We sat down with Jack Rudolph, one of the owners of Stepladder Ranch and Creamery alongside his wife Michelle, to get the inside scoop on his team’s award-winning cheeses, dedication to sustainability, and life on California’s Central Coast.
You source all your milk from your own goat herd, or from local cows—is this focus on local resources and sustainability a core value of Stepladder?
Yes, sustainability is a big deal for us at Stepladder. We pride ourselves on producing some of the best goat milk in California, as well as sourcing our cow milk from a local herd of Jersey and Holstein cows. We are proud that we reuse all of our whey with our herd of heritage pigs, and generate around 90% of our electricity on site through solar. We also try to source all of our other ingredients from sources as local as possible, so the wine in Paso Vino is from a certified organic vineyard in Paso Robles called Castoro Cellars, and the Extra Virgin Olive Oil we use in our marinated soft cheeses is grown in the county as well at Olea Farms. On our farm, the goats have access to either pasture or chaparral every day.
How does being located on the Central Coast affect your cheeses and practices?
Being on the Central Coast totally influences our style. We have tried hard to produce cheeses that are unique in California, which can be challenging since there are already so many great creameries making amazing cheeses already. We’ve focused on some Spanish-inspired hard cheeses, some French-style triple creams, and a few cheeses that are a blend of lots of different influences together.
Our climate is pretty amazing. We’re only 5.2 miles from the ocean, in this awesome little valley. It’s so temperate here we’re able to grow avocados, passionfruit, bananas, and even some experimental coffee plants. It’s not too warm, and not too cold, not too humid, and not too dry. We feel like this helps us create a really great environment for raising animals and aging cheese as well. The goats are almost never stressed from the weather, and the aging rooms don’t have to work nearly as hard in places that get way too warm or way too cold.
You have great, creative names for your cheeses—what’s the naming process typically like?
The naming process for our cheeses started out more traditionally, naming our products after local landmarks, geographical features, etc. We looked at what other established creameries were doing all over the United States and tried to stay within the lines. Since then, we’ve tried to embrace our young and energetic attitude. Paso Vino is a homage to Paso Robles and its amazing wines. Bob Ross (yes, after the painter) is probably our most reaction-inducing name – we felt like we were painting the rind of the cheese with this awesome cider and building this rind-scape. It might be a little bit of a stretch, I really just wanted to name a cheese Bob.
Stepladder has a wide range of popular and award-winning cheeses, are there any standout or surprising favorites among customers or wholesale clients aside from Ragged Point?
Big Sur is another favorite among our wholesale clients. It’s our seasonal triple cream that is the same format as Ragged Point but comes with some of our goat milk along with a really nice ash dusting.
Our farmers market customers really love our marinated fromage blanc and marinated chèvre. They come in these beautiful little jars with some local olive oil, herbs, and spices and our customers eat the cheese, and then have this great cheesy oil left over for salad dressing, drizzling on bread, really whatever they want!
What’s next for Stepladder?
We are working hard to find our stride. We’re four years into our creamery, and none of us had any experience working in creameries or making cheese in a professional setting prior to opening. It’s gone much better than some of us expected, and there’s been a great demand for our cheeses and we’ve gotten some awesome recognition. That being said, we have been changing a lot of things all the time, and growing our operation constantly. We really want to try to find a scale that works for us and start optimizing around that.
Anything else Murray’s fans should know?
We are extremely excited about our farm tour program, and anyone passing through the area can book a visit to our farm on our website. It’s really great and interactive, and ends with a cheese tasting. Our tour guides all work in different facets of the creamery and are amazingly knowledgeable and friendly.
Want to get a taste of Stepladder’s hard work? Don’t miss out on Ragged Point and Paso Vino, in stores and online at murrayscheese.com!