The following excerpt is from a story that appeared in the winter 2023 issue of the W&M Alumni Magazine. – Ed.
Many people love cheese. As someone who has made cheese his profession, Richard Walsh ’10 helps them count the ways.
In a tasting with Walsh, participants learn not only about the flavor profiles of each variety of cheese, but also about the chemical composition of the milk used in the cheese, the animals that produced that milk, the history of the cheesemaking process and even insights into cheese import laws.
As a Certified Cheese Professional, a designation awarded by the American Cheese Society to members of the industry who have worked with cheese for at least two years and passed a comprehensive exam, Walsh is well-versed in many aspects of cheese production, sale and consumption.
Ultimately, though, he says the enjoyment of cheese all comes down to personal preference. “You are the ultimate expert on what you like,” he says. “It’s my job to guide you toward flavors you will enjoy and encourage you to explore cheeses you don’t know you like yet.”
Walsh is the Southeast regional sales manager for Cypress Grove, one of the first producers of artisan American goat cheeses. The company makes and sells fresh goat cheeses, or chèvre — the soft white cheese you often see sold in rounds or logs — in flavors such as “Purple Haze,” which contains lavender and fennel pollen and “PsycheDillic,” with fresh dill and dill pollen. They also make soft-ripened goat cheeses with an edible rind (similar in appearance to brie, but with a texture akin to cheesecake, and in specialty flavors like the truffle-spiked “Truffle Tremor”), and Gouda-style, firm cheeses from goat and sheep’s milk.
Other than the Gouda-style cheeses, which are made in Holland exclusively for Cypress Grove, the cheeses are made in Humboldt County, California, near the Pacific Coast. They are sold online and in high-end grocery and specialty stores nationwide, and are served in restaurants, resorts and hotels. Walsh represents Cypress Grove and its sister company, Cowgirl Creamery, at trade events and meets with buyers to discuss the product lines. He also analyzes market data and creates plans to increase sales and launch new offerings. “It’s a privilege to represent two California companies founded by pioneers in the American artisan cheese movement,” he says.
Cypress Grove was founded in 1983 by Mary Keehn, who began raising goats in the 1970s as a source of milk for her children. She traveled to France to learn about cheesemaking, and on the long flight back, she had a dream about a cheese with a line of ash through the center, reminiscent of the thick fog in Humboldt County. The creamery’s award-winning “bloomy rind” soft-ripened cheese, Humboldt Fog, was born, and Cypress Grove grew from there.
Though he is particularly fond of Humboldt Fog, Walsh also enjoys other producers’ cheeses and has many favorites.
“If I had to choose just one cheese … it would be Parmigiano Reggiano,” says Walsh. “It’s known as the ‘King of Cheese’ for a reason — it’s aged for two years, virtually indestructible and versatile in the kitchen. You can grate it over your pasta, use the rind in soup or sauce, or just bite into a hunk while standing at your fridge as a midnight snack.”
Where there’s a will, there’s a whey
When Walsh was a student at William & Mary (two of his siblings, Patrick Walsh ’07 and Mary Walsh ’15, are also alumni), he didn’t picture himself building a career around cheese. His father was in the Navy, and Walsh saw himself going into public service. After graduating as a marketing major with a concentration in process management and consulting, he joined Booz Allen Hamilton, a federal consulting firm based in Northern Virginia, not far from where Walsh grew up.
But while he worked with interesting people and learned a lot about the professional world in this first job, it didn’t excite him. He kept thinking back to his minor at William & Mary, environmental science and policy (now called environment and sustainability), where he was introduced to the work of authors such as Marion Nestle and Michael Pollan who exposed various problems in our food system. He wanted to make a difference in the world of food, but he didn’t know how.
When a friend told him about an internship at an Italian farm, Walsh was intrigued. After being accepted to the competitive program, he took a leave of absence from his job, traveled to Tuscany and spent three months working at Spannocchia, an agritourism estate. He took care of heritage breeds of cows, donkeys and primarily pigs, studied Italian and learned about the Slow Food movement. Returning to his job after that experience didn’t feel right.
“When I returned from Spannocchia, I struggled with what to do,” Walsh says. “I had hoped that the experience would lead to an epiphany about my mission in life, but I’ve learned that watershed moments like that are rather rare. Sometimes taking a step away from something you know isn’t right simply positions you to be open to something better.”
Walsh found a way to combine his interest in food with his marketing major as a program manager with the Whole Foods Market Mid-Atlantic regional marketing team. Learning about each department, he was introduced to the world of specialty cheese — including products from Cypress Grove.
Three years into the job, a friend he made at Spannocchia told him about a new role opening up at Cypress Grove. There, he found a company with a rich history and a modern dairy that serves as a model for the growing goat industry in the U.S. — as well as a welcoming food community.
“The people in this industry — from olive importers to pastry chefs to numerous hardworking cheesemakers and cheesemongers — generally share an admiration for and genuine interest in each other. There’s competition, but there’s also camaraderie,” he says.
Read the full story on the W&M Alumni Magazine website.