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The Geological History of Boulder County’s Haystack Mountain

Sometimes when a question is posed, there’s a simple answer. Other times, questions spark inquiries that lead you down a rabbit hole lined with mystery and legend. A recent fact check about the elevation of Haystack Mountain triggered such an inquiry. This investigative path uncovered footprints of dinosaurs that frolicked on the beaches of the Front Range, and the tomb of Chief Niwot, which according to legend sits atop Haystack Mountain, its 500-foot peak representing the elevation of Left Hand Creek 100,000 years ago.

1859HenryWElliotdrawingHaystack

Henry Wood Elliot’s drawing of Boulder Valley with Table Mountain and Haystack Mountain.
Mr. Elliot served with the Hayden Expedition Survey Team
This drawing is from 1860. Photo credit: Donlyn Arbuthnot

The inquiry started with a phone call from a reporter working on a story about our cheeses, who wanted to confirm the elevation of Boulder County’s Haystack Mountain. Our marketing director John fielded the call and he chuckled to himself, because as anyone in Boulder County can tell you, it’s a matter of a few hundred feet high. After some quick Googling around, he learned that there’s not much concrete info on our company’s namesake, Haystack Mountain. There is, however, a slew of other locales with the same namesake: an elite Vermont ski resort, a mountain in Idaho’s Portneuf Range, an East Coast crafts school, and an 11,000-foot Colorado peak near Kremmling.

Amid the digital clutter, there was an article written by local geologist Suzanne Webel, a 20-year veteran of the petroleum industry who lives on an 80-acre farm in the triangle between Boulder, Lyons, and Longmont. John contacted Webel and had some follow-up questions. “Well, a lot like geology, it’s literally a long story,” Webel chuckled. Webel says that Haystack’s bulbous shape gave Boulder County’s first settlers pause. “The first farmers who arrived in the area were worried that Haystack Mountain was a volcano. It’s actually a flood-washed structure that used to be part of Table Mountain,” she said.

Haystack Mountain Ranch Home of William and Mary [Bader] Arbuthnot and their six children. Photo was taken circa 1900-1907. Today the old barn still stands at the Haystack Mountain Golf Course.

Haystack Mountain Ranch
Home of William and Mary [Bader] Arbuthnot and their six children.
Photo was taken circa 1900-1907. Today the old barn still stands out at the Haystack Mountain Golf Course.

Webel’s original article details the geological structure of the Table Mountain area, but we were focused on Haystack “peak” itself. John commissioned Webel (with cheese, naturally) to dive deeper into the geology of Haystack Mountain. Webel accepted the challenge with curiosity and moxie, and produced an amazing story of rising and disappearing mountain ranges; vast seas containing dinosaurs, tree ferns, and clams; glaciers and deltas; stream capture and inverted topography.

To research her Haystack report, Webel went to the CU geology library and consulted with current professors on the matter. ”I had some nagging questions,” Webel said, “and this paper caused me to do more research on something I wanted to know more about.”

From a historical and cultural standpoint, the land surrounding Haystack Mountain is entrenched in Native American and U.S. history. In the early 1800s, Chief Niwot (meaning “Left Hand”) and his Arapahoe tribe chose this area as their winter home. Haystack Mountain served as a high lookout for small herds of buffalo, its sunny slope provided protection from harsh winds, and Left Hand Creek ran with fish and clear mountain water. In 1858, history reports that Chief Niwot met the first settlers coming into the region, and many more followed.

Eventually, with the continuing unrest between the settlers and the Indians, Chief Niwot moved his tribe to eastern Colorado near Sand Creek. There at the Battle of Sand Creek, Chief Niwot was killed. According to legend, members of his tribe who escaped death in the massacre brought his body back and buried him on his beloved Haystack Mountain.

 Haystack Rainbow

Geologically speaking, “cute little” Haystack Mountain is an erosional outlier whose days are numbered, at least in the way geologists look at time. We invite you to read Webel’s full report on the geological structure of Haystack Mountain; it’s a fun and fascinating read that speaks to both the layperson and the well-versed geology buff.

 

GEOLOGY OF THE HAYSTACK MOUNTAIN AREA

by Suzanne Webel

Have you ever wondered about the geology of Haystack Mountain?  It’s an amazing story of mountain ranges that rose up, disappeared, and then rose up again; vast seas containing dinosaurs, tree ferns, and clams; glaciers and deltas; stream capture and inverted topography.  Hang on and enjoy the ride!

Geo Survey

The Analogy of a House

While Table Mountain and Haystack Mountain dominate much of the viewscape along the east side of the Front Range of Boulder County today, let’s look at how they fit into the geological “big picture.”  Sometimes it’s useful to think of the whole assemblage of rocks as a house.

The Basement

The basement of the house in our part of Colorado is composed of ancient Precambrian granites approximately 1.5 billion years old.  The basement has undergone many episodes of uplift and subsidence, with a big one occurring about 370 million years ago forming a mountain range in approximately the same location as today’s Rockies, called the “Ancestral Rocky Mountains.”

The First Floor

The first floor of our geological house consists of relatively hard rocks that range in age from Permian to Jurassic.  The Ancestral Rocky Mountains eroded quickly (in the otherwise relatively slow geological scheme of things), shedding large amounts of coarse debris eastward, which was deposited in deltas and alluvial fans.  These sediments later hardened into the red conglomerate we call the Fountain Formation, which is well-displayed as Boulder’s Flatirons and at the Hall Ranch Open Space.  Subsequent, finer-grained sediments were deposited mostly as sandy beaches with intervening mudflats.  The reddish Lyons sandstone is used to face the buildings at the University of Colorado.   These formations, like most sedimentary rocks, were originally deposited in a horizontal position.

The Second Floor

The Cretaceous period deserves the entire second floor of our geological house (these rocks are very thick here so the house has peculiar proportions). A vast seaway extended all along the Rocky Mountain front from Canada to Mexico.  Dinosaurs frolicked on the beaches and left their footprints in the Dakota sandstone outcrops. Clams grubbed around in the mud and sometimes even got stepped on by the dinosaurs.  Occasional offshore reefs resulted in limestones like the Niobrara, which is now being mined for cement at Dowe Flats east of Lyons.  The Cretaceous deposits are best known around Haystack Mountain as the black shales of the Pierre Formation, which can reach 6,000 feet in thickness.  The Pierre shale is also known for its swelling clays, which can cause engineering headaches in foundations, roads, and bridges.  Occasionally the marine muds gave way to narrow sandy beaches, resulting in thin layers such as the Hygiene Sandstone member that intertongue with the thick black shales of the Pierre Formation.

Renewed uplift of the Rocky Mountains about 70 million years ago resulted in folding and faulting of the entire house of cards.  If you were allowed to go up on Table Mountain  (but you can’t, since it’s closed to the public) you might be able to see a small anticline (where the rocks tilt away from each other) and syncline (where the rocks tilt toward each other), with a small fault in places between them.  These forces may still continue today, as friction along faults creates warm springs such as those at Rabbit Mountain, whose waters were piped all the way to Hygiene to supply the sanitarium there.  A flurry of oil drilling just after the turn of the century between the Lake Valley Golf Course and Haystack Mountain discovered geothermal hot water (300 degrees Fahrenheit at 1500 feet), which still flows to the surface under artesian pressure and creates small wetlands that never freeze, making the area a prime winter haven for wildlife.   The closest oil production to Haystack Mountain is about three miles south, in the very small, now-abandoned Boulder Oil Field.

