Umbrella in hand and photographer in tow I visited Split Creek Farm yesterday. The goats were not plussed about the deluge falling from the sky, but I was too excited to learn about their award winning cheeses to let a little rain stop me.
My first experience with goat cheese was around ten years ago. A friend of ours had goats and someone made a batch of herb cheese from the milk. It was strong and pungent and stinky…it smelled like a male goat (buck). I’ve got super senses so I was totally grossed out by the lingering aftertaste and never wanted to eat goat products again.
Being that I am now on a mission to experience everything food, I booked a farm visit and off I went. Rachel met us in the farm store with a spread of goat milk products. We made our way through a selection of feta, chevre, fromage blanc, fudge, milk and yogurt. Split Creek produces about 750 pounds of cheese a week. They began producing cheese in 1987 and along the way have accumulated a crazy number of awards. They are now the largest farmstead goat operation on the east coast. In 2010 they beat out American and European cheesemakers and took home Gold for their feta cheese at the World Championship Cheese Contest in Madison, WI.
Every day at 6am and 4pm Boarder Collies herd goats into the parlor for milking. The milk used to make cheese is pasteurized and cultures and runic are added. 24 hours later cheese curds are ready to be dipped in molds. Weights are applied to the cheese to press out the whey (or milky water in the cheese). Then softer cheeses are mixed with spices or fruit depending on the flavor and cheese is formed into logs, packaged or wrapped and labeled. In the 80’s the farm had a hard time marketing their cheese, but these days they are supplying some of South Carolina’s most popular restaurants from mountains to coast including the Upstate’s American Grocery, Lazy Goat and Stella’s. They are selling out at local farmer’s markets.
Rachel started our tasting with the feta. It was smoother than cow’s milk feta and not as salty. I was worried about the aftertaste but it was almost nonexistent. We tasted block chevre, which was smilar in texture to the feta. The creamier (more whey) log chevre was similar to block cream cheese in texture, and fromage blanc was a softer spreadable cheese. They were all very mild. I definitely preferred the herbed and plain cheeses to the fruitier raspberry or cheese ball topped with jam and rolled in almonds. The sweetness seemed to amplify the pungent quality that sets goat cheese apart from cow’s milk cheese. The fudge was amazing and highly recommended. I thought it was actually richer than regular fudge. I very much enjoyed the milk and yogurt, too. Neither were goaty at all. I always assumed they would be, so I avoided them. No more. The goat products have a complexity like an old wine and flavors can vary from goat to goat or region to region.
Across the board goat products are better for you: less cholesterol, more protein, and less calories from fat. Lactose intolerant or people with milk allergies are often fine with goat’s milk products.
After our tasting we walked around the farm visiting the Nigerian Miniatures (milk is best for ice cream), Nubians with their floppy ears, and Alpine breeds. Great Pyrenees (large white dogs), 8 in all, have bonded and live along side the goats in the pastures for protection. I talked to the dogs, and goats, an orange cat (I wanted to bring home) and I petted the biggest potbellied pig I’ve ever seen. I turn into a 3rd grade goob around animals.
It was a fantastic day, even in the rain. Though I prefer their cow’s milk counterparts (with the exception of feta), I do have a new appreciation for goat products, and I am now determined to make the perfect goat cheese cupcake. Thank you Split Creek. (And hugs to Nancy Plumblee, my step-mom, who came along on the adventure to take pics for me.)