Winter 2023 Issue

Sweet Dreams Are Made of Cheese

Richard Walsh '10 changed paths to build a career in artisan cheese

By Claire De Lisle M.B.A. ’21

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.”


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.


Walsh works remotely from his home in Washington, D.C., but also travels frequently to the dairy in California and around the country for his work, with a focus on the Southeast. Though it can be tiring, he’s glad to be back on the road now that pandemic-related travel restrictions have eased. Still, supply chain issues linger and keep him on his toes.

“The food industry — like many industries — was turned on its head during the pandemic. Specialty food, especially highly perishable cheeses that require specific care throughout the supply chain, can face disruptions that lead to delays in delivery, spoiled product and frustrated customers. It’s up to a sales manager to handle those issues when they arise,” he says.

His coursework at William & Mary showed him how to think critically, solve problems and actively listen, while the rigor showed him what he was capable of, he says.

“But more than anything, the people I met there continue to be some of my closest friends; they have helped me more than words can express,” he says, discussing his college roommate Julian Brown ’10 and first roommate in D.C., Sara Grant ’10. “We have supported each other through numerous job and career shifts, adventures, moves, relationships, ups and downs.”

William & Mary gave him not only a strong network in D.C., but also a better understanding of himself. He cites his freshman seminar with Kathleen Slevin, a sociology course called “Identity and Society,” in shaping his understanding of how race, class, gender and sexuality intersect and helping him embrace his identity as a gay man. Completing the Semester at Sea study abroad program introduced him to the wonders of travel and exploring new cultures (and led him to his dear friend Grace Heusner ’10). Being a tour guide, orientation aide and senior admissions interviewer honed his storytelling skills and confirmed him as an extrovert.

“Those were probably my favorite moments on campus, helping people who would be my peers to become the best versions of themselves,” he says.

During the pandemic, he served as a facilitator for the Courageous Leadership Institute, a virtual program orchestrated by the Undergraduate Admission office that brought together high school students to develop leadership skills and encourage conversations about values.

The advice he gives students: “Get to know yourself and journal a lot. Ask for help when you need it and help others around you. It’s OK if you don’t know what to do after graduation, but don’t wait around for a perfect opportunity. Start somewhere and remain mindful to alter your path as you go.”

Changing careers to start on a completely new path required soul searching and a leap of faith, and Walsh feels fortunate to be doing something he enjoys for a company he believes in.

There are three things that helped him find direction in his life that he shares with anyone who might be feeling lost:

“1. Take the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment to better understand what strengths come naturally to you — then build on them;

“2. Read ‘What Color is Your Parachute?’ specifically to complete ‘The Flower’ exercise, as it will help you understand what your ideal job looks like — then seek it out;

“3. There are free 10-day silent retreats offered all over the country that teach ‘Vipassana’ meditation (see A fellow alumnus, Kaveh Sadeghian ’12, told me about them years ago, and I completed one in 2016 and another in 2019. It’s changed my life and helped me to more mindfully see things the way they are.

“It’s impossible to know how things will play out,” he says. “But trust yourself. Be confident, not conceited, and embrace growth. Focus on gratitude. I’m deeply grateful for my time at William & Mary, and how it contributed to the person I’ve become.”