Our friends Eric and Pascal decided to quit their jobs a few years ago and make farmstead cheese on the land on which Eric's grandparents built a house something like 60 years ago. The land is a lovely slope overlooking Dry Creek Valley in Healdsburg, California, now called Pug's Leap Farm, named because Eric and Pascal have had pet pugs for many years. Here is their latest, Oriane de Guermantes, who was a rescue puppy that Eric describes as a cuisinart with legs, giving Catherine a kiss.
It's been fascinating to watch the process of creating a dairy and cheesemaking facility. It's a very small operation, with two people and about 25 goats in the herd, but they still needed the same kinds of permits and variances from the county that they would had they built a giant cheese factory. The goats are the sweetest you've ever met--our kids have known and loved these goats for a few years.
While Eric and Pascal were building up their herd and waiting for the wheels of bureaucracy to turn, they had a problem: they had a lot of goat milk, and not a lot to do with it, because they couldn't legally make cheese to distribute (not even to give away) nor even legally give away the milk. However, goat's milk is easily digestible by a lot of animals, including pigs. So, they got a few piglets, which very efficiently turned a diet that was heavy in goat's milk into hundreds of pounds of pork. The result of all of this pig-raising is that we had the best ham I've ever had for lunch during our visit. This particular ham came from a pig named George Bush. Eric and Pascal enjoyed being able to walk out to the pen and say, "George Bush, you are a pig!" every day until it was time for slaughter.
Along with the ham we had some amazing white beans, some brussels sprouts, a cheese course (of course!) and an Erica Torte that we brought from Katrina Rozelle bakery in Oakland. Also joining us for lunch was our friend James, who is staying in the little cabin behind the house while finishing his novel/history/self-help guide.
Eric and Pascal run a real farmstead goat cheese operation, using only the milk from the herd on the farm, so it runs cyclically through the year. Right now there's no cheesemaking going on, because the goats are dried off during the last weeks of pregnancy. In a couple of months there will be dozens of kids, most of which are bound for other farms. Then cheesemaking will start again.
This was the first year of commercial production. They started off selling cheese at the Healdsburg farmer's market. Later in the year their cheese was picked up for distribution by Tomales Bay Foods, which means that it's available in quite a few high-end grocery stores, and Eric and Pascal don't have to work quite as hard to sell all their cheese. If you're at the Cowgirl Creamery store at the SF Ferry Plaza or Point Reyes, or at the Healdsburg Farmer's market, check out Pug's Leap goat cheese!