Those of you considering shucking your current career or crop enterprise mix and venturing into the domesticated goat cheese business, as we all do from time to time, might want to read a book on the topic before making much of an investment.
The Perils and Pleasures of Domesticating Goat Cheese, by Miles Cahn, should shed a bit of light on what awaits an unsuspecting novice in the goat-raising and cheese-making industry.
Cahn often resorts to the phrase “What were we thinking?” as he recalls the process of restoring a run-down, 300-acre upstate New York farm into an agricultural enterprise that would “pay for itself.”
Mr. Cahn's adventures probably ring true with a number of former city dwellers who decided that a small farm would provide a nice getaway from the traffic, congestion and stress of city life. His experience with ramshackle buildings, poor soils and an inadequate water supply also might invoke a wry smile from kindred spirits who longed for a simpler life.
It started out simply enough. Cahn and his wife, founders of the Coach Handbag Company in New York City, succumbed to a Green Acres urge and bought a small farm as a weekend getaway.
“Picturing ourselves going up to this beautiful farm every weekend to unwind, we could not imagine there would soon come a time when we would actually be living and working up there, trying desperately to get away from the farm and go down to the city for a little peace and quiet,” Cahn writes.
They decided to turn the farm into a milk goat dairy and cheese factory, hoping to make enough cheese to provide a consistent supply to stores and restaurants in New York City. Apparently, they ignored rule number one of running a dairy. Don't plan to leave the farm. Ever.
The snowball began to roll. They built milking parlors, drilled wells, improved pastures, hired a herdsman and farm manager, bought purebred goats and constructed a cheese facility, all with no identified market for their end product.
“We were so taken by the sheer elegance of this concept that we completely overlooked the fact that at the time there was scarcely a restaurant in the whole city (New York) serving goat cheese.”
They overlooked a few other facts as well and as renovations progressed, they found the getaway as much work as they left the city to avoid. Finally the weekend escape turned into a never-ending operation, so the Cahns had to decide which full-time career to keep, the successful handbag business or goat cheese.
They chose cheese. What were they thinking?
Apparently, it's worked out. The operation, dubbed Coach Farm, now boasts 1,000 head of milk goats, all of whom have names. I can't contemplate having to remember the names of 1,000 goats. I have four siblings and I can barely remember what to call them.
I've never owned a goat. Never wanted one. But the Cahns seem to have found another successful niche. They learned how to raise goats, how to make cheese and how and where to sell it. But from Mr. Cahn's descriptions of the renovation process, the project required significant outlays of cash and profitability came slowly.
Turning a run-down farm into a modern goat dairy is for neither the weak of heart nor the short of cash. One wonders how far the enterprise would have gone had the family not had either great credit or significant financial resources.
The book itself (Catskill Press) is little more than a personal essay on perseverance. The text takes only about 20 pages, some of which tends to tediousness in detailing the cheese-making process. Parts, however, are amusing descriptions of the frustrations and pitfalls awaiting anyone taking on new challenges. The largest part of the book consists of nicely done photography by Cahn's daughter, Julie.
The Perils and Pleasures of Domesticating Goat Cheese might make a good resource to keep handy for folks coming to the Southwest countryside “to get away from it all.”
It might also do as a handy guide when farmers contemplate taking on a new enterprise to bolster profits. Regardless of how good a scheme sounds, there's always a goat in there somewhere to provide a touch of reality.