Virginia Smith puts another log in the wood stove that heats her home. Wiping her hands, she pauses to look at them.
“These are the hands that wash the cheese pots, that catch baby goats when they are born, that plant the seeds to make grass, to feed the goats,” she says. “They label the cheese, and steer the car that drives the cheese to market. Everything is in these hands.”
Smith runs Fromagerie Hug Your Nanny Goat Cheese in Weymouth Falls, Nova Scotia, about 25 minutes from Digby. She grew up with goats as a child in Newfoundland, but hadn’t spent time around the animals for over 20 years. After living in urban settings for most of her adult life, Smith found herself back in a rural landscape a few years ago, and decided to rekindle her relationship with them. “I missed not having fresh goat milk, so I thought I would get one goat,” she recalls.
Smith’s love of goat milk manifested itself into a love of making goat cheese. Soon her friends were asking for those cheeses and those friends begat more friends who became customers. But that meant more goats were needed; Smith now has a tribe of over 100 and is helped by her partner Dirk and a rotating crew of volunteers. Driven by demand, Smith makes a range of products, from chèvres – a soft fresh cheese – to aged, romano-style hard cheeses.
Wine and cheese
You love goat cheese. You love wine, too. Well, you’re in luck. They’re made for each other.
Goat cheese has tang that is best matched with crisp, citrusy whites. In Nova Scotia, try it with your favourite bottle of L’Acadie Blanc or Riesling. If you prefer Italian, try a Pinot Grigio or Orvieto. If you’re French inclined, choose a Sauvignon Blanc. For those with an adventurous, opt for a Nova Scotia red: Pinot Noir would be interesting. So would a Leon Millot.
The key is to have fun and experiment. Cheers!
For Smith, the key to good cheese is good milk and she’s been working with all sorts of variables to get the best quality. Chief among those variables is goat breed. “I’ve been looking for a balance between higher fat and lower fat [milk] so I use Saanen – a heavy milk producer – and Swiss Alpines,” she says.
Dairy quality is also of utmost importance to Heather Squires. She and her partner run Sweetwood Farm in Blockhouse, just outside Mahone Bay. Before moving to Nova Scotia in 2011, Squires lived in England, and would often take cheese courses at dairies in the area, as well as in France and Italy.
There are two entry points into cheese-making, Squires says. “Either someone has dairy animals and realizes they must add value to the milk in order to survive or be profitable, or someone is a cheese lover at heart.” For Squires, it’s about the animals as much as it is about the milk. “We want to be assured of the best possible milk from healthy goats. This means becoming goat farmers as well as cheese makers.”
Squires is working to get the proper licensing to allow her to sell her goat milk products, but that is a long – and costly – bureaucratic process. “The licensing can be done provincially or federally,” says Squires, “but both require significant investment and equipment.”
And then there are food safety regulations. “Once licensed there are inspections and regular milk and cheese testing requirements. Cheese production for anything other than hard cheeses aged more than 60 days, requires pasteurization.” All of this is to say, the capital to purchase necessary equipment is on the order of six figures.
In the interim, Squires is permitted to teach classes on making cheeses, but it means Sweetwood is “essentially an expensive hobby farm, since we are not yet licensed to sell our dairy products.”
In the end, money isn’t the real motivation for these two goat farmers. “Cheese making is addictive,” says Squires. “It offers something for pure amateurs as well as detailed seasoned professionals. It’s both an art and a science.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Smith. “The very thing that makes it so delicious and so incredibly rewarding to eat is what makes it difficult to make it same way twice,” says the Weymouth Falls farmer. “As soon as you master one thing, you want to make a different kind. It’s an ever-expanding amount to learn and discover.”