The Roof

Most of us live on the roof.  The Quaternary period was marked by another major outpouring of coarse sediments that were shed eastward from the mountain front.  Dinosaurs had given way to woolly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers.  Glaciers covered much of North America in the Pleistocene epoch.  Sediments were deposited by huge ancestral rivers that make today’s creeks (Boulder, Left Hand, and St Vrain) appear puny in comparison.  Deposited about 100,000 years ago, the giant outwash plains from these rivers contain a hodge-podge of rocks of all types, from whatever source happened to be uphill:  granite, gneiss, quartzite, limestone, and sandstone. The oldest, barely-consolidated gravels and conglomerates of this period in our area (collectively called the Rocky Flats alluvium) rest directly on the Pierre Shale.

Generally younger still is the Verdos Alluvium, which is marked by brown sand and gravel, with pebbles, cobbles, and boulders that are weathered and decomposed.  Caliche, a hard, calcareous cement, fills old cavities and coats many of the stones, making this formation resistant to erosion (and to agriculture!).  The Verdos comprises some of the topographic benches on the west side of Table Mountain, as well as “holding up” the mesa itself.  Just east of Table Mountain the soils contain a lot of boulders that are erosional remnants of the Verdos Formation, which may once have extended as far east as Longmont.  

Other places to see these young pediment formations are the top of the NCAR Mesa, the mesas of Boulder Valley Ranch Open Space, Gunbarrel Hill, and Rocky Flats along Highway 93 toward Golden.  We’ll lump them all together and call them Quaternary gravels (Qg).  They, in turn, are overlain by unconsolidated miscellaneous silt, sand, and more gravels, mostly alluvial in nature, that were deposited “yesterday.” We’ll call these very recent sediments Quaternary alluvium, or Qal.

Pirates on the Roof!

Did you know that there have been pirates throughout geologic history?  In this area, the big rivers coming out of the mountains deposited gravels during glacial periods, and they cut down into the shales when the water ran clear during interglacial periods.  The glacial rivers had to snake around to avoid the piles of debris they had just deposited, and sometimes they would jump their banks so violently they would end up in a completely different location… and then, thousands of years later, they might jump back to their original position. There is a subtle example of this process just north of Table Mountain, where about 90,000 years ago Left Hand Creek exited the mountains and ran along what are now Toll Gate Ditch and Lykins Gulch.  Then it abandoned that channel and “beheaded” its own pediment mesa to find a better channel — just south of Haystack Mountain — where it has been ever since.  In this way, various flood deposits would frequently intertongue with each other, making determining their relative ages a difficult process. Some geologists at CU have recently developed a new process of determining the absolute age of these recent sediments using Beryllium decay, and they are now going around the area painstakingly trying to unravel the chronological history in the rocks.

Sometimes small rivers eat away slowly and sneakily at the slopes nearest them, and eventually they might succeed in grabbing their entire watershed from a completely different river.  This process is called “stream piracy.”  There is an example of stream piracy taking place today, along the southeast corner of Table Mountain, where a tiny unnamed creek is eating away at the face of Table Mountain.  Farther east, out toward Longmont, it’s called Dry Creek…..

The Chimney: Haystack Mountain

So maybe you’ve guessed it by now….  Yep, believe it or not, the very top of Haystack Mountain is all that is left of a vast sheet of Rocky Flats / Verdos Alluvium that once used to connect it directly to Table Mountain. Two tiny streams – Dry Creek and a mostly dry-gulch tributary of Left Hand Creek — have eroded away the resistant caprock of alluvium and are now quickly cutting down the shale layers between them, leaving just a gentle topographic saddle along Oxford Road and Ouray Drive.   Some day soon (geologically speaking), the saddle will get lower and lower until it disappears entirely.  Which stream will be the pirate and which the victim – Left Hand Creek or Dry Creek?  Only geologic time will tell.

At the same time, although there is still a tiny bit of caprock protecting it, erosion is eating away at Haystack Mountain from all sides…. So it too, will eventually just disappear.

But here the “house” analogy ends.  Unlike a chimney that has heat going up inside it, this cute little pinnacle called Haystack Mountain is an erosional outlier, not a volcano!

One Last Amazing Thing

So, have you noticed that you’re (presumably) standing on the youngest rocks around, at the bottom of a big wide valley in Boulder, Niwot, or Longmont, yet you’re looking up at Table Mountain and Haystack Mountain, which are somewhat older?  “Inverted topography” occurs when low areas of a landscape have been filled with sediment that hardens into material that is more resistant to erosion than the surrounding material.  Differential erosion then removes the less resistant surrounding material, leaving behind the younger, more resistant material which then forms a ridge or a mesa where previously there had been a valley.  The erosion-resistant rocks on the top of Table Mountain and Haystack Mountain represent the elevation of Left Hand Creek 100,000 years ago when they were deposited at the bottom of a big valley, but today they are the highest features for miles around and the creek is 500 feet below its original level.  Now that’s geology in action!

Looking at a Big Slice of the Rock Record

Imagine that you have just dug a trench about 3,000’ deep along an imaginary line from Heil Valley Ranch on the northwest, across Table Mountain and Haystack Mountain, to the Diagonal Highway at IBM on the southeast.  Climb down into the trench and clean off all the rock dust and mud so you have a clean, shiny wall to look at.  Face roughly north.  By projecting where you are standing into this imaginary trench, you can pretty well predict what kind of geology lies under your feet.

Recipe: Risotto with Goat Cheese & Spring Vegetables

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This season’s wet weather is keeping people indoors and under blankets, which brings us the opportunity for some serious comfort food—especially when it’s dolloped with Haystack’s Boulder Chèvre.

For this month’s rainy day recipe, we looked to Boulder’s own Chef Steve Redzikowski of Oak at Fourteenth. In his Slow Food Fast contribution to the Wall Street Journal, Chef Redzikowski offers a fresh take on the traditional Italian one-pot rice dish. Layering flavor and texture, Chef Redzikowski adds a springtime kick with chèvre, fresh peas, and charred spring onions, which he sources from Boulder’s Red Wagon Organic Farm.

While one-pot meals boast a badda-bing-badda-boom reputation for ease and simplicity, Chef Steven Redzikowski warns against the “just throw everything into a pot” method of making this dish. It’s important to add the ingredients at the right time, and to handle them with care. For example, he advises adding (very!) cold butter at the end when the rice is just off the heat, allowing the fat to emulsify correctly. This allows the butter and starches released from the rice to bind the ingredients, creating a silky texture.

To ring in the spring, Chef Redzikowski tops the risotto with dollops of chèvre, charred ramps or spring onions, and blanched peas. The results? Comfort food gone fresh. “What would otherwise be a heavy bowl of rice is loosened up and lightened,” the chef said. “It’s textured and clean.” We agree with you whole-heartedly on that one, Chef Redzikowski, especially on our second helping. Enjoy!

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Steven Redzikowski’s Risotto With Goat Cheese and Spring Vegetables

Total Time: 35 minutes

Serves: 4-6

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup fresh or frozen peas

2 ramps or scallions

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 small yellow onion, minced

Leaves from 2 sprigs thyme

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for garnish

2 cups Carnaroli or Arborio rice

1½ cups white wine

10 cups hot chicken stock

½ cup grated Parmesan

2 tablespoons cold butter

¼ cup pea shoots or thinly sliced basil

2 ounces goat cheese

1. In a small pot of boiling salted water, blanch peas until bright green, 1-2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer directly into an ice-water bath. Strain and toss peas dry. Set aside.

2. Set a burner on high, place ramps directly on top and char on all sides, 1-2 minutes total. Remove and thinly slice. Stir peas and sliced ramps together and season with salt. Set aside.

