Frog Hollow Farm seeks out exceptional products from local farms to accompany our fruit and gift sets. We’re proud to partner with Bellwether Farms – founded in the Bay Area in 1986 – and share their unique farm story.
The Bellwether Farms story starts with Cindy Callahan. Cindy never aspired to be a shepherd and a cheesemaker. In the 1980s, after years of working as a nurse, she bought a property in Petaluma with her husband, and they employed sheep as lawnmowers for the 34-acre space. After a while, she started to sell lamb to high-end restaurants across the Bay Area and at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza.
Then a friend told Cindy she was missing a delicious opportunity. He told her that in Syria where he was from, people used sheep for their wool and their meat, and they also used their milk to make cheese.
Cindy decided to give cheesemaking a try and built a creamery in an empty barn on her property. She milked the sheep she had and also sourced sheep milk from other farms to make cheese. At that time, sheep milk cheese was a novelty in the United States.
“It’s been a crazy journey,” says Cindy’s son Liam, who joined his mother on the family farm when he graduated from U.C. Berkeley in 1990. “It’s been a series of ‘what ifs’ and ‘why nots.’”
The Bellwether Farms journey has taken the Callahan family all around the world, and their path eventually led to Frog Hollow Farm. We were looking for cheeses to complement our legendary fruit, and we found the perfect pairing in Carmody.
The road to Carmody
Bellwether Farms’ Carmody cheese was inspired by a 1996 trip to Italy. Liam and his wife Diana had been making sheep’s milk cheese and yogurt. They were happy with it, but they wanted a different perspective. In Italy, they realized that every cheese that exists today, from the milkiest mozzarella to the saltiest Stilton, is made using the same steps. But it’s the timing and temperature behind those steps that produce a cheese’s distinct flavor. Liam and Diana tasted their way across Italy and found a flavor they loved.
Liam and Diana returned to Petaluma and got to work creating what they hoped would be Bellwether Farms’ signature cheese. They wanted a great picnic cheese, something that would pair well with fruit, and compliment the wine and beer that flowed in Sonoma County. They used local Jersey cow’s milk, sourced from a neighbor. It took them about eight months to find the perfect flavor.
Now that they had their signature cheese recipe, what would they name it?
“Carmody Road runs adjacent to our farm,” Liam says. “This is our recipe, so it made sense to name it after the road that leads to our farm.”
From farmer to full-time cheesemaker
Cindy served as the farm’s primary shepherd until 2019. At 84, she decided it was time to step away from the physical work of lambing and caring for the animals. Like many farms in Sonoma and the greater Bay Area, Bellwether Farms struggled to find workers who could afford the high cost of housing here. Their flock of sheep have returned to their original job of being lawnmowers, Liam says.
Today, Bellwether Farms gets the milk for their Carmody cheese from a small family farm that is six miles down the road in Valley Ford. The family has been raising cows for milk for nearly 100 years in Sonoma County.
Carmody cheese is made with milk from Jersey cows, which produce a richer milk than Holsteins, Liam says. Jersey cows’ milk has more butter fat, and the components of their milk are part of what give Carmody its distinct flavor.
Liam describes the farmers that supply the Bellwether Farms as “old school” – the cows are on a rotational grazing schedule, which makes farming more sustainable. The pasture has time to recover.
Customers say they can taste the care that goes into Bellwether Farms foods.
“Making food for people creates this amazing feedback loop,” Liam says. “I remember being a kid out of college and working at the farmer’s markets and hearing from customers about how they used what we sold to feed their families. It’s very encouraging to hear that when you’re young.”