If you ever find yourself feeling ignored, unwanted, unloved, under-appreciated ... quick, get thee to a goat farm. I swear, no adulation or adoration in the world can match the intensity of that radiating from a gaggle of girl goats.
We got a dose of it a little over a year ago when we visited New Mexico's South Mountain Dairy. We met owners Donna Lockridge and Marge Peterson at the Saturday Santa Fe Farmer's Market, where they sell goat cheese made from milk sourced from their own goats. We asked if we could visit and watch the process.
What we didn't bargain for was falling in love with the 'girls'.
Unfortunately our timing was off; by the time we arrived much of the cheesemaking was finished. (The drive to Edgewood however, made up for that -- you never tire of looking at those vast expanses of turquoise New Mexico sky and a horizon of nothingness when you live in an Asian metropolis).
When we arrived Donna was cutting curds for chevre, which she would ladle into sieves and leave to drain for twenty-four hours (The whey collected in the process is given to feed a neighbor's pigs; in return, each year Donna and Marge get a whole butchered hog.)
We followed her around as she inspected her 'blooming rind' cheeses -- a brie and Mallapie Mist (above, similar to Humboldt Fog), and painted wax onto a cheese unique to South Mountain Dairy, a Dutch havarti-style semi-soft round called Chevarti (the wax inhibits mold and keeps the cheese moist).
We sampled cabre al vino, a semi-hard cheese soaked in red wine for 48 hours (below, and delicious), sqeaky-fresh goat cheese curds ("an accident," according to Donna, and a tasty one at that), and South Mountain's creamy, mild, and not-too-salty feta, which is handrubbed with salt instead of brined in salt solution.
Somewhere along the line Donna confessed to an aversion to strong-flavored cheeses -- no brie or Mallapie Mist for her.
It's obvious that Donna truly enjoys the cheesemaking, and the being-an-artisan parts of the business, like knowing by touch, rather than measuring PH level, that the Chevarti is dry enough to take the wax without absorbing it.
But she also made it clear where this business' priorities lay: "'We're doing the dairy just so we can keep the animals."
The title of this post, in fact, is also South Mountain Dairy's motto: "It's all about the girls."
The dairy, when we visited, had fifty 'girls' producing about 60 gallons of milk a day. South Mountain started in 2005 with 13, and Donna figured they'd be up to 64 by this year ("That's capacity -- determined by how much our equipment can handle," she told us.)
Like those cheese curds, the dairy was a bit of an accident.
Ten or so years ago Donna and Marge bought a couple of male goats as weed-eaters; later, they decided to raise pack goats.
They bought a couple does to build a herd, bred them, and bottle-fed the kids (they'd learned early in that the best pack goats are fed by bottle).
One problem -- the does produced too much milk for the babies to consume. What to do with the rest? Well -- make cheese, of course. But the milk made more cheese than Donna and Marge could eat, or give away to friends. So... years later, here they are.
After our tour of the product, we went out to meet the milk producers.
"Happy goats make happy cheese," says Donna. If judged by sheer conviviality South Mountain's goats must surely be among the happiest in the world.
As soon as we walked through the gate we were surrounded by curious beady-eyed beings. They teemed, their desire to be near us palpable, but not threatening. Exuding a sort of calm urgency, the girls got as close as they could, touching our hands and legs and arms, nudging but not butting, positioning their heads under our palms so we'd have no choice but to touch them.
"They're very sociable," Donna had told us. If anything that was an understatement. The girls didn't want anything from us but to be near us. I've never felt so popular in my life. When it was time to leave we had to tear ourselves away.
It was a pretty wondrous encounter, and we understood completely how owning two lawn-mowing goats could lead to a goat farm.
Not even Donna's sweet hound Butter could match the girls for loveableness.
South Mountain Dairy, 48 Katzima Road, Edgewood NM. 505/280-5210. Donna and Marge sell their cheeses at various farmer's markets around the state. NOTE: In the spring, when farm's bursting with cute little babies, they open up for tours. One dollar buys you a bottle and a chance to feed a baby goat.