Are we there yet?
I grew up with goats, did you know that? It sort of messes with my whole story of the girl who stumbled out of the city into country life, but it’s the truth. In the one acre backyard of my childhood home we raised Ashes and Dusty, an incredibly obnoxious Nubian goat and her castrated (a “wether” for you goat-philes) friend. Mom gifted them to my sister for her 12th birthday, a present I’m not sure my sister really wanted. What she probably wished for (knowing Jesse) was an amazing pair of shoes. Or possibly a pony, since she promptly tried to ride Ashes, and Ashes promptly galloped straight into a tree, scraping my sister off against the trunk. I’m pretty sure the goat gift was an answer to my mom’s faint but real desire to make some goat cheese, a romantic notion that made sense given her large backyard, small barn, and two girls who loved animals. But the goat cheese never happened, got lost somewhere in the process of raising daughters, and the goats, although cherished pets, never amounted to more than pecan tree trimmers and backyard entertainment. It’s not often that I reminisce about old Ashes and Dusty, rarely do they cross my mind but it occurs to me now – 18 months into the process of opening this little dairy – that they are possibly the source of all this trouble. Because the goat cheese dream didn’t start 18 months ago, began long before the 7 years and 3 months that we’ve had the farm. It’s actually a seed that’s germinated for 28 years, since I first lived with goats. It’s a tug I ignored, then joked about, then confronted squarely nearly a decade ago. That’s when I seriously considered seriously considering goat herding and cheese making. It’s been a long, slow road to here.
Along that road I took some classes and collected some tremendous mentors. Several years ago I stood in the sophisticated commercial kitchen of one of these mentors, looked longingly at neat rows of goat cheeses spread across a cheese drain table, watched her deftly salt the cheeses as a herd of goats bleated and pranced outside the windows. In that moment I ignored the impossibly complicated wall of plumbing, gaskets, tubing, and stainless equipment, the shelves heavy with cleaning supplies, the folders filled with legal documentation. Instead my view was rose-colored, the soundtrack in my head was set to Edith Piaf, and all I saw was goats and cheese.
There is no doubt that farm life, particularly one steeped heavily in dairy, is redolent with romance. It conjures images we’re all guilty of believing; lazy cows, green pastures, braided milk maids, butterflies in fields of clover, wooden milk stands, silver milk pails. All that can be (within reason) possible – but not when you go commercial. Not really. It’s a truth I shook hands over a few years ago, pinky swore I’d be honest in sharing. It can be – honestly – deflating. In an effort to rekindle the old romance, I’m re-reading Margaret Hathaway’s stunning book, The Year of the Goat, an old favorite that helped me confirm my lifelong commitment to this animal years ago. Right now the book is a beacon in a sea of doubt. There is So. Much. Left. To. Do before I can open this joint. It’s a process tangled up in sanitary tubing, stainless valves, floors that slope just right to the drain, laws and testing, and equipment heavy as my car. It’s the acknowledgement that I must somehow become master of at least three separate professions and an understanding that in order to make it work, I must maintain my love for goats. Because at the root of everything, this is all about a blinding love of life with goats.
So as I flail towards the finish line, it’s comforting to pick up a good book filled with chapter after chapter of goat stories and realize that I still, so many years later, eagerly turn the pages.