Let me add to your trivia knowledge with some little-known goat facts. First, goats can eat poison ivy as easily as if it were clover. No adverse reaction. Second, not all goats have ears - and that's where barnyard trivia becomes significant to your palate.
A unique earless breed called Lamancha is proving to be an ideal dairy animal: Its milk contains high butterfat levels and production is steady. Last winter I sampled preliminary batches of two cheeses being made by the Upper Canada Cheese Company using single-herd Lamancha milk. I was hooked.
Nanny Noire is a soft, Camembert-style product that is rolled in ash before ripening. The velvety white bloom develops over the ash so that when you slice into the Nanny you reveal a thin charcoal layer that artfully separates the pale rind and the snowy paste. It's a very elegant cheese. The paste is silky smooth and the wheel I tried was very ripe with only a hint of its younger, chalky centre. The flavours are complex and lingering: sour cream tang, steely earthiness and a hint of goaty gaminess that strengthens with age.
Its sibling, the Camelot, is quite a different character. It's more rugged with a warm, textured, washed-rind exterior and a gradated semi-firm paste that is riper near the rind and chalkier near the centre. This one hit me like a bag of salty potato chips. Its briny, savoury flavours had me slicing off piece after piece long after I knew I should stop.
Perhaps now you can understand why I was so eager to get my hands on more. Having been told that new batches of the cheese would not be available till late summer (after the first spring milking) I wrangled an invite to visit Idyllwood Farms, outside of Peterborough, Ont., where Gord and Melanie Wood, with their four kids, raise the 150 Lamanchas that provide the milk.
The Woods' intention when taking over the family property in 2000 was always to raise dairy goats. The farm had been in Mr. Wood's family since the 1860s and he remembers his grandfather also kept goats. "At that time he was getting older and couldn't keep up with the fences so I remember goats running everywhere, even on top of vehicles." Today Idyllwood Farms is still a family operation. They even had the milking platform lowered from 42 to 30 inches so the kids (who enthusiastically showed us around their home) could also be an active part of the farm.
The Woods now have the largest commercial herd of Lamanchas in Canada but their discovery of the breed was a bit of a fluke. The couple was looking into buying some Nubian goats and their contact was also selling a couple Lamanchas. After doing some research they discovered that Lamanchas had been bred to develop positive characteristics such as a hearty constitution, they milk well and have good longevity. Over time the lack of ears developed into a dominant trait (they do have a small flap where the ear usually is). "One of those original goats became the mother of 37 goats in our herd," says Mr. Wood. "They have great character, they're not shy and they're very inquisitive."
Initially the Woods were selling their milk for mass production but that model just didn't fit into their philosophy. "We're a small-scale farm, we know our animals by name, we pay attention to detail," explains Mr. Woods. "Before I go to bed I make sure everyone has been looked after, checked if they need medical care or if they're birthing - it's the small things that make a successful farm."
Good care also makes for good milk, according to Vivian Szebeny, co-owner of Upper Canada Cheese Company. "We wanted something special like our Guernsey milk [produced by a unique cow breed]and we know from our Guernsey experience that happy animals produce a higher quality of milk." says Ms. Szebeny. As for the Woods, they knew their efforts would be showcased in an artisanal product. (The cheeses are just starting to hit stores, such as the Cheese Boutique in Toronto. Talk to your local cheese monger about ordering, or go to uppercanadacheesecompany.com.)
Personally, I've never been happier to hear of a successful hook up. You will be too.
Sue Riedl blogs about cheese and other edibles at cheeseandtoast.com