Farm-to-table is all the rage these days. All the big-name chefs are touting their farm-to-table menus - Chris Shepherd, Randy Rucker, Ryan Hildebrand, Randy Evans, and many others. And let me tell you, they are some of the best meals you will ever have. But there is another side to farm-to-table --sometimes the reality of a farm can ruin your enjoyment of certain things.
If you have ever lived on a farm, worked on a farm, or visited a farm, you may be familiar with the other side of the table. When Chris, Ryan and the Randys present the farm to you, it is picture-perfect, tantalizing and smells like the season it is grown in. When you are on the farm, a different kind of scent is presented to you.
My partner and I used to own a small rescue farm with goats, chickens, ducks and cows.
Our goats were of the pygmy variety, mostly, not the dairy kind. If you have ever seen a baby goat, you know there is really nothing cuter in the world. The goats were fun to play with, feed and watch as they grew. We were new to the farm game, and no one told us about goats after they grow up - turns out they like to make more goats. Well okay, I understand the birds and the bees. A farm is a great life lesson in the real, uncensored birds and the bees. What no one tells you is that male goats emit a particularly foul odor that is very close to what goat cheese tastes like. It truly catches you by surprise the first time, and then it just becomes sickening. As a lover of goat cheese, I swore I would/could never eat it again.
Being a foodie, I was eating at all kinds of new restaurants, and there was always a dish I wanted that had goat cheese in it. I just couldn't stomach it. I missed out on many amazing dishes, I'm sure. I also was a frequent shopper at area farmers' markets and took notice of some goat cheese makers that always had long lines at their stand. I always wondered, "How do they do it -- don't their goats smell like ours? Do they eat their own goat cheese?" I had been following them on Facebook for a while and thought, "I'm just going to ask, who better than a goat farmer to know about the foulest of foul odors and still be able to eat goat cheese?" The farm is Blue Heron Farm, and the owners are Lisa and Christian Seger.
I sent Blue Heron Farm a message, and this is what Lisa replied:
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" OK- both my husband and I are cracking up at your email. Only old or dirty milk will take on that flavor/odor. A clean, healthy female has no odor and neither does her milk. Honestly - most supermarket goat cheese does taste the way the bucks smell. That's why hardly anyone likes it. We only keep one male and he stays in a field away from the milking girls. We rarely smell him and he never gets his stink on the ladies. ...you should maybe get your dudes neutered if you don't need them for breeding. It wipes out that smell problem. "
The best line I have ever heard is, "he never gets his stink on the ladies." I knew then Blue Heron would not lie to me -- these were good folks. So I followed their advice. I got my male goats neutered, and I waited till all the smell dissipated and the memory of it had faded.
Some time later, Blue Heron Farm hosted a French Country Luncheon on their farm, and I thought, "This is when I will try my first goat cheese again." I started slow with their mildest, Perfectly Plain. It certainly helped that Revival Market's Morgan Weber had brought some charcuterie and there was free-flowing wine. It was also kidding season, and there were baby goats to snuggle. I was back - goat cheese was what I had remembered and missed. And I could eat it around goats.
You can find Blue Heron Farm cheeses at Revival Market, Urban Harvest @ Eastside and Rice University Farmers Market. Lisa and Chris are goat and goat cheese experts and a hoot to talk to. They carry several different flavors -- lavender, chipotle, Greek, feta, salumi, their infamous cajeta and more. They open their farm a couple times a year to tours and also schedule private tours. The farm is a lot of fun and very educational. They get all the credit for allowing me to once again eat, enjoy and join in all the goodness that is goat cheese farm-to-table.