3. In a wide medium pot over medium-high heat, sauté garlic, onions and thyme in oil until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in rice, coating grains, then add wine and increase heat to high. Cook, stirring, until wine evaporates, 4-5 minutes.

4. Return heat to medium-high, ladle 2 cups hot stock into rice and simmer, stirring, until most of liquid evaporates, 2-4 minutes. Add remaining stock 2 cups at a time, letting it mostly absorb before adding more, and continue to cook, stirring, until grains are just tender and consistency is loose but not soupy, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Off heat, fold in Parmesan and butter.

5. To serve, ladle risotto into bowls. Garnish with pea and ramp mixture, pea shoots, dollops of goat cheese and a drizzle of oil.

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Recipe: Panzanella Salad with Smoked Chèvre

PANZANELLA--6Let’s set the scene: The remnants of that delicious loaf of six-dollar bread you have on the kitchen counter has gone from crusty artisanal masterpiece to something that resembles a doorstop. It’s hard. It’s stale. It’s a lost cause. Right? Wrong.

Enter panzanella salad.

With spring’s arrival in the Foothills and summer right on its coattails, we’re celebrating the warmer temps by bringing you a Mediterranean-inspired salad that’s heavy on fresh veggies, toasty bread, local chèvre and aromatic flavors.

We’ll start with the bread: cube the remains of your bread into about one-inch pieces, and place them in a frying pan with a few liberal swirls of olive oil over medium-low heat. Be sure to keep a close eye on them as they begin to brown, turning them and arranging them as necessary to avoid burning them. Have a tendency to fuss over things? Perfect. That’s exactly what you’ll need here.

PANZANELLA--2Give a good chop to the cherry tomatoes and cucumber (we like our cuke seeded – it’s a texture thing), and a quick rip to a handful of basil. Once the veggies are squared away, focus on the super simple dressing of olive oil, lemon juice and garlic, whisking them together thoroughly. A Mason jar with a tight lid is another great way to mix your salad dressings.

Toss the veggies with the dressing, and just before serving, toss in the beautiful fried bread. You’ll want to wait until the last possible second, here – the bread gets soggy quick, and no one wants a soggy salad. A few liberal plugs of Haystack’s Applewood Smoked Chèvre on top and you’re good to go.

This salad is the perfect addition to an evening meal on the patio. Want to make it the star of the show? Add grilled chicken or grilled salmon for a light, tasty meal. Enjoy!

Panzanella Salad

1/2 large loaf crusty bread, cubed into 1″ pieces

3 garlic cloves, cracked

1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cup cucumber, seeded and diced

1/4 cup kalamata olives, chopped

2 Tbs. capers, rinsed

1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped

4 oz. Haystack Applewood Smoked Chèvre, crumbled

For the Dressing: 

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 lemon, juiced

1 garlic clove, minced

Salt & pepper to taste

In a large frying pan, heat the 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium heat. Add the cracked garlic cloves and the bread cubes. Keep an eye on the bread as it begins to brown, turning them as necessary until they’re evenly golden brown. Remove the bread from the pan and cool it on a wire rack.

Combine the tomatoes, cucumber, olives, capers and basil in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl (or in a jar with a tight-fitting lid), combine the dressing ingredients, whisking or shaking vigorously to combine. Toss the vegetables with the dressing and just before serving the salad, toss in the fried bread. Top with Haystack Applewood Smoked Chèvre and serve immediately.

Laura Hobbs is a writer, photographer, social media maven, and food enthusiast. She and her husband live in Boulder with their pooch Olive.

PANZANELLA- PANZANELLA--5

Pink and Blue Cheese Giveaway!

Calling all cheese lovers in the pink and blue areas below!

We’re hosting a cheese giveaway to celebrate our new FedEx Home Delivery shipping options! If you live in one of the pink or blue areas below, you are eligible for our giveaway! Enter below for your chance to win a Foothills Collection! We will announce a winner on Friday 11/21!

If you live in one of the pink or blue areas you are stoked!

If you live in one of the pink or blue areas you are stoked!

Pink and Blue Cheese Giveaway!

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Official contest rules: No purchase necessary to enter. Winner will be chosen at random and announced via Facebook on 11/21. Winner must be able to receive cheese prize at a residence located in one of the pink or blue areas indicated in the map above. 100 entries required for drawing. Questions? Email us at info@HaystackGoatCheese.com Good luck!!!

Egg in a (Fried Cheese) Basket

Egg in a basket, toad in a hole, call it what you will, it’s a lazy cook’s delight that can be prepared in minutes and customized to meet any taste. While making a quick egg in a basket on my way out the door one morning, I lamented the fact that there was no cheese involved in this simple wonder. I stood over the pan as the egg cooked clutching a gorgeous wedge of 4-month Wall Street Gold in my hand. I thought back to one time when a few lucky bits of cheese escaped from my in-process grilled cheese. The little escapees quickly fried up and were deliciously sweet, salty, and crunchy. At that point the lightbulb went off and I knew that my egg’s humble basket would never be the same. The photos and captions below outline the ingredients and method.

Start by removing some of the internal part of the bread to make a space for your egg to cook. You can be fancy and use something to cut out a perfect circle. I prefer a more rustic feel.

Start by removing some of the internal part of the bread to make a space for your egg to cook. You can be fancy and use something to cut out a perfect circle, or simply pinch out a hunk for a more abstract result. My house bread is Filone from our longtime Farmers Market neighbors Izzio Artisan Bakery.

Fry both sides of the bread in your favorite oil. Extra virgin olive oil is a favorite in my house despite the fact that it has a relatively low smoke point.

Fry both sides of the bread in your favorite oil. Extra virgin olive oil is a favorite in my house despite the fact that it has a relatively low smoke point.

Carefully crack an egg into the void you have created. Before doing this you could theoretically add a few lardons of bacon or whatever else your little heart desires. If you prefer your eggs to be sort of scrambled use a chop stick to carefully scramble the egg.

Carefully crack an egg into the void you have created. Before doing this you could theoretically add a few lardons of bacon or whatever else your little heart desires. If you prefer your eggs to be sort of scrambled use a chop stick to carefully scramble the egg.

We strongly dissuade people from buying pre-shredded cheese. They often have a lot of extra additives and preservatives, and the flavor is dull and muted at best. We recommend using Haystack Mountain Wall Street Gold or a similar young Alpine style cheese.

We strongly dissuade people from buying pre-shredded cheese because it often contains additives and preservatives, and the flavor is typically dull and muted at best. We recommend using Haystack Mountain Wall Street Gold or a similar young Alpine style cheese and shred it à la minute.

Generously, delicately, and evenly distribute shredded Wall Street Gold on top of the egg.

Generously, delicately, and evenly distribute shredded Wall Street Gold on top of the egg. Very carefully and swiftly, flip the bread so that the shredded cheese is in direct contact with the pan. BE SURE TO USE A LEGIT NON-STICK PAN OR YOU WILL HAVE A MAJOR MESS ON YOUR HANDS! Turn up the heat to high, taking care not to burn the cheese.

After just a few minutes this is what the bottom will look like. Even though I make these a few times a week, the glory of perfectly fried cheese never ceases to fill my heart with the joy and wonder of a 2-year old.

After just a few minutes this is what the bottom will look like. Even though I make these a few times a week, the glory of perfectly fried cheese never ceases to fill my heart with the joy and wonder of a 2-year old.

 

Taa daaa! And there you have it, an egg in a basket, on a fried cheese blanket. You can cook your yolks to whatever temp you would like, and dont forget that you can customize this easily by adding different ingredients into the void in the bread. Make this for someone you love this weekend!

