.

In 1998, Maguire bought a few sheep to make raw milk cheeses. The next year, she and husband Jim Maguire moved to a 52-acre ranch.

Only the second dairy in California licensed to sell sheep’s milk cheese, her award-winning products are sold to restaurants and specialty shops.

What she says now: With sales for her high-end, artisan product a little slower last year, the Maguires are selling new products and expanding cheese sales.

“We had very high production last year,” she said. “Just having inventory that can get me through the New Year, that’s a biggie.”

Like other agricultural products, artisan cheese-making is seasonal, Maguire said. She finishes crafting hard and semi-hard cheeses in July. She is still selling product from last season.

Usually, Rinconada is sold out before Christmas. The holiday season is a key time for high-priced and celebration foods.

“When a store places an order, I’m able to fill it instead of saying, ‘I’m sorry, I won’t have anything until the end of May,’” she added. “It keeps my cheeses and my name in front of people.”

In addition to upscale shops throughout California, Jim Maguire now sells Rinconada cheeses at local farmers markets.

With 150 milking ewes, the couple has also begun selling lamb from the excess sheep.

“In order to get milk, we have to have pregnant ewes,” Christine Maguire said.

The meat is typically sold to individuals or restaurants.

They also sell goats and whole pigs. The latter are raised on the whey, a liquid that remains after the cheese is made, which she said results in “a particularly succulent pork.”

With a growing number of goats, this season Maguire is adding bloomy rind cheeses to her repertoire, a white soft cheese similar to brie or camembert.

Unlike hard cheese, which must age at least 60 days before distribution, she said soft cheeses can be sold two or three weeks later.

“So far the response is pretty good,” said Maguire, who doesn’t want employees, but has taken a couple of apprentices who want to learn her techniques.

The couple also opens their property — now 92 acres — for farm stays, where visitors learn about hands-on farming and the couple’s beliefs about healthy eating.

“We have a lot of people who come up from the Los Angeles area who’ve never seen their dinner on the hoof,” she said. “We can talk about how these animals are raised in the industry. This is the way animals should be raised.”

— Raven J. Railey