Get steppin’ over to Stepladder Creamery!

This month we decided to take a little trip to a nearby farm just outside of Cambria, CA.  Stepladder Ranch and Creamery products (think artisan goat cheese & pork) are often featured on our menu, as well as at sister eateries, Luna Red and Mint+Craft.  

It’s worth the drive.

At the base of San Simeon, you take a turn and begin a slow fade away from the world as the creek gurgles louder & the trees grow thicker beside the dirt road. By the time you make it to Stepladder’s gate, you’re ready for farm life.

When we arrived, the farm was more crowded than usual. With each milking goat (they have over 40) birthing one to three kids this kidding season, the farm was full of baby goats and their mothers. Aside from this plethora of cuteness at this time of year, Stepladder has a magical quality. As Jack Rudolph, the farm’s manager & Stepladder Creamery owner, gave us the tour we found out he too, was drawn to the property. The Russell Family start here began in 1983, when Jack’s grandfather bought the rundown cattle ranch. He refurbished a barn (more on this later), planted 5,000 avocado trees, 3.5 acres of passion fruit, and citrus trees across the acreage. But it wasn’t until about five years ago that Jack moved back to farm, after a short career in the tech industry, when the farm was in need of some help. He revamped the cattle and avocado program, started raising pigs, and brought a new industry to the property: cheese.

“I was an amateur, home cheese maker before—I was just experimenting and it kind of got to be this really big hobby til two years ago we started doing it as a business.” And it quickly took hold—the creamery is now a huge part of their business. Jack built a modern cheese making facility—complete with milking parlor, creamery, and ripening room—within the old hay barn, effectively preserving the historic structure. After milking the goats (good milkers will give up to 1 gallon per day), the milk goes into a vat pasteurizer and then, depending on the style cheese, cultures and special surface molds will be added, curds drained, until finally the cheese goes into the ripening room to mature. Their flagship cheese, Ragged Point, ages just a short stint of two weeks while their other cheeses will sit anywhere from three months (Roily Run) to one year (Clothound Cheddar). Right now their operation is still small batch, with only 70 gallon batches being run through at a time, but Jack just bought some new machinery with plans to ramp up to 200 gallon batches at a time—effectively almost tripling production.

You can also get a pretty good taste of the Stepladder spirit without ever setting foot on the farm—just pick up any of their cheeses at farmers’ markets (or our cafe, Mint + Craft) & take a nibble. And that’s exactly Jack’s intent: “We spend a lot of time and attention making sure the goats have access to everything they need to thrive…that’s what makes our goats happy and also contributes to the terroir of the cheese—the fact that what they eat, where they’re born, where they live is all within relation to this property.” With each different cheese Stepladder produces, you get a different taste of the farm—most companies have a trademark style of cheese, but it’s more interesting to Jack to keep making his different styles. His current line includes Ragged Point, Clothound Cheddar, Rioly Run, Paso Vino, and Cabrillo. Besides increasing production to keep up with their growing demand, Stepladder’s main goal is to reach a level of sustainability so they can keep doing what they they love to do: making really delicious and interesting cheese.

To take your own tour of Stepladder Ranch & Creamery, go to stepladdercreamery.com—they also offer farm stays & venue rentals or pick up some cheese at Mint + Craft cafe and mercantile on 848 Monterey St here in SLO.