Local Dairy Makes International Mark

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DEXTER, Ore. — The Willamette Valley has certainly made a name for itself in the wine world, but there’s another up-and-coming industry that’s winning international awards too: Cheese.

At Fern’s Edge Dairy, goats are incredibly productive, friendly and curious.

“I’ve had the goats since 1972,” said owner Shari Reyna.

But it wasn’t until just a few years ago that Reyna and her partner decided to market the goats’ milk.

“We sell the only certified raw milk in the state. We’re the only ones with a grade a raw milk license,” Reyna said.

Fern’s Edge Dairy also produces several cheeses.

“We make pasteurized chevre, a soft cheese. We make a feta, then we make a raw milk aged cheese,” Reyna said.

The cheese-making process starts early every morning.

“We milk at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m.,” Reyna said. “They go in to a raised platform where they’re milked, and they come out the other side and back to their pen.”

Pipes pump the milk into the dairy’s bulk tank.

“It’s very, very important that milk be chilled just as rapidly as possible,” Reyna said.

The same day, some milk gets bottled and heads to the stores. What’s left gets turned into cheese.

Fern’s Edge products get rave reviews and even international recognition. Their Mt. Zion product just won a silver award at the World Good Foods Awards in the UK. Even with that kind of buzz, it’s a struggle to get their milk in Oregon stores.

“We cannot sell cheap enough to compete with European products, Reyna said.

European dairies are subsidized. Fern’s Edge isn’t.

“We have dry goats, we have milking goats and we have bucks. All of these have to be fed. Their pens have to be cleaned. It is very expensive there,” Reyna said.

Then there’s the infrastructure, like the buildings and the dairy staff.

“We built this barn. We can pay our payroll. We support a number of families, but we personally have not taken any money out of it yet,” Reyna said.

Several years into a venture, they acknowledge is successful, 76-year-old Reyna and her partner haven’t gotten a paycheck.

“Those of us who run these small dairies, we’re on so fine a margin that we’re always an endangered species,” Reyna said.

But they stick with their labor of love.

“Made by hand, bottled by hand, packaged by hand,” Reyna said. “It’s very labor intensive, and it’s very good.”

Fern’s Edge Dairy is a member of the Oregon Cheese Guild, which is looking to start a cheese tour through the state sometime in the next year.

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