Inspiration at Pholia Farms

Bigfoot legends, Portland eccentricities, Nike’s birthplace, Goonies backdrop, rugged coastline, year ’round rain and rich vegetation. Come to find out, they also has some damn good goat cheese. 

We had never been to Oregon before. Austinites dream of exchanging air conditioning for alpine air, drought for afternoon rain showers, and sweaty t-shirts for wearing a jacket. Portland lived up to our expectations. We drank incredible beer, had some fabulous meals, witnessed world Naked Bike Ride Day and other quirky happenings. A personal highlight was at the farmer’s market, I met a charming gentleman that sculpted me into a garden gnome. My inner Amelie was delighted to say the least.

For the second leg of our trip, I planned a visit to the Rogue River. I wanted to see what south Oregon looked and felt like. Oregon’s tourism site proved a handy tool to take a peak at farm stay vacations in the area, and I came across an airstream trailer experience on 40 acres with two lovely hosts that make cheese. Reviews looked favorable. Why not give it a shot? Pholia Farms did not disappoint.

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Ten miles outside of the city of Rogue River, nestled on back country roads sits open pastures, clean air, divinely wooded hills, and a charming off-the-grid creamery and farm. Vern and Gianaclis have built what some might call utopia, others might call a lot of planning and very hard work.

My husband and I did not intend to fall in love with farming, goats and cheese that weekend. But it happened anyways. We stayed two nights in a refurbished Airstream trailer that overlooked a field with a Llama. Our hostess tucked award-winning, aged, hard cheeses into our small kitchenette for us to sample while sitting on the covered porch at sunset. While making coffee in our small trailer, I watched the largest woodpecker I’ve ever seen scour a decaying tree stump for insect morsels. And we got to play with a lot of goats.

Pholia Farms has Nubian Dwarves and LaManchas. They produce high fat milk that is great for cheese making while being a manageable sized animal (unlike say a Jersey Cow). The disposition of the goats intrigued us. They reminded us of dogs – each with a unique, quirky personality. In fact, we even had the opportunity to go on a walk with the goats. Yes, all 40+ of them, through trails around the farm so they could graze on natural forage. We were also fortunate enough to visit the farm while there were baby goats (kids). While the adults grazed on nearby hay stacks, the kids erratically jumped in the air or even played on a playground set. Adorable to say the least.

I’m thankful to our lovely hosts Vern and Gianaclis. They opened our eyes that with proper planning, determination, resourcefulness and focus you can succeed. They’ve approached farming and their dairy as a business first. Airstream rental, livestock sale, cheese sale, and cheese making classes are all product lines that are tweaked over time. They’re extremely smart, talented, and warm people – and I couldn’t have been luckier to have the opportunity to meet them and stay with them. Also if you are contemplating starting a small dairy or getting into cheese making, you must immediately buy Gianaclis’ books.

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Cheese School with Homestead Heritage – Soft Cheeses 101

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You’ll turn heads if you start of a sentence with, “this weekend I’m going to a compound in Waco, TX.” Jokes aside, Homestead Heritage group at Brazos de Dios farm (500+ acres) is a blend of yesteryear hard-working, homesteading values and modern day amenities (running water, electricity, medicine, cars and cell phones). 

Our goal is to bring these all−but−lost arts, both of life and work, within the reach of people, especially those interested in discovering a fulfilment that only comes in one way−from participating more directly and personally in providing their essential needs in an agrarian culture – About The Ploughshare Institute

 

Soft Cheese 101

We attended a one-day workshop focused on how to make a variety of soft cheeses. In fact, we made 12 different varieties of soft cheese including things like butter, cultured buttermilk, sour cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese, herbed cheese logs like chevre (French word for goat), ricotta, yogurt, labneh, mozzarella and more. 

