Monday, June 23, 2008

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Visit to Wilderness Trail Dairy

I visited the North Carolina Zoological Park today which is just a few miles south of Asheboro. It is a marvelous park with large open parcels of grasslands in the African exhibit for the animals to roam. The trails connecting the various parts of the park are like hiking in the woods. I went down there because I wanted to meet the GLD herd at Widerness Trail Dairy in Trinity, NC.

Sammy Gray is the farmer and dairyman who cares for the Tate's herd along with his own herd, around 180 goats in all. This arrangement was struck up last year when the pressure of managing the herd at GLD and making cheese and running the farm and managing the monthly dinners became a bit much after 12 years. There are still a dozen or so goats at GLD but the large milking herd now lives at Wilderness Trail Dairy, a lovely farm owned by a a fellow named Joel out on Gallatine Town Road west of Asheboro. Sammy pretty mush manages the herd by himself including the kidding, cleaning, feeding, milking and pasturing. It is no easy life especially now with the soring increases in the cost of fuel and feed. The cost of hay and goat feed alone is impacting the bottom line significantly for everyone. The pressures on a small goat farmer and a micro dairy to be managed in such as a way as to remain profitable or just break even are becoming a topic of conversation. While I am continuing to thoroughly enjoy my experience here, the realities of what it takes to make the entire operation work from an economic perspective are becoming much more apparent, a topic I will likely address further down the road.

Sammy cares for the goats and milks them twice a day, about a 2.5 - 3 hour process. First he corals the goats in an area leading up to the door of the milking parlor. There is a mad dash for the door each time it opens as only 12 animals are allowed in. The main reason goats cooperate with milking is food. The goats receive their special ration while being milked. Actually only 6 are milked at as time - all 12 goats eat but remain in the parlor for two milking cycles at the first 6 then the second 6 are milked. The process involves cleaning the teets with a sanitizing solution then attaching the milking apparatus.

The milk comes out every efficiently via the vacuum pump in the system and deposits the milk into a receptacle. Should there be any problem in the system during milking, this provides a means of holding the milk without it being deposited directly into the bulk tank and wasting the entire load. When the receptacle is full it empties into the bulk tank.

Milk is kept in a bulk tank until is is ready for transfer to GLD. Every two days Sammy transfers the mild to a tank in a trailer delivering about 250 gallons on each trip. We have our bulk tank in a room behind the pasteurizer in the dairy. All these tanks are sanitized after each load and are refrigerated to keep the milk from spoiling.

The goats are a mix of Nubian, Saanen and Alpine. Nubians are recognized by their amazing basset hound like floppy ears. There is hardly anything cuter than a baby Nubian but as you can see to the right, the Saanen babies are very cute as well. The Saanens are typically white and vwey goat looking. The Alpines are pretty with a variety of patterns that makes each unique. Herd management to breed in the most desirable characteristics including sustained good milk production among many other things is an entire art and science unto itself.

So that is it...this is where our milk comes from. I have learned over the past year that obtaining a steady, reliable, quality supply of milk whether it be cow, goat or sheep, is one of the great challenges of cheese making. The politics, the economics, regulatory aspects, land availability, storage and transportation are just a few of the very significant issues facing anyone interested in setting up a dairy.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Week 6 at the dairy and going strong....

It is hard to believe that 6 weeks have flown by but they have. Summer certainly arrived right on queue (right after Memorial Day) with a week of 90+ temperatures and humidity to match. The locals are a bit concerned over a repeat of last year when drought conditions continued for the entire summer. They recall one of the fields going up in flames making a quick evacuation of the cows necessary. Hopefully not a repeat of that this year.

I got sprung from the farm a couple of weekends ago - my mom and dad were making their annual migration north to Sheboygan, WI. I usually meet them at the Milwaukee airport to assist in the process of opening the house. This year I had company! My friend Michael who lives in Detroit met there and drove to Saugatuck, MI where we were guests of friends of his at a lovely house in Douglas. We drove through a heavy storm Friday night but had niceweather for a tour of town and the dunes on Saturday. Here we all are during the tour.

While shopping in Saugatuck I was very excited to find a special cheese I had read about in the Detroit paper several months previously from Leelanau Cheese Company. Their Raclette is difficult to find so when it turned up in a local shop I had a cheese moment. Unfortunately it remains in the refrigerator of our hosts in Douglas unopened.

The follow day (Sunday the 1st) Michael and I drove to Milwaukee taking time to visit relatives in Highland Park, IL and to shop at the Mar's Cheese Castle in Kenosha. If you like your cheese in crocks and in the shape of cows, this is the place for you! Compared to Murray's and other contemporary cheese shops, Mar's is really a relic and yet remarkably busy. I stocked up on a few fun items including a Mar's Cheese Castle t-shirt and for the very first time a piece of Green Fields made by Saxon Creamery in Cleveland, WI (very tasty!).

I first visited Saxon last summer as they were completing the dairy plant and gearing up for production. Saxon is an interesting place considering their dairy heritage and their very progressive approach to branding and getting new product on the market. It was there that I met Neville who is coincidentally the consultant to Goat Lady Dairy. While at my parents house I called Saxon to check on the possibility of a visit and found myself speaking to Dan who informed me that the dairy was having its grand opening the following weekend. I wish them all the best and look forward to trying more of their cheeses.

Due to the trip, last week at the dairy was a short one involving a bit of re-acclimation to the early rising and regular schedule. Saturday was the first hot summer market day but traffic was steady and we had good sales. We are refining our display with new baskets and signage. We're beginning to see more produce such as blueberries and peaches. Steve tells me the plants will be replaced by produce as we get further into the summer. As for the work in the dairy, that is going very well. Steve is not in the dairy as frequently now since Carey, Samantha and I have an excellent team process whereby we can pretty much pick up anything someone else is doing and can spot when something needs to be done. Even though we're making more cheese we're finishing earlier in the day. I am able to pasteurize a full load of milk by myself now and have enough of the process down for fresh chevre, Camembert, Julian, Crottin and Sandy Creek that I can take the lead (though all these cheeses take more than one person to make). Sammy is delivering over 200 gallons to the dairy every two days and we're using all of it. Milk production will peak in July and continue for the rest of the year as the breeding was staggered to lengthen the milking season. I need to visit Sammy's farm west of Asheboro and meet the goats.

This weekend I found a friend (former NYer and currently a nurse so we had a lot in common) to take a great hike with through the Uwharrie National Forest southwest of Asheboro. Once we found the trail head the path was smooth, gently rolling and infested with ticks. It was a lovely if very muggy day and once the ticks were removed we had a great restorative meal at the nearby K&W cafeteria, a local favorite. I don't recall the name of the cafeteria I went to as a kid in New Orleans but it is a very nostalgic experience.