Taa daaa! And there you have it, an egg in a fried cheese basket. You can cook your yolks to whatever temp you would like, and don’t forget that you can customize this easily by adding different ingredients into the void in the bread. I typically splash on a few dabs of Frank’s Red Hot, wrap in foil and eat it on my way to work. Also consider slicing into small pieces to serve as hors d’oeuvres at a brunch party. Make this for someone you love this weekend, you will rock their cheesy universe!

 

 

Goats in the Garden!

While the phrase “goats in the garden” may sound like a way to describe a complete disaster, it can actually be a blessing depending on the season. If you have goats in your garden during August you have a major situation on your hands, but you should welcome them in the winter and early spring. Goats will chomp down dead plants, their hooves aerate the soil as they tromp around, and they leave behind a lovely trail of nitrogen rich manure.

Depending on the season, goats in the garden can be a great thing.

Depending on the season, goats in the garden can be a great thing.

All poo is not created equal
According to the Ohio State University Extension, goat manure contains more than twice as much nitrogen as cow manure (22 pounds of nitrogen per ton in goat manure, compared to 10 pounds per ton in cow manure). Goat manure is also much drier, smaller, easier to work with and spread around, and it has much less odor. Cow manure is also widely used as a fertilizer, but considering the size, volume, moisture, and odor it is more difficult to work with. Cow manure is also used as a fuel source and for thermal insulation.

Goat manure (pictured on the right) is smaller, easier to spread, and contains much less moisture and odor as compared to cow manure (pictured on the left).

Goat manure (pictured on the right) is smaller, easier to spread, and contains much less moisture and odor as compared to cow manure (pictured on the left).

Benefits
In addition to offering a cost-effective way of adding high-quality nitrogen to your garden’s soil, goat manure improves and diversifies soil texture which allows plants to use water more efficiently while allowing more oxygen to reach plants’ roots.

One creatures gathers what another one spills. Goats love plant stalks, particularly woody ones.

One creatures gathers what another one spills. Goats love dead plant stalks, particularly woody ones.

Goat hooves make for great soil aerators.

Goat hooves make for great soil aerators.

Important Considerations
All fresh animal manure can contain harmful pathogens which can potentially contaminate your crops and make people sick. It is recommended to use fully composted manure, but it you must use manure that is not fully composted it is recommended to apply at least 120 days in advance of harvest. Animal manure can also contain unwanted seeds that can sprout in your garden. Fully composting manure kills most seeds, but not all. When using manure as a fertilizer be sure to pull weeds early before they go to seed.

...And did we mention that they look pretty darn cute?!

Oh…and did we mention that they look pretty darn cute while they work?!

 

Sense and Sustainability at Boulder Ice Cream

Today was a special day for Boulder Ice Cream: it was the first day of production at their sweet new creamery in Boulder. We stopped in for a visit with president and founder, Scott Roy. Scott and his team have been making ice cream in Boulder since 1992 and they have continued to innovate and organically grow over the years. I wanted to take some photos of the facility and asked Scott what he was most proud of. I was assuming that he would point me toward the gleaming stainless steel tanks, or the gorgeous new pasteurizer, or perhaps the intricate network of copper piping whose beauty rivals some art installations I’ve seen. I was pretty surprised when Scott told me that what he was most proud of was in the mechanical room.

Scott and his design team built the production facility with sustainability in mind. The most energy intensive aspects of ice cream production are keeping finished product frozen, like really frozen at -20, and heating water to wash down the make room after production. If only there was a way to somehow harness the heat generated by the refrigeration systems to heat the water needed to clean… Well, that’s exactly what they did.

There's cold and then there's cold. The blast freezer is set to a frosty -32. This refrigeration equipment throws off quite a bit of heat.

There’s cold and then there’s cold. The blast freezer is set to a frosty -32. This refrigeration equipment throws off quite a bit of heat. The heat is captured and used to reduce the heating loads of the domestic hot water system.

These are the hot water heaters which consume a lot less energy due to the heat generated by the refrigeration equipment. In the winter when production slows the heat from the refrigeration units is diverted into the building and then circulated to reduce heating costs.

These are the hot water heaters which consume a lot less energy due to the heat generated by the refrigeration equipment. In the winter when production slows the heat from the refrigeration units is diverted into the building and then circulated to reduce heating costs.

 

Big Ass Fan

When Scott told me he installed a “big ass” fan he wasn’t joking around. Big Ass Fans is a division of Big Ass Solutions based in Lexington, Kentucky. Their fans offer a way to move a massive volume of air very quietly and without consuming much energy.

 

Testing out the sweet new batch dating machine. We all had a good laugh when we realized that it actually worked as designed! Anyone who has ever commissioned a production facility knows that sophisticated systems often require as much care and feeding as a baby goat to get on their feet.

Testing out the sweet new batch dating machine. We all had a good laugh when we realized that it actually worked as designed! Anyone who has ever commissioned a production facility knows that sophisticated systems often require as much care and feeding as a baby goat to get on their feet.

Cheers to Scott and his team for building out this smart, sustainable creamery – we have a huge culinary crush on you guys! Wishing you years of sustainable production in your beautiful new home!

 

 

 

7 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Pacific Northwest Cheese, Courtesy of Tami Parr’s New Book.

As American cheesemakers it’s always fascinating to learn about the evolution of our industry. It’s particularly interesting to learn about regional sub-markets like the Pacific Northwest. We hope that the Rocky Mountain region will someday have enough cheesemakers to warrant a book on the region!

PNW Cheese

Here’s one interesting thing we learned from Tami’s research:

Coos Bay could have been Tillamook. Except Tillamook learned the lessons of Ray Kroc before Ray Kroc: Standardization and branding breed trust in the American heart. At the turn of the 20th century, Coos Bay and Tillamook both had a shot at becoming major cheese powers—Big Cheeses, if you will. But Tillamook farmers formed a collective called the Tillamook County Creamery Association and standardized the cheese’s name and texture, so people knew what you were talking about when you said “Tillamook cheese.” 

Read six more interesting facts about cheese in the Pacific Northwest in the Willamette Week. 

Insider’s guide to “Neditation”

Meditation is an ancient practice designed to promote relaxation, mindfulness, compassion, and a sustainable sense of well being. Neditation, by contrast, is a modern practice that also targets relaxation and well being, but unlike meditation which is often done sitting in silence and is followed by a cup of green tea, Neditation involves extreme sports in Nederland, Colorado, smoked chicken wings, and hoppy craft beer. While my friends and I have some fun with the play on words, Neditation really has become an important part of our lives and how we live and grow together.

Ned Town HallBoulder County

Perched 20 miles west of Boulder, Nederland, Colorado — “The Other Windy City” — is home to such outdoor recreational treasures as the Fourth of July trailhead, the West Magnolia mountain biking area, and of course, Eldora Mountain Resort. While they certainly take some liberties with the use of the word “Resort” in their name, Eldora seems to be a “love it” or “hate it” ski area. The lovers love it because it’s a short drive from Boulder, there is some great terrain, and never a lift line. The haters say it’s small, cold, windy, and that the lifts are slow. Us lovers jokingly tell the haters to tell everyone how terrible it is so that it won’t get overcrowded, but we kid.

Eldora received 18 inches of snow last weekend so a serious Neditation session was most certainly in order. As soon as we saw the weather forecast the texts started flying and a plan was quickly formed. The morning started with a visit to my favorite new spot in Nederland, Salto Coffee Works. Considering that the City of Boulder is a mecca for tech startups, creative types, trustafarians, and spandex-clad cyclists, Boulder boasts a very rich cafe culture which has made most Boulderites coffee snobs — present company most certainly included. Life for a coffee snob can be challenging when venturing out of the Boulder bubble. As I approached Salto I got that anxious feeling I get when I walk into a new coffee shop. I start to think of how I’m going to explain to them what a Cortado is, while battling some negative self talk about why I can’t be satisfied with mediocre coffee like so many others are. I looked up on the menu board and there it was “Cortado”. It was love at first sight. The decor is warm, rustic, and elegant, and not only do they know what a Cortado is, they make a damn good one.

I pulled this picture off of Salto's website. I was too overwhelmed with joy while inside to have the wherewithal to take a proper photo.

I pulled this picture off of Salto’s website. I was too overwhelmed with joy while inside to have the wherewithal to take a proper photo.

I was instantly obsessed with the place and the cheese hustler in me immediately awakened. I looked up at the menu board and the first item on the menu was “Mountian Goat Grits” organic corn grits, topped with Haystack Mountain chevre and basil. A tear of joy ran down my cheek! (While it may sound a little crazy that the head of sales didn’t know they were using Haystack cheese, when we sell cheese to our distribution partners it can be unclear where it actually goes from there). A proper Cortado, an epic breakfast sandwich (try the one with bacon), and learning that this wonderful establishment is a Haystack supporter, I quickly realized that this Neditation session had the potential power to usher me directly to the kingdom of enlightenment.

Salto

With a fully belly and a heart welled up with joy, it was time to work up an appetite for lunch, and a powder day at Eldora would sure do the trick. The crowds were mellow, the wind wasn’t that bad, and all of my secret powder stashes were waiting for me untouched. While there is normally some macho thing that prevents us from wanting to be the one that says, “Can we go now?” I proudly declared that for me, the time for wings had come.

Salto Glades

My good buddy Roger poised at the top of the Salto Glades at Eldora. This is one of the steepest runs in the state of Colorado! You’ll never guess the favorite run of the Salto Coffee Works proprietor…

The wings I speak of are none other than those served up by Tom Boogaard and his wife Cori at Wild Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery. A former head brewer at Avery, Tom makes a variety of flavorful beers that beautifully compliment his smoked meats. The Hop Diggity IPA is a personal favorite. All brewing and smoking is done on site. If you’re cool about it and he’s not too busy, Tom’s happy to show you around. I was lucky enough to get a behind-the-scenes tour once with some friends and we all developed an intense man crush on old Tom.

Wild Mountain: the undisputed champion of wings in Boulder County. I might  go as far as to say, the West.

Wild Mountain: the undisputed champion of wings in Boulder County. I might go as far as to say, the West.

They magic of the wings is that they are not fried like most chicken wings you encounter out in the world. They are smoked for a few hours, finished on the grill when ordered, then tossed in a blend of Franks Red Hot and honey. The wings are fall-off-the bone tender, and the flavor is deep and complex, drawing from not just the incredible sauce, but from the two ways they are cooked. The spice and tang of the Franks Red Hot is nicely softened by the honey, while echos of smoke and char from the grill linger in the background.

Nederland makes for a great day trip up from Boulder, and even though it’s only a half hour away, you will feel like you are in another world. I encourage anyone visiting Boulder to take a drive up to Nederland to experience the magical wonder of Neditation for themselves!

Salto Dawg

No coffee shop in a mountain town is complete without a massive dog chilling out front unleashed.

 

 

Life hack: Mac and Cheese Edition

So it’s a typical Thursday night: you grab a roasted chicken and ‘taters from your neighborhood rosticceria and you’re looking for one more side dish that you can prepare at home to round out the meal. Enter mac and cheese. Sure you could whip up a bechamel and get fancy with a unique blend of spices and all that jazz, but the key to grab-and-go night is minimizing cooking and clean up time. We are fans of Annie’s mac and cheese, but feel that it can often be dry and lacking the melty, oozy goodness that is at the very heart of mac and cheese. Adding all the butter and heavy cream in Normandy will not help you achieve the melty sensation you’re aiming for. Enter Buttercup. Buttercup is our easygoing Monterey Jack style made with a mix of cow and goat milk. You will be amazed by how well Buttercup improves the situation.

1.0

You’ve been here a million times: wanting to keep it simple, yet yearning silently for a more fulfilling mac and cheese experience. If only there was a way a way to make it infinitely better without much hassle…

After you have incorporated the powdered cheese, toss in a handful of cubes of Buttercup and begin stirring. Be sure to cubes. They melt in more of a gooey fashion and you won't have to clean the cheese grater.

AFTER you have properly incorporated the powdered cheese, toss in a handful of Buttercup cubes and begin stirring. Be sure to use cubes. They melt in more of a gooey fashion and you won’t have to clean the cheese grater.

Be mindful of the temperature. At this point remove the pot from heat and continue stirring to ensure that you don't lose all that magic you just created.

Be mindful of temperature. When it starts to look like this, remove the pot from heat. You don’t want to lose all that magic you just created. At this moment you can also take things to new heights by tossing in a few smashed up pieces of crispy Tender Belly bacon. Major bonus points.

tadaa

Voilà! Behold the difference a handful of Buttercup cubes can make!

Go West

As anyone in the cheese industry will tell you, one of the best parts of living and working in the world of cheese is being able to frequently connect with so many extraordinary people. A few weeks ago, I made a trip out West–to the Western Slope of the great state of Colorado.   I traveled a great distance to bring Haystack cheese to the Colorado Makers harvest party, hosted by Anna and Lance of Jack Rabbit Hill Wines and Peak Spirits at their family farm in Hotchkiss. Colorado Makers is a group that highlights the efforts of local artisans, craft makers, small business owners, and entrepreneurs. The event was a celebration of the culinary arts and crafts we create, and a celebration of Colorado and the abundance the state offers.

Lance of Peak Spirits lead the group on a tour of the biodynamic vineyards then fired up the still and made a batch of peach eau de vie.

Lance of Peak Spirits and Jack Rabbit Hill Wines lead the group on a tour of his biodynamic vineyard, then fired up the still and made a batch of peach eau de vie.

Any time I head out West I stop in and see Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy founder and chairman of the board, James Schott. James and his wife Carol moved to a small farm in Paonia after retiring from the day-to-day operations at Haystack in 2008. When I arrived, I found James knee deep in an ambitious bean-canning project, fielding phone calls from milk share members, while a batch of handmade, raw milk feta drained on the kitchen counter. Clearly he hasn’t slowed down one bit since retiring from Haystack.

Schott's Highland cattle looking a bit flummoxed.

Schott’s Highland cattle looking a bit flummoxed.

Always eager and willing to share his experience and expertise, James took some time to show me around the farm.  James and Carol raise a handful of dairy goats and Highland cattle, and grow some of the most gorgeous and fragrant lavender I’ve ever experienced.  I was even lucky enough to help him wrangle a few of the goats out to his back pasture. Watching him interact with the goats is like watching LeBron James dribble a basketball – a man living his truth to the highest level.

Schott's hay barn, stocked and ready for the winter.

Schott’s hay barn, stocked and ready for the winter.

Spending this time with James, contemplating how far the craft food industry has come in our state since the founding of Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy nearly 25 years ago, I realized that I was talking to the original ‘Colorado Maker’ himself. A champion of local agriculture, education, and entrepreneurship, James’ founding vision of making high-quality cheeses according to old world traditions still shapes Haystack today.  He has made a lasting impression on the state of Colorado and American cheese industry, and has inspired a new generation of Colorado artisans. I am proud to be a member of this new generation and feel a deep sense of pride and duty in helping to share his pioneering spirit.

Rind your own business!

As a cheesemonger, people ask me every day whether or not to eat the rind of cheese.  My answer is always, “rind your own business!”  Some people love the rind, others loathe it.  Truth be told, there’s no right or wrong answer to the rind question.  With the exception of cloth or wax rinds, the rind is generally edible.  It is, however, not always enjoyable.  Here are a few things to keep in mind when you rind.

The rinds on soft cheeses like Brie and Camembert are called bloomy rinds and are made up a soft, downy mold called Penicillium Candidum.  These rinds are meant to be eaten with the cheese.  At their peak, these rinds are thin and delicate, and lend flavors of mushroom and earth to the cheese.  I highly recommend enjoying the rind at this juncture.  However, as the cheese ripens and the rind develops further, it can become leathery and take on a slightly ammoniac quality.  In this case, you have my full permission to peel the rind aside to get to ooey-gooey goodness underneath.

Washed rinds, the tacky, orange-rinded cheeses that are best known for their pungent aroma, might be the most controversial of rinds.  People who love them, really love them, and wouldn’t dream of eating the paste without the rind.  I, however, have found that washed rinds can be gritty and a tad bitter when not in perfect condition.  It’s good to keep in mind that even when the rind is suffering, or just too smelly to entertain in your mouth, the cheese inside is still sweet, creamy, and mild–not what you’d think of when you see that stinky little rind!

Natural rinds on hard cheese form as the cheese ages, and are made up of the molds within the cheese, as well as other molds present in the aging room.  While eating these rinds can be educational, it’s not always enjoyable.  I know many cheese professionals and enthusiasts who eat these rinds in order to be able to profile the cheese better.  However, most people will find these rinds unpalatable.  They may be chewy, bitter, “dirt-like,” or otherwise unpleasant tasting.  If you are into that kind of thing, by all means, munch away!

At the end of the day, the decision to rind or not to rind can only be answered by you.  Whether you choose to eat the rind for enjoyment or education, or you’d just rather not–it’s all good!

This blog post was written by Molly Brown.  

Queso sera, sera — discovering cheese in Bolivia and Paraguay

As three weeks of traveling in Bolivia and Paraguay on assignment for various journalistic outlets comes to a close (What, you thought I only wrote captions for weird goat pics?), I’ve finally compiled all my cheesy experiences to share with you.

Goat cheese at a Bolivian market

Goat cheese at a Bolivian market

After a decade of exploring South America (some of it on assignment for culture: the word on cheese), I’ve learned that cheese is ubiquitous throughout the continent. It’s a vital source of protein and other nutrients, and a provides a crucial income for people living in primarily rural areas.

Most of the cheese produced in South America is fresh, due to a lack of refrigeration, hot climate, or both. There are some semi-maduro and maduro (aged) cheeses produced in Argentina, which is the world’s largest producer of Parmesan (not to be confused with Parmigiano Reggiano) outside of Italy.  Ecuador, Uruguay, and Chile, also produce some aged cheeses, due to the large numbers of Swiss, German, and Italian immigrants. But these are specialty products, and generally not consumed by the general populace for economic reasons. A limited number of these products are exported to the United States.

In South America, cheese is used as a garnish, or as an integral part of street and regional foods. Depending upon the country or region, cheeses may be made with cow’s or goat’s milk, or, less frequently, sheep’s milk. I’ve read that llama’s milk has also been consumed in the Andean Highlands and used for cheesemaking, but have been unable to substantiate these facts (regardless, it’s not something that’s done these days, so far as I know).

A cheese-filled Bolivian empanada (and lunch in progress)

A cheese-filled Bolivian empanada (and lunch in progress)

In Bolivia, one finds both cow’s and goat’s milk cheeses, although goats are raised only in specific regions, where vegetation is sparse.

As the poorest country in South America, cheese is definitely an important source of nutrients for many Bolivians. I talked to some market vendors who produced cheese from their few goats and cows, but, to be honest, I avoided purchasing any of their cheese (anyone who’s spent time in a Bolivian marketplace understands where I’m coming from). It’s not a diss on the country, but a reflection on the poverty and lack of adequate sanitation. Still, I remained listeriosis-free after having some “fresh” cheese on the final afternoon of a three-day trek in the Cordillera Real. It had been without refrigeration the entire time,  and I would never have eaten it of my own accord, but when your guide prepares your lunch for you (especially in a country where so many go hungry), you eat it.

More palate-pleasing is the use of sweetened, crumbly cheese in empanadas, or gooey, melty cheeses in same. Grated cheese is frequently used atop fideos (pasta). It’s in Paraguay, however, that cheese is elevated to celebrity status, appearing in many of this tropical country’s national dishes. It’s a staple ingredient, alongside corn and corn flour, manioca, and yerba mate. And oh, how delicious Paraguayan food is.

More goat cheese from a Bolivian market

More goat cheese from a Bolivian market

The country has a strong indigenous influence from its native Guarani people, and is South America’s only bilingual country. The tropical climate makes it an agricultural haven, and it’s also a major cattle ranching state.

While lacking in natural resources, a relatively high number of Paraguay’s rural people  (which is actually the minority of the population) own small plots of land, so keeping a small herd of dairy cattle (or, less frequently, goats) is common.

Paraguyan food reflects its indigenous heritage, as exemplified by chipa (corn flour-and-cheese hardtack); mbeju (manioc, cheese, and lard pancakes); empanadas that make neighboring Argentina’s appear anemic by comparison; and chipa guazu, a soufflé-like, cheesy cornbread. Paraguay’s strong German influence also means kuchen, quark-stuffed bread, excellent ice cream, dulce de leche, and other decadent, dairy-centric desserts. Fluid milk is also consumed, in mate cocido (a sweetened tea), and liquados (fruit shakes).

Some Paraguayan "kids" play at a gas station

Some Paraguayan “kids” play at a gas station

Thank god I’m lactose intolerant, because it’s prevented my ass from getting even fatter (lard being the other much celebrated ingredient, which is why the baked goods are so damned delicious).

 

A few days ago, I stayed at Granja El Roble, an agriturismo and working farm up north in the department of Concepcion. It’s owned by a German-Paraguayan couple, who make their own cheese from the milk of their cows. As a special treat for myself, the cheese geek,  and a couple of German backpackers, they prepared raclette for us one night (yes, I know it’s Swiss, but when one is on the other side of the world, foods from neighboring countries can seem like home).

Tropical raclette, anyone?

Tropical raclette, anyone?

Making raclette in the jungle ranks as one of the most unusual experiences I’ve had. Yet it was delicious, and it reminded me of why food is so integral to travel.

Whether taken out of context, like the raclette, or prepared in their place of origin following tradition, these types of culinary experiences usually make for lasting memories. The fact that cheese is often the conduit is just the proverbial whipped cream on the tres leches cake.

[Photo credits: Laurel Miller]

Cochon 555 Vail: The necropsy

It’s taken this long for my arteries and liver to return to a somewhat working state, and so I bring you this exclusive, behind-the-scenes look of a night in the life of a Cochon 555 judge. It’s a dirty, debaucherous job that involves copious amounts of pork, pork fat, pork innards, cheese, and bourbon. Those nouns nicely sum up Cochon’s March 10 event at the Four Seasons Vail.

Welcome to Cochon Vail!

Welcome to Cochon Vail!

But wait: What is Cochon 555? Simply put, it’s the creation of the Taste Network’s Brady Lowe. Lowe conceived the event as a way to promote awareness about sustainable farming practices and heritage livestock breeds. These are domestic breeds—many of which are threatened with extinction—that have been around before the advent of industrialized agriculture. Educating the food community and public about heritage livestock works to protect genetic diversity, and keep small farms in business. Cochon 555 carries out its message via a traveling circus of sorts, by showcasing five winemakers, five chefs, and five family farm-raised pigs in each destination.

Vail is one of 10 stops on the national tour. This year, competing Colorado chefs included reigning champ Alex Seidel (Fruition, Denver), Kelly Liken (Restaurant Kelly Liken, Vail), Hosea Rosenberg (Blackbelly Catering, Boulder), Jason Harrison (Flame, Four Seasons Vail), and Lon Symensma (ChoLon, Denver). They were vying for the title of Prince or Princess of Porc. Come June 16, the 10 city winners will throw down at the Grand Cochon, held at the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen.

Coral and Will Frischkorn of Cured before the carnage

Coral and Will Frischkorn of Cured before the carnage

I was fortunate enough to be one of 20 judges at this unholy gathering of chefs, mixologists, distillers, winemakers, brewers, butchers, charcuterers, cheesemongers, and other assorted gluttons. I was pleased to see that joining me in the judging room was Will Frischkorn of Boulder’s Cured cheese shop; he and wife Coral also contributed a spectacular cheese board for the event (star of the show: Durango’s James Ranch Belford cheese…available at Cured, natch). In preparation for the task ahead, we all warmed up by pouring ourselves some bourbon (courtesy of Buffalo Trace and Four Roses). It was time to get serious.

Each chef is required to create a nose-to-tail menu from a 200-pound pig (which, for the judges, meant tasting upwards of 30 dishes in the space under half an hour). The dishes are then judged, based upon criteria such as presentation and utilization, and, of course, flavor. In case you’re thinking this is some boring-ass bacon-and-loin chop show, allow us to reassure you it is not.

Among the dishes on offer were a soulful Pork Belly Ramen with bacon dashi (I didn’t say there was a lack of bacon) and quail egg, and many, many variations on charcuterie in all its glorious permutations. There was a surprising—and delicious– Malay “bone tea (Lon Symensma),” which is essentially a complex, porky broth with floaty bits. There were crispy bits of spleen and fried ears and positively crack-like siu mai and pork satay with compressed pineapple (Alex Seidel). But best of all, there was dessert.

Believe it or not, a backfat brownie with malted bacon-habanero ice cream, bacon peanut brittle, and Leopold Bros. Michigan Tart Cherry Liqueur (“Sundae on Sunday; Hosea Rosenberg), and S’mores made from bacon graham cracker, lardo fudge, candied pork belly, pecans, and rind marshmallow (Jason Harrison) are not just excellent, but life-affirming. And while we can’t tell you the difference in taste between Liken’s Large Black and Harrison’s Mulefoot hogs, there’s just no comparison with regard to industrial and heritage pork. It’s…porky…as well as tender, often redolent of the supplemental feeds the animals eat (such as acorns, hazelnuts, or whey), and capped with a glorious, snowy mantle of fat. This is the other white meat, although it’s actually pink in color.

Kelly Liken's Pork Ramen and other meaty treats

Kelly Liken’s Pork Ramen and other meaty treats

Harrison scored the crown thanks to his innovative dessert, as well as savory treats like Porchetta Belly with Carolina Truffle BBQ, Pork Jus, and Lardo Whipped Potatoes, and “The Nasty Bits (head croquette, pastrami tongue, deviled kidney, and brain terrine). To aid with digestion, Fernet Branca was pouring, but with so many regional distilleries to choose from (including Breckenridge Distllery and High West Distillery), the bourbon, rye, and whiskey overfloweth’d.

Then there were the beers and wines, the cheese board from Cured (Boulder), the cocktail punch competition, a mindblowing butchery demo of a whole hog by chef Bill Greenwood of Beano’s Cabin (Beaver Creek), a Heritage BBQ by chef Justin Smith of Bol (Vail), and  late-night tartare bar (I find a porkapalooza always finishes nicely with some raw meat snackage). The after-party at Flame gave way to boozy socializing in the hotel bar. Great food, great time, great cause. Get your tickets now for Aspen: I’ll be the one holding the Lipitor.

[All photos courtesy of Galdones Photography]

A guide to common goat breeds

There are dozens of different goat breeds from around the world, but here in the U.S., we tend to see just a handful (sad, but true). Goat breeds fall into three main categories, depending upon their intended use: meat, milk, or fiber. Some breeds are used for cross-purposes.

"When I grow up, I want to be an Oberhasli." Photo credit: Flickr user fogar chicken

“When I grow up, I want to be an Oberhasli.”
Photo credit: Flickr user fogar chicken

As for why breed diversity is slim pickings Stateside, one needs to understand that we’re one of the few cultures in the world that doesn’t routinely eat goat. Goat is the most widely consumed meat worldwide, and a staple throughout Latin America, Africa, Central Asia the Caribbean, Middle East, and parts of Europe.

While goat is gaining ground on North American high-end and ethnic menus, we’re just too squeamish (and anthropomorphic) for it to catch on as a mainstream protein source. It’s a shame, because goat is good eating (look to future posts on this topic).

Cultures that consume goat meat also prize their milk as a source of vital protein and other nutrients, often in the form of yogurt or cheese. In certain parts of the world, goats are even used as pack animals. For most of the planet, goat and its by-products provide subsistence, and have serious economic, as well as social, value.

We also don’t prize goats for their fiber, although we’re all familiar with cashmere (derived from the fine, silky hair of the Kashmir or Cashmere goat, or Pygora or Nigora goats), and mohair, which comes from the Angora goat (not to be confused with the Angora rabbit, which is also used for its wool).

What North Americans love goats for (besides their inherent cuteness and ability to clear brush) is milk, primarily for use in cheesemaking. The most popular dairy breeds here mostly aren’t American in origin, but were brought to this country as dairy animals. Over the generations, due to improvements in breeding stock, these breeds have become prized for their various attributes, which range from milk yield and butterfat content, to temperament and mothering abilities.

Below, a guide to the most common American goat breeds:

Nubian: Although they have a rep for being a bit bratty and exceedingly vocal, this Middle Eastern/North African breed with the beguiling long ears and Roman nose produces high-butterfat milk. The Nubian’s yield is lower than that of other breeds, which is why they’re sometimes cross-bred. In color, they often have intricate spotted, patchy, or stripey patterns.

Photo credit: Meg Hamilton Photography

A couple of Margaret Hollander’s beautiful Nubians. Photo credit: Meg Hamilton Photography

Alpine: These prolific milkers hail from the French Alps, and are immensely popular because they’re sturdy, gregarious, and adaptable to any climate. They vary in color.

Photo credit: Shane Noem

Photo credit: Shane Noem

LaMancha: Despite its misleading name, this “earless” breed originated in Oregon in the 1930′s. LaMancha refers to the windswept plains region of central Spain, as the breed is believed to have likely descended from the native Murciana goat. LaMancha’s do have ears, of course; it’s the pinna, or external portion, that’s missing.  They’re prized for their high yields of butterfat-rich milk, friendly nature, and hardiness.

Photo credit: Meg Hamilton Photography

Photo credit: Meg Hamilton Photography

Toggenburg: This very old breed from the Switzerland’s Toggenburg Valley is the Honda of goats: mid-size, sturdy, and moderate (with regard to milk yield and butterfat content).

R Heart Strawberry owned by Nadene Bass.

R Heart Strawberry owned by Nadene Bass.

Saanen: One of the most “goaty” looking caprines, Saanens are white-to-cream in color, with forward-pointing, slightly floppy ears and a calm temperament. They have the highest milk yield, but a low butterfat content.

Photo credit: Meg Hamilton Photography

Photo credit: Meg Hamilton Photography

Oberhasli: If ever there were a goat beauty pageant, these gregarious, russet-to-bay animals with their black dorsal stripes, legs, and muzzles (a pattern known as “chamoisee”) would kill it. Oberhasli’s are growing in popularity here, but they originated in the Swiss Alps, where they’re widely used because of their high yield and butterfat content.

oberhasli

“I’m sexy and I know it!”

 

Nigerian Dwarf: Despite their name, which sounds like something from a kinky Craigslist ad, these are miniature goats  of West African origin. While some cheesemakers such as Oregon’s Pholia Farm use Nigerians for their production, the breed is really making its mark on the urban goat husbandry market. Most cities require backyard goats to be crossed with Nigerians or Pygmy goats, to keep them at a manageable size. Despite their small stature, Nigerian’s produce a high volume of milk, making them ideal for caprine-loving urbanites.

Good things come in small packages.

Good things come in small packages.

Recipe: Pork and Sunlight Crostini

Ignore the rather unglamorous-sounding name of this recipe. What it lacks in euphoniousness is more than made up for by its flavor, a sublime blend of the savory, salty, pungent, creamy, and herbaceous.

It’s also ridiculously easy to prepare; keep some frozen ground pork in your freezer, and you’ll always have a top-notch appetizer on hand for drop-in guests.

Photo credit: Megan Hamilton

Photo credit: Megan Hamilton

Recipe by John Scaggs, Haystack Mountain

Serves  up to 15 as a starter

1 pound high-quality ground pork, room temperature

1 cup finely grated Sunlight, or Red Cloud, plus extra for garnish

1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves, chopped fine, plus several sprigs for garnish

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1-2 good-quality baguettes, cut on bias in 1/4-inch-thick slices

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients. Spread about one tablespoon of pork mixture on each piece of baguette, and place on foil- or parchement-lined baking sheet. Garnish crostini with another dusting of grated cheese, and bake until pork is firm but not hard, and crostini are crisp, about five minutes. Serve immediately, on a platter garnished with oregano sprigs.

Note: Leftover uncooked pork makes for a great addition to pasta sauce or meatballs.

 

Mission Cheese: San Francisco’s coolest dairy destination

missioncheese

The California Plate

You know how sometimes, when you’re traveling, you stumble across a restaurant, café, bar, or specialty food shop that just draws you in? Maybe you’re not even hungry or thirsty, and yet, next thing you know you’re inside, and suddenly, all is right with the world. That, friends, is Mission Cheese.

Owner Sarah Dvorak opened her cozy wine and cheese bar nearly two years ago, in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood. Her goal was to “celebrate American artisan cheese,” and clearly, she tapped into the San Franciscan mania for celebrating all things domestic, vintagey and hand-hewn. The place has been packed ever since.

A few days ago, while in SF on a working holiday, I met up with a friend at what’s become my out-of-town version of  “Cheers.” Everybody may not know my name, but the staff and atmosphere are always convivial, and, perhaps because cheese geeks tend to flock together, it’s ridiculously easy to strike up a conversation. Just ask your neighbor what what they’re eating.

Everything about Mission Cheese is captivating, from the rustic, reclaimed woodwork, concrete walls, and glazed, olive-colored tiles beneath the bar, to the homey striped cotton napkins and milk bottles-turned water vessels. Behind the bar, glass-fronted, reach-in cheese coolers house a carefully selected, rotating curation of some of the finest cheeses in America  (not to, ahem, brag, but Haystack Mountain is among the Chosen).

The menu is short and sweet, featuring three regional cheese plates for $12 a pop. Each comes with a generous selection of sliced baguette, dried fruit, and cornichons. There are also delectable hot sandwiches, seasonal salads, and a few cheese-centric classics such as Raclette.

In addition to the Raclette (which comes blanketed over cornichons and garlic-roasted potatoes), we sprang for the California plate and housemade pickled sunchokes (in a word: addictive).  I chose the local plate because it featured a couple of cheeses that were new to me: Boont Corners, an aged, natural rind goat’s milk number from Pennyroyal Farm in Boonville (hints of hazelnut and cream, with a lovely, shard-like texture), and Bay Blue, the new release from Pt. Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company.

Bay Blue is one of the most gorgeous of its genre I’ve ever experienced, with notes of vanilla, cake batter, and blueberry, a slight gritty texture, and a sweet cream finish. It will convert even the most blue-averse.

We also sampled a wedge of Foster Lake, a delicate, oozy goat Camembert from Southern Oregon’s Fraga Farm.  The Pacific Northwest has become the nation’s goat cheese epicenter, and hard-to-find exports from micro-dairies such Fraga are a rarity, even in nearby San Francisco.

That’s the thing about being in the cheese business. Even though many of us are producing the “same” product, there are endless variations related to terroir, species, breed, cheesemaker, etc. It’s always fun to visit other producers and retail and wholesale outlets to see what’s out there, and find inspiration and revelation. We heart places like Mission Cheese, and the cheesemakers who make it all possible.

 

Stinky, funky, stanky: a guide to washed rind cheeses

People have very strong feelings about certain types of cheese. Just the other night, I was at a bar with some friends, one of whom was keeping a death grip on a half-wheel of Epoisses I’d given him. For the uninitiated, Epoisses–which hails from Burgundy–is one of the most sublime cheeses on earth, but it’s also one of the most odiferous. The fumes from the cheese wafted across our table, practically hovering in a fog around us. Earlier in the day, we’d paired it with some Calvados, and the results were nothing short of revelatory.EP

Stinky cheeses possess what are known as “washed rinds.” When you hear a cheese likened to dirty feet or sweaty socks, funky armpits, or described as punchy, yeasty, beefy, meaty, or barnyard, chances are good it’s a washed rind. This style of cheese also possesses a signature rind, which is sticky and orangish, reddish, pinkish, or brownish in color. Their interior can range from soupy (cue the aforementioned Epoisses) to semi-firm.

Washed rinds get their name from their “make” process. They’re washed with brine (or beer, wine, grappa, brandy, etc.), which facilitates the growth of  Brevibacterium linens, or B. linens, a bacteria that  gives these cheeses their signature stink. It also prevents unwanted molds or bacteria from entering the cheese, while enabling good organisms to ripen it and develop its distinctive flavor. B. linens itself is responsible for the color, texture, and smell that are the hallmarks of most washed rind cheeses.

Haystack Mountain Red Cloud: "This is one of my favorite American cheeses." Gordon Edgar of San Francisco's Rainbow Grocery Cooperative

Haystack Mountain Red Cloud: “This is one of my favorite American cheeses.” Gordon Edgar of San Francisco’s Rainbow Grocery Cooperative

B. linens can exist naturally in the air where the cheese ages, but usually it’s added to the brine. The cheeses are usually washed as they age, as well. Cool trivia: B.linens also naturally  exists on the human body, which explains why these cheeses are often said to smell like feet. Despite their signature funk, bear in mind cheese of any type should never smell like ammonia, which is a sign it’s overripe. Washed rinds in particular are prone to this characteristic. As long as they’re not too far gone, you can remedy the situation by allowing them to air out for up to an hour before serving,

We love washed rinds, which is why we produce two versions of our own: Sunlight, and the award-winning Red Cloud. Both are punchy, semi-firm cheeses with flavors ranging from toasted almonds to freshly-cut grass (Sunlight is the less assertive of the two, although both are fairly mellow as washed