Quick back story: nine years ago, my husband and I visited St. George because his band was playing a show at the Ancestor Square Farmer’s Market. As they picked some tunes, I shopped and enjoyed the local scene. I stumbled upon a cheese vendor. Blown away by the product, I bought a huge square of sharp cheddar and when the show ended we went back to our friend’s house. We all stood around this block of orange goodness and devoured it in less then an hour. I, no joke, have made reference to that cheese once a month for the past NINE YEARS, and every time cursing myself for not remembering the brand. This cheese was that good. Fast forward to last April when Utah passed HB 181, a law allowing raw milk to be sold from a refrigerated van, making it possible for Winford Barlow (a.k.a Finney) of Finney Farm to sell at the Farmer’s Market again which I had just joined as management. My excitement about solving my-cheese-that-got-away mystery was more alarming than flattering I’m sure, but I still managed to convince Finney it was safe to take me on a tour of his dairy.
If you take the UT-59 out of Hurricane you’re in for a glorious drive past Gooseberry Mesa, Apple Valley, and the quiet town of Hildale. It’s a small unassuming town that is slammed up against magnificent red rock faces. In my mind I refer to Hildale as “Tiny Zion.” I followed the little wooden signs promising ‘raw milk’ up a winding back road until I saw the small red store front emblazoned with two gigantic white Fs. I got out of my car and immediately tried to capture the early morning light hitting the gigantic rock face that backs up to the property. When I looked down the dirt road I saw Finney walking up to greet me. He had a big smile on his face and waved. “Isn’t it beautiful?” He pointed up at the mountain. He then began to tell me about all the great hikes up there and how next time I should plan one out. I nodded in agreement still trying to get my bearings. He beckoned me to follow him back down the dirt road. As I trailed after him, I asked why they chose cheese. Finney quickly answered that his wife had always made cheese and she got him into it. They have been in the industry for over 25 years graduating from both the Washington State University and Utah State University Cheesemaking programs.
We came down upon a beautiful red barn that matched the store front we had just left and in front of me were the sweetest Dulce de Leche colored cows I’ve ever seen. Finney started introducing me to the cows telling me their names, their birthdays, when they gave birth, favorite sleeping positions, and where they like to hang out. He would call out a name and a cow would look at him. I was struck by how responsive the cows were to him, they seemed more like gigantic dogs than the angry Black Angus that I grew up with. They are Brown Swiss cows. Finney said they chose that breed because they have high milking yields and they are extremely resistant to heat, which is the deciding factor of day to day life here in the desert. I asked if they used hormones on the cows. He shook his head, “We don’t use anything like that. We have a system. If they need rest, we rotate them out. We keep them healthy and they do just fine.” In a moment of naivety, I thought to myself that this was probably the case for most small, back yard ranches but not serious operations. I was about to learn just how serious of an operation Finney Farm was.
As we walked through the doors into the big red barn shaped building, I was overwhelmed with all of the stainless steel and the high-tech instruments. Finney explained how the temperature is carefully monitored, how they test daily for bacteria in their state of the art lab on the top floor (they measure 0% bacteria by the way), and how they process 260 gallons of milk a day. “A DAY?!” I asked. Finney nodded. “Everything is processed within 24 hours of milking.” My jaw dropped. He showed me the milking and sanitization processes. He took me outside to their Mozzarella smoker. Picking up on how excited I was getting, Finney showed me their new experimental batches of cheese. He pulled out the most beautiful cheese wheel I had ever seen. It was their new bandaged wrapped English style Cheddar (which means it’s coated in butter before it starts aging). He then pointed out their new feta and sheep milk cheeses. I stood there flabbergasted. “Is this all your storage?” I asked with a hint of jealousy. “Oh no, we have an aging hanger across town. We have about 16 tons aging right now. Most of it over 5 years old.” I started laughing. That means somewhere in the small quaint town of Hildale is hiding 16 tons of some seriously delicious cheese. It brought a whole new kind of treasure hunt to mind.
Our tour was wrapping up and we walked back through the building. One of Finney’s daughters was filling frozen yogurt containers. He looked at me, “Do you want a frozen yogurt cone?” With a huge smile, I said yes. He quickly and professionally filled me a waffle cone with the prettiest cream and purple colored yogurt I’d ever seen. He filled one for himself and his son. We walked outside into the
early morning sunlight and ate our frozen yogurt. It was perfect. I trailed behind Finney back up to the store front with a belly full of happiness. He gave me a tour of the store which not only sells all their raw milk products but locally made bread and tortillas. I thought this would be the perfect stop before heading up the canyon for a hike. I bought some sharp cheddar and tortillas and said my goodbyes as I stopped one last time to take in the spectacular view. I left feeling good about being able to bring such an amazing product from such a beautiful place to St. George.
Finney Farm will be one of the cornerstone vendors featured every weekend at the Farmer’s Market at Ancestor Square. If you find yourself with a free afternoon and some cheese needs, head out to Hildale for some hiking and visit the Finney Farm store front. You can keep up with Finney’s on Facebook here or visit their homepage here. I would like to point out also that my tour of the farm is a special occurrence, they must protect the biosecurity of the farm so the number of visitors to the animals is limited.