Just seven years ago, Ana and Greg Kelly were living with their two children in the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama. “He was a professional in I.T., and I was a stay-at-home mom and food stylist,” Ana says.
“We had this feeling that there was more to life than just working for a corporation.” Now the proud owners and operators of Dayspring Dairy in Gallant, Alabama, the couple is about as far from corporate life as can be.
Greg is now shepherd to the more than 70 sheep living on their farm, including Poof, Puff, Blossom, Buttercup, and Latte the Lamb, while Ana has taken on the role of head cheesemaker and culinary mastermind. Though most people probably picture cows, or maybe goats, when they think of a dairy, the Kelly family felt pulled in a different direction.
“Sheep were definitely more endearing and friendly,” Ana says. “Cows are just too huge! Plus, sheep’s milk products are pretty much unknown to the Alabama market.” When she first tackled the art of cheesemaking, she started with simple yogurt cheeses, then moved on to mozzarella.
Now, she makes both fresh and aged varieties that draw long lines at farmers’ markets every Saturday. And though the rich, mild, and creamy sheep’s milk makes amazing cheese, Ana and Greg wanted to give something a little sweeter a shot.
Inspired by Ana’s time spent in South America, and her half-Colombian roots, they decided to try their hand at making dulce de leche-style caramel as their first shelf-stable product. Literally meaning “milk jam,” this sweet, velvety spread is South America’s alternative to caramel, and usually made with cow’s milk.
Ana and Greg were eager to add their Dayspring spin and introduce a new take on this Latin classic to the South. “There are only a few people in the world making dulce de leche with sheep’s milk, and no one else in the United States,” Ana says.
And it’s no wonder—with a five-to six-hour cook time, this form of caramel is a labor of love. Rather than cooking sugar with water before adding butter and cream (as with traditional American caramel sauces), the dulce de leche method is comparable to cooking a fruit jam or preserve.
Ana slowly simmers fresh sheep’s milk with turbinado sugar in big copper pots until it has cooked down to the perfect consistency, then adds flavorings like vanilla beans or bourbon toward the end of the process, which she does by hand.
“It’s a pretty small-scale operation,” Ana says. “Each batch fills about 60 jars, and you can easily burn the whole batch at the very end. We’ve definitely shed tears over burnt caramel before.”
But when everything goes right, the sweet reward is worth the effort. The resulting treat is unbelievably rich, creamy, and spreadable at room temperature, ready to be sandwiched between shortbread cookies, smoothed over slices of Southern pound cake, or simply eaten straight off the spoon.
Dubbed “True Ewe,” a playful shout-out to their “girls” (Greg and Ana’s affectionate name for their flock), this caramel’s uses are limited only by the imagination of the lucky owner of the jar.
To learn more about Dayspring Dairy’s sheep milk cheeses and caramels or to order online, visit dayspringdairy.com.