If you’re looking to jump straight into a landscape painting, then look no further than the Rosecrest Farm in Chehalis, Washington.
Set under the backdrop of the rolling Chehalis Valley, your first sight after turning at the Rosecrest Farms sign will be a long gravel driveway, lined with friendly dogs eager to greet you. To your left you will find dairy cows peacefully grazing, and straight ahead you will spot a small red cottage with a sign that says “cheese” above the doorframe.
You will then most likely be greeted by owners Gary and Sharon McCool, the second owners of the old Raschke farm that has existed since 1903.
Although the McCools are Oregon born and raised, they decided to move to Chehalis in 2000 after falling in love with the solitude and beauty of the area. It was also a chance to expand their small dairy farm and find a market for their cheese business.
After taking over the farm from the only previous owners, the Raschke family, Gary turned the farm into a certified organic dairy farm, selling milk all over the country via Organic Valley Farms.
He owns 300 shorthorn cows that he uses for milk production, marketing, and breeding. The market cows and sold throughout the country, and heifers are occasionally sold to local 4-H members.
During the busy summer months, Gary is up at the crack of dawn performing various jobs around the farm. Although he has hired someone to milk to cows for him, the list of tasks, from rolling hay to putting up fences, is never on a predictable schedule.
“Morning and night, the cows get milked. That’s the routine,” said Gary. “Other than that, nothing is the same.”
Yet, there’s nothing else that Gary would rather do, or has ever known. After growing up on a farm in Oregon, Gary went to the University of Oregon to study political science. After being drafted into the Navy, Gary returned home to discover that his parents had sold the farm. He then bought a 1-acre farm in Pratem, Oregon, purchased a cow, and started a small dairy with their children.
It wasn’t until they discovered the scenic Chehalis Valley, and the right market for Sharon’s expanding cheese business that they decided to put down new roots.
“Nobody else had Swiss, so it gave me a niche in the market,” said Sharon.
The handcrafted cheeses are sold privately through the farm and to restaurants such as the local Jeremy’s Farm to Table, Space Needle Restaurant, Portage Bay Café, and Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle. Sharon can also be found at her booth at the Chehalis Farmers Market on Tuesdays, or weekends at farmers markets in Tacoma and Astoria, Oregon.
Each batch of 24-46 lbs of cheese takes four hours to make, including brining and storing it in a small room dubbed the “cheese cave” under high humidity to help it develop. The cheese will age for at least 60 days to give it flavor, but Sharon’s finished products range from 3-8 months old. The cheese is sold in a variety of flavors, such as herb and garlic, peppercorn and chive, and pepperoni, which is “great for vegetarians,” according to Sharon.
Because of the precise, handmade nature of Rosecrest Swiss Cheese, and the inability to hire more staff, Sharon cannot expand her business any further, and is content with selling privately and advertising through word of mouth.
“We’re as expanded as we can get,” said Gary.
Fortunately, that’s where Gary and Sharon’s son, Keith, comes into the picture. Although the other four McCool children are spread throughout the country, living in Wyoming, Texas, Ohio, and Oregon, Keith decided to call Lewis County home. After traveling to all four corners of the United States, Keith says he prefers the Pacific Northwest because it has “all four seasons” and the family profession he discovered he loved: cows.
“When I was growing up, I swore up and down I wouldn’t be a farmer,” Keith admitted. “What hooked me was going to the shows, because just coming back here to work wasn’t overly appealing. But going to fairs, shows, and conventions is what kept me.”
As Gary and Sharon plan to step back from their business and travel more, Keith is preparing to take over more responsibility and eventually inherit the farm. Keith plans to expand the cheese business and continue marketing the cows professionally. And hopefully, Keith can instill the same passion in his eight-year-old son and continue to see Rosecrest Farms expand throughout the generations.
Whether you’re a visitor on the Willipa Hills Bike Trail, leading a field trip of elementary school students, or simply want some delicious cheese, you will find yourself right at home at Rosecrest Farm.