Our instructor, Rebekah (pictured above), joined the community with her family when she was 14. She grew up with goats, and took an interest in learning how to make cheese. With some trial and error, at home she had perfected a variety of cheeses. She started working at Sustain Life’s cheese shop, and eventually took over teaching cheese classes at Homestead Heritage. Rebekah is passionate about cheese making being an approachable craft. Her classes are intended to demystify cheese, and make it something people aren’t afraid to try. In fact, she out right laughed at some of my questions about about buying cheese salt or other products – many of which she felt are products pushed by cheese industry to make money. Rebekah makes her cheeses with regular old table salt. 

Cheese Rack

One item in our classroom that I loved was (pictured below) a fabulous hand-made rack for hanging cheese. The iron bar bows out from the wall, providing cheese with room to hang and not touch the wall. Also this gives more room to put a bowl or pan flush against they wall to catch the dripping whey. I also imagined how nifty it would be if each hook had a small chalkboard name plate. That way, you could add notes regarding what is hanging, time hung, and when the product is  ready for the next stage. 

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Labneh Cheese Jars – Perfect Holiday Gift

One of my favorite things we tried and created was Labneh. It is a Middle Eastern yogurt that has a thicker texture than say Greek yogurt. In class, we seasoned it with parsley, garlic, and crushed pepper. It was chilled, and then eventually rolled into balls with a small ice cream scooper. We placed the balls into plain jars filled half way with olive oil. Adornments like pepper corns, red peppers and rosemary sprigs were added as well, before the concoction was topped off with more olive oil. This item would make a great holiday gift for friends, and it is visually appealing to display in your kitchen too. 

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Get Inspired

If you’re just getting started, you may enjoy Rebekah’s tutorials online that walk you step-by-step on how to make mozzarella with traditional methods (no microwave like Ricki Carroll’s method). Here is the video to take a peak.  

My Internship: Pure Luck Farm – Dripping Springs, Texas

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If you really want to learn how to do something new, learn from the best.

Well, in Texas, I believe I found the best. Meet Pure Luck Farm. Pure Luck is a second generation family-owned farm and dairy that was one of the first farms in Texas to be certified organic. Today they are a successful, small business operation boasting around 60 goats and a range of soft cheeses that win national awards. Additionally they sell organic fresh-cut herbs and used to sell fresh-cut flowers. 

I first noticed Pure Luck in a retail environment. After returning from an inspiring trip to Rogue River, Oregon to stay on Pholia Farm, I wanted to share my new love of goat cheese with friends. I invited a group of pals over to our house in South Austin, and started combing stores like Central Market and Whole Foods for local goat cheese products. And there Pure Luck was. Smart branding, clean packaging and a delicious product. For months to come, once Pure Luck was on my radar I was finding it everywhere – in ice cream at Lick, on cheese plates at ABGB, to a cheese basket received from Antonelli’s cheese shop. 

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I reached out to Pure Luck to offer in exchange for free marketing services (as by day I am the Director of Marketing at a mobile software company), whether they’d be open to me coming out to the farm a few times to learn more about cheese making and herd management. Although we’re only a month in, the relationship seems to be a great fit. Amelia Sweetheart (the owner and daughter of the founder) is extremely smart, strong and straight-forward. I believe she will be a great mentor to learn from for months to come. 

On my first visit out to the farm last month, Amelia greeted my husband and me and invited us in to sample cheese and try some local cider. Her house was filled with beautiful photography (I believe by her husband) and cool antiques. We chatted about the internship, and then Amelia took me on a 1.5 hour tour of her farm. Buck pen, doe pens, milking parlor and cheese making rooms were wonderful to walk through. I particularly enjoyed hearing more about a house they acquired and moved out to the farm to expand their operations by offering more courses in Spring of 2014. 

A few things that really struck me during my chat with Amelia include:

  • If you’re going to change, start first with small changes. Don’t overcommit yourself. 
  • Do what feels right and stay true to yourself. 
  • Don’t spread yourself too thin.
  • Build products that are quality that align with who you are. 

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