Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Kidding Around in the East Mountains

Last month I got to experience “kidding season” for the first time here in New Mexico. This was not a month-long April Fool’s Joke, as it turns out, but the time of year when baby goats or “kids” are born and bottle-fed on goat dairy farms.

For reasons I have yet to uncover, the East Mountains area of Albuquerque is rife with goat dairy farms. This has turned out to be a serious perk of living here given that my partner Kevin is lactose intolerant and may well be the top consumer of all goat dairy products, including goat cheese, goat milk, goat yogurt and goat butter. We used to only be able to get these products at Whole Foods. Now we can now get them right down the road. Who said country living wasn’t convenient?

Our first tip-off was finding a surprising number of local goat cheese brands at Whole Foods and the wonderful Montanita Food Co-Op. After trying Old Windmill Dairy’s amazing Holy Chipotle Chevre, I went to their website (beyond my taste buds, they’d captured my interest with their cute tagline: “The Little Dairy on the Prairie”) and discovered they offered cheese making classes. I had barely uttered the words before Kevin agreed that we should sign up.

The following Sunday we drove down many, many dirt roads until we found our way to the Old Windmill Dairy a bit late. Fortunately, we were still in time to sample all of their chevre flavors – my second favorite soon became The Great Caper – and learn how to make goat mozzarella cheese. Bottom line: it’s not easy! They were still working out their exact recipe in fact before going into production.

Beyond yummy snacks, I also got a real appreciation for all the science involved – not to mention the pitfalls. Exact temperatures. Sterilized equipment. Very clean goat utters. There are a lot of things necessary to make safe, bacteria-free cheeses that taste great – and not “goaty.” One of them is making sure the male goats stay very far away from the females. Why, you ask? Because as Ed, one of the owners, explained, they stink (it’s their natural musk for mating) and like to pee on females.

After the class, we got to go see the baby goats, some only a few days old. My favorite moment was watching this bleating herd of kids chase the farm hand – their long ears flapping comically. (See the picture below.) But this was soon eclipsed by getting to bottle feed a baby goat ourselves two weeks later. Ed informed us that we actually lived on the same road in Edgewood as another goat dairy farm – South Mountain Dairy. We couldn’t believe our luck! And, as it turned out, they hold bottle-feeding open houses every Sunday in April.

So of course, we had to go to that too. Fortunately, the timing was perfect as we had friends visiting that weekend with their toddler, who loved playing with all the goats. We bottle-fed a fidgety kid, we walked around the high-tech goat housing (the owners of South Mountain Dairy both retired from Sandia Laboratories) and we eagerly bought all the products they had on hand, including drinkable raspberry yogurt, apricot chevre and lemon chipotle marinated feta. All fantastic. All different than Old Windmill Dairy’s product line (which you can buy in CSA fashion). Score.

So between these two dairies and an organic CSA farm called Frost Hill Organics that’s started up five minutes away, we should be able to buy a lot of what we eat from people we actually know. And, after watching Food Inc. (the Oscar-nominated documentary about the industrial food system), I’m pretty happy about that.

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