By Lisa Brunette
To the uninitiated, yarn and cheese might seem like an odd pairing for a retail space. That is, until you realize that the two come from the same animal.
Meg and Brad Gregory have been raising sheep on their Adna farm for 11 years. This husband-and-wife team is best known for the Black Sheep Creamery cheese label, which can be found in Lewis County stores and farmer’s markets.
But now you can buy the signature sheep’s milk cheese at their store in downtown Chehalis as well, where you’ll be treated to tasting samples, a full coffee bar, and of course, a wall of yarn.
Ewe and I opened to the public in late October, and on a recent Friday afternoon drew a full crowd from cheese tasters to a small army of knitters. Sue Sorg, an enthusiastic knitter, came in to stock up on yarn but was drawn to the cheese samples. “It’s yarn and cheese,” she said. “What’s not to like?”
The Gregorys had previously run a store on their farm, but that model didn’t fit well. “I’d be out working with the sheep and hear the crunch of tires on gravel,” said Meg. “But by the time I got to where I could make it up to the store, my customers had usually left.”
The catalyst for the Gregory’s new store in Chehalis? They recently merged their flock with that of the Willapa Hills Creamery, increasing it to 200. They needed more space, so the cheese room on their farm had to go.
“We went out to dinner at Mackinaw’s Restaurant one night,” explained Meg. (The restaurant is across the street from their new store.) “And we saw the ‘for sale’ sign in the window of this place.”
The yarn half of the store apparently fills a void left when Wilma Roundtree, the owner of Yarn & Things, retired and closed up shop. Originally, they were going to create two separate stores out of the space, but then they realized it made more sense to put them together, and with consumer interest in the origins of food and other farm products on the rise, it’s easy to see why. It’s also simpler, with one cash register serving both needs.
The yarn shop features a multicolored box display that includes yarn made from the same sheep whose milk became the cheese that’s also for sale. But because that’s a relatively small amount of yarn every year, the Gregorys also sell yarn from other local, independent sources, as well as quality national brands.
The Gregorys co-own the store with Kathy Green, who used to help shear sheep and make cheese at Black Sheep. Even though Kathy lives up the street from Meg, the two actually met at the Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival, where Meg was selling cheese. Kathy helps customers who want to use the Custom Fit yarn from Amy Herzog, which creates patterns to fit the knitter’s own style and measurements.
On the cheese side, customers can taste both pure sheep’s milk cheese and a blend from both sheep and cow. The sheep’s cheese sells under the Black Sheep Creamery label as before, and the blend is called Black Sheep Brown Cow.
Meg explained that sheep’s milk is twice as efficient, with two pounds of cheese produced from one gallon of milk. That compares to one pound of cheese from one gallon of cow’s milk.
But the sheep don’t produce as much as the cows, with each sheep giving about two quarts of milk per day. Their manager, Dave DeBoer, oversees a crew handling 28 milking shifts each week, or twice a day from February to July and then once a day during the rest of the year.
One of the knitters in the group at the shop that Friday afternoon was Terri Kistler from Whistlekick Pygoras. She hand-spins the fine fibers from her pygora goats and sells it at Ewe and I. She has also been on hand to talk with customers in the shop about her products.
As if the visitors, cheese tasters, and knitters weren’t enough of a crowd, one of the owners of The Pearl Cafe came in that afternoon as well, to stock up on cheese, which is featured on the nearby cafe’s menu.
For Meg, the response from the community to their grand opening has been very supportive. “It’s nice to see downtown filling up,” she said, noting new businesses like The Pearl, which serves a bustling weekday crowd.