What started as a hobby of making cheese has since turned into a business for Kristin and Russ Collins with the recent opening of the Santa Ynez Valley Cheese Company.

“We started just for fun to have milk but we weren’t fans of goats so we bought a few sheep,” Kristin Collins said. “Then we started researching different recipes, and Russ started taking intensive cheese-making courses at Cal Poly.”

The whole thing turned serious when Kristin attended a cheese-making school in San Francisco a few years ago, and the two decided to make it into a business.

“It took a lot of trial and error to learn the different concepts, and we just got really good at it,” she said. “Our favorite cheese recipe is a combination of cow’s and sheep’s milk.”

The couple decided it was time to move to a bigger property from their Thousand Oaks home, and they landed in Santa Ynez almost two years ago.

“We often came to the valley on vacations and holidays, and decided to settle here because we loved the rural feel and it was still close to our relatives,” Collins explained.

The valley also seemed like an ideal location because there were no other cheese shops in the area, and the couple felt it was a perfect pairing with all the wine tasting.

“What’s better than having an amazing glass of wine with a plate of cheese and meat, and have a lovely time with friends and family?” she asked.

At first the couple wanted to just have a cheese-making facility and a dairy, but after discovering Santa Barbara County’s numerous restrictions and regulations on dairies, they found it was easier to open a retail side first to sell cheese made from other Central Coast companies. They are still working on their own operation.

“It took a year to just get approved for the retail side, and the next phase is to have our cheese-making facility next door and have windows so people can see the process,” Collins said.

The shop officially opened in May at 1095 Meadowvale Road in Santa Ynez, next to the Elks Lodge and across the street from the Maverick Saloon and Trattoria Grappolo.

“The response has been great from the community, especially the wine industry, as they frequently come get ready-made cheese and meat plates to pair with their wines,” Collins said. “The bicycling community loves them, too — to take on rides and stop for snacking along the way.”

She said the difference at their shop, compared to getting a wedge of cheese from the grocery store, is that guests can taste the cheese before they decide to buy it, and can buy a slice or the whole block if they choose.

“We want people to learn about the different kinds of cheese because it goes beyond just cheddar and Swiss,” she said. “We want to be advocates for gouda and brie. Our shop is simple and a throwback to the day when people would go to the shops and befriend the owners.”

Most of the patrons have been locals, Collins said, adding that many of them buy boxes for parties and guests.

Until the shop is able to fully support the couple, Collins runs the shop with an assistant while her husband works in the packaging industry.

The Collinses also are raising their two girls, Walker and Morgan.

They currently have roughly 20 sheep, one ram for breeding and two llamas for protection.

“This hobby has also changed our way of life, and our girls are being raised learning about animals and responsibility because it’s them going out and cleaning, feeding and caring for them,” Collins said. “They are learning about life lessons when the babies are born and it’s OK to get dirty.”

The Santa Ynez Valley Cheese Company, 1095 Meadowvale Road, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and again on Monday. It’s open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday and is closed on Tuesday.

Click here for more information about the Santa Ynez Valley Cheese Company, or call 805.691.9448. Connect with the Santa Ynez Valley Cheese Company on Facebook.

— Raiza Giorgi is a Noozhawk contributing writer from the Santa Ynez Valley. She can be reached at bellaphoto04@gmail.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.