What was your background before this?
We moved to WV ten years ago from Florida. Linda was a former accounts payable officer at a local hospital and I worked as a manager of the pathology department. We decided for Linda to stay home and home school our three children in 1988.
I was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 1994. After a successful operation we decided to do all the things we talked about. After my cancer surgery our interest in healthy eating lead us to goat dairy products and we found not only a personal need but a public need as well.
What caused you to consider cheese making?
What kind of research did you do to get going?
Even though we were both city raised we have always longed for the farm life. Linda had relatives that lived in Ohio in cow dairy farming and I have family in Georgia that raise cotton and cattle. We are truly a grass roots operation because there has never been a cheese making operation in the state of WV, cow or goat. We are excited to say our Grade A goat cheese plant is the first ever in the state according to the state dairy inspector.
In the beginning our family and friends didn't take us seriously. We didn't rush. It took us eight years of planning and working to getting our Grade A license.
We worked for Grade A because we also want to sell fluid milk.
We read everything we could find about dairy goats and milk and cheese production. I took a milk handlers and milk testing course to be able to test the milk and transport it to the state laboratory. The testing equipment is expensive. Even though we use herbal medications and organic feed we were still required to use this computerized system and test our milk for every pasteurization.
Give me an idea of the scale of your operation
We have a thirty acre farm with an 1897 house that we finished restoring. Since I was hired in Charleston WV as manager of the pathology dept. most of my time is spent at the hospital and my daily 2 hour commute, while Linda has been working the farm doing daily chores from fence building to wood splitting .
What kind of animals? How many?
We milk 12 goats, Nubian, LaMancha, and Alpine. We milk at 5:00 a.m and 5:00 p.m.. We make cheese four times a week.
What kind of cheese do you make? How did you decide on this? Has this changed over time? Do you plan to develop new cheeses for your market?
We make fresh farmer’s cheese (Queso Fresco) plain, apple wood smoked, (approved smoker) red pepper, jalapeno and Greek style Feta, plain or with organic sun dried tomatoes and basil. We also make Chevre plain and flavored. We do not have the facility to age cheese so all our cheeses are fresh.
Regarding our Farmer’s Cheeses and Chevre. I'm not so sure I picked this type of cheese to make as much as it picked me. I have made many types of cheeses but this seemed to be the one all my taste testers said was “it”. I like the farmer’s cheeses because its a good cheese to cook with as well as snack on. As for the Chevre, I cook with it and flavor it for dips and spreads. We decided to make this farmer’s cheese by trial and (much) error. We are very thankful to have brave family and friends for taste tests and to all the farm animals that eat our mistakes and don't tell.
We sell our cheese at the Jackson County Farmer’s Market every Saturday. We are normally sold out in a few hours. We offer free samples and many people are surprised at the mild smooth taste of our cheese. We also sell goat milk fudge, peanut butter and chocolate.
What is your general cheese making setup ? .. Milking? Making? Aging? Storing? Retail?
Linda and I spent many hours building the dairy. The original building housed everything from wood to horses to cows and hay. We did everything except the concrete floor. My father was a master electrician and taught me his trade. While building the dairy I wished I had a plumber in the family.
We designed and made our own cheese presses using NSF, USDA, and FDA approved material. Our small facility houses eight stainless steel sinks, two refrigerators, a 12 foot stainless steel counter for the cheese presses, two stainless steel prep tables, storage closet, broom closet, bulk tank room, milking room and cheese/milk processing room. Our goats are housed in a separate barn with a floor of sand and are lead to the milking parlor on 50 feet of rubber runway to the ramp of the milking pallor. Since Linda and I are tall the platform is 42” high.
We want to keep our dairy at a small size. We never want to loose the love of the work. When talking to other cheese makers we were told we could never do what we are doing. I'm sorry to say we have heard more discouraging words than encouraging. If we could be of any help to anyone wanting to start a small dairy we would be willing to share all we know and our experiences along the way
This year we are looking forward to bottling milk and experimenting with aged cheeses. We have been looking into the healthiest container to process our milk and have decided on glass bottles. We will set up a recycling bin for our customers used bottles. We have some ideas about a small bottle washer but that is still on paper.
We will be at the Jackson County Farmer’s Market starting April 8. Terry is very excited to introduce his John Deere ice cream maker that we picked up this weekend. We will be offering bowls of goat milk ice cream and toppings.
What has been the best part of the process?
I can only answer by saying, what ever it is I'm doing at the time. I enjoy everything from cleaning stalls to birthing to cleaning my cheese room at the end of the day. My greatest award is when an older person tastes our cheese and says “that tastes just like my mom used to make” then I know I made it right.
...The not so great?
Our major hurdle was finding equipment for a micro-dairy. Our inspectors told us what we needed but no clue where to purchase the equipment. We were on our own. After many months of searching we found our 25 gallon vat pasteurizer and our 32 gallon bulk tank. The PMO will no longer allow the use of a coil heat element to heat the air space in the pasteurizer. They now will only approve of culinary steam heat. We could find nothing for our small pasteurizer. We also found out one week before opening that we were required to have a certified scale. We put a rush order in and had it certified by the state of WV in time. We also had to have our cheese labels approved by three government departments.
We are presently working with a company in California to develop a small bottling, capping system that can be approved by the Grade A standards.
What would you do different if you were to start over?
I can't think of anything we would have done different if we were to start over. We change with new ideas, in building, herd management and fence lines. We are open to any idea that will help us better manage our farm and dairy.
Our desire is to build our dairy for the future generation , our grandsons, and to teach other young people the importance of farmstead production.