Brock Hall Farm in Shropshire is one of L’ortolan’s most prolific British artisan goats cheese suppliers, so we invited guest blogger Sarah Hampton to delve into the world of Pure Saanen Goats, life on the farm and the art of Artisan Cheese.
Forget the groomed, high-maintenance look. Forget immaculate nails and wearing make-up every day. Getting muddy, wearing boiler suits or hairnets and white wellies are really where it’s at. Why pay for exercise by joining a gym or booking a personal trainer when you could be up and it every morning, in the clean Shropshire air or hefting around trays of cheeses in a sweet-smelling cheese dairy?
I think you’re maybe half-convinced…
I’ll never forget seeing my first Pure Saanen goats at an agricultural show in Wales 12 years ago. They were so brilliantly white, so clear of eye, so sleek and just so calm and friendly. I knew there and then that these were the animals I wanted and this was the exact breed for me. I loved the fact that they this breed originated in Holland and Switzerland and that some far-sighted, tenacious goatkeepers in the 1920s organised an import from these countries in an effort to improve the qualities of British dairy goats.
So I managed to find a young pair of these special Pure Saanen goats from a lady in Norfolk and took them round the country to shows and country fairs. I gained prizes and rosettes and made a lot of goaty friends – for goatkeepers, like me, are a down-to-earth and quirky lot. There’s nothing they believe they can’t fix with a bit of ingenuity and baler twine. And there’s very little that phases them; when you work on a farm or keep livestock, believe me, we’ve seen it all!
These two beautiful young goats (‘goatlings’ is the correct term) soon became milkers; I found a great male in North Yorkshire and drove our two a few (hundreds of!) miles up there for the romantic liaison and bobs your uncle… the kids ‘slipped out’ about 150 days later.
Being such well-bred pedigree animals, my two original goats didn’t give just a few pints of milk a day but litres and litres of the stuff. I milk-recorded my favourite one, Pallas, and in the summer she gave on average of 7.5 litres a day, from two milkings. In the course of a year, she produced nearly 1700 litres! Well, I never had any great ambition to be a modern-day Cleopatra and bathe in goats milk 24-7 so I started making cheese.
I made a fresh, lactic cheese, very much like the Fresco Angelico I make today, a Greek-type, salty salad cheese whose name we’re not supposed to mention, a kind of Cheddar, a crumbly and even a blue cheese. The experimenting was always fun and always successful. I don’t know what it is about goats milk; I just enjoy working with it. It’s like a form of appreciation of and justification for our beautiful goats.
The problem with goats, though, is that they multiply. With all that milk flowing and goats to look after, kids to feed and so on, the goat-showing had to take a back seat. I had a licence from Environmental Health to make and sell cheese, a real yearning to make the best cheese possible and what’s more, an order book that I couldn’t keep up with. The decision was: sell the goats and become a ‘normal’ wife and mother (what?) or make a go of the business.
I’d been a very successful editor, journalist and PR director so why not choose something so closely connected?