- When did you know you wanted to commit yourself to the cheesemaking craft, professionally?
In 1937 my paternal great grand father bought a circle of farms in Bloomington, Illinois-- They were the Darrah Farms. After the depression my maternal grand mother and grand father walked out of their home in Chicago and walked up to Mundelein, Illinois to start an apple orchard and roadside stand. It grew into a popular destination called Quigs Orchard. When the last of the farms were to be sold in Illinois, I was called to take my turn. We looked for three years for farm land closer to home in the Hudson Valley with four criteria: Good soil; good water; bio-diversity and within two hours of NYC. We found Miracle Springs Farm. Our neighbor Rene De Leeuw, it turns out,is one of the best goat herdsmen in the country, and he was looking to move back home after several years of commuting to and from Vermont. The place whispered goats and goat cheese to me and my family and I listened.
- What is the story behind your cheeses, and what is your favorite way to eat each of them?
Once we decided to become a goat dairy, we had to find an outstanding local cheese maker. We found Rory Chase at Chaseholm Farm Creamery and we formed a bond. We work collaboratively to come up with the ideas for our cheeses, and Rory creates the recipes and conducts all experimentation. We go back and forth with tastings until we all say “ah” and smile. Then we name each one according to its character and in keeping with this place. My favorite way to eat each cheese is directly from the board to my mouth. Of course there are the Roe Jan Omelettes, the Everything Chevre (Chevrything?) on a Pumpernickel Bagel, and the Simply Chevre crumbled over the Arugula we grow. Then there is the Peppercorn Chevre on top of our fresh tomatoes...and the Signal Rock on a giant Split Pretzel. The Camembert?....oh the Camembert....I just eat that the way it is.
- Do you believe cheese can be sustainably-made?
Of course! Even regeneratively! Everything we humans do either increases the possibility that humans and other life will thrive on Earth indefinitely, or it decreases that possibility by undermining either the social or physical systems upon which our lives and all life depend. Those are the two choices. We think planning and working to thrive over time is the best choice for our farmily, our goats, our community, our region, and for future generations. In order to build soil fertility that can grow healthy food, grasses and forests, while absorbing carbon in the atmosphere, we need ruminants. In order for ruminants to be on a farm, they need to work for a living (like everyone else) and they need to eat good clean food and forage. At Miracle Springs Farm we are transitioning some forest land to silvo-pasture so our goats can play, exercise and forage to their hearts content. The milkers work twenty minutes twice a day and the rest of the time they are playing and eating and tending their kids. We breed naturally and wean the kids naturally. We manage the manure with the help of the worms and turn it into rich soil that we cycle back into the Earth where it can contribute to the regenerative capacity of the place. We keep our water pure and clean that way too—we are at the top of two water sheds and there are springs everywhere on the property--so we take our responsibility to the health of our watershed seriously. We are always working to improve our packaging and looking for ways to make wrapping recyclable or compostable...still working on that but its only a matter of time. As for shipping, we distribute most of our cheeses regionally, but when we ship, we source packing materials that are sustainably produced and compostable (did you know that worms love cardboard?). The ice packs are still an issue--but they are re-useable and returnable to us in a continuous loop--like milk bottles in the old days...so there is that. We signed a Power Purchase Agreement with Solar Generation last year so the whole farm runs on solar power because we all need to power our lives on 100% renewable energy as soon as possible—and its possible now. On the health and happiness front, goat cheese is delicious, nutritious, goes very nicely with a bottle of anything and is a good choice for most people who are lactose intolerant. Finally, we intend to make a living wage producing fabulous goat cheeses--with the good taste and loyalty of cheese lovers with Cheese Grottos everywhere. I am more than happy to answer any other questions about cheese, food, farming and sustain-ability. In addition to the farm, I run the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education and my husband runs the American Sustainable Business Council..
- Where do you think the future of specialty cheese is headed?
If its not only desirable but feasible to do it right—to develop small, local family/community farms that operate in harmony with nature and contribute to its regenerative capacity, to our health and to the local and regional economy, everyone in this business can do so. If they do, we all have a bright future. We can contribute to the body of knowledge of sustainable and regenerative farming, and we can contribute to everyone’s ability to eat well all the while. There are no guarantees in this world, but we can create favorable conditions for the small, artisanal, gourmet/specialty cheese producers and our educated consumers to thrive over time. The key is to be uncompromisingly demanding and discerning about what we eat and what we produce.
- What is the most memorable cheese experience of your life?
The first batch of “ahs” and smiles. What a Thrill. No way back from there.