THURMAN — Nettle Meadow Farm in Thurman is like the Florida of the Adirondacks, full of retired animals. There are brightly colored peacocks and mini-horses. There’s a flock of old sheep and a bachelor pad of bucks.
Owner Sheila Flanagan led a reporter on a tour of the farm on a recent spring day. She wore tall muck boots and a thick black sweater. She started the farm tour with Lucy, a pot-bellied pig that was splayed out in a fluffy bed of yellow straw.
“Aw, Lucy,” said Flanagan, “she’s sunning herself, she’s so happy.”
Flanagan thinks Lucy is about 14 or 15 years old, which is pretty old for a pot-bellied pig. She said Lucy needs a bit of extra care these days.
“She gets painkillers every day. She gets all sorts of vegetables along with her grain,” she said.
Animals here come from farms across upstate after their agriculturally productive days are over. Flanagan pointed to where the other retirees live.
“We’ve got some blind sheep, we’ve got another pot-bellied pig named Hamilton, we’ve got a crazy, crazy llama called Foonzie, and then the Jersey Shore (cow).”
A lot of these animals have worked most of their lives. Flanagan says she and her partner, Lorraine Lambiase, wanted to give them a place to grow old. Flanagan described this part of the farm as their animal sanctuary. It’s open every day to the public.
A couple pulled up and told Flanagan they’re hoping to see the animals.
“There’s a tour at noon and then there’s also self-guided tours,” Flanagan told them. She grabbed the two a brochure and they headed out to see the place themselves.
Kids come to the farm’s animal sanctuary with their families. There’s a concert series here in the summer. Flanagan said she loves the joy these animals bring people.
It was her own love of animals that brought her to the Adirondacks 16 years ago. Flanagan had been working as an insurance lawyer in Oakland, California. She said she hated the work and wanted a change.
“My partner Lorraine and I decided we wanted to do more with animals and we were big foodies and we made cheese and we thought, what the heck?”
Plus, Flanagan said, she’s got the heritage for it.
“I come from many generations of dairy farmers in Ireland, so it was something that wasn’t completely foreign to me,” she said.
Sixteen years later, they’re got a huge retirement compound for farm animals and a successful cheese business. Milk for their cheese comes from other herds of goats, cows and sheep.
Flanagan showed the main farmhouse and led a reporter down a narrow set of stairs. This used to be a subterranean butter cellar in the 1800s. Now, it’s where they make the cheese.
“We started with a little 12-gallon vat pasteurizer, then bought the 15, then a 30, then we bought a 106-gallon.”
They’re about to upgrade to an even bigger pasteurizer. In the next room, two women were standing at a table wrapping little white wheels of cheese.
Nettle Meadow sells to vendors across the North Country and around the Northeast. On this week, the farm will ship more than a 1,000 crates of cheese to Long Island. The next day, more cheese will get shipped to Albany, and then the following day to Boston.
Deeper into the cellar, there’s a little room in the back with tall metal shelves stacked with cheese covered in black powder. It’s vegetable ash, Flanagan explained. That ash makes the cheese ripen faster, taking on a flavor similar to blue cheese.
“We make a couple of cheeses with black ash,” Flanagan explained. “They have their very own little cave and then everything else is this bloomy rind cheese.”
There are rows and rows of that white bloomy rind cheese. It’s soft and fluffy. You can get Nettle Meadow cheese infused with raspberry tea or Adirondack beer and bourbon.
Flanagan and her partner are still growing the business. They’re opening up a new shop nearby in Schroon Lake.
Climbing the stairs out of the cellar, Flanagan wraps up the farm tour and right away is back to work. She’s got animals to take care of and a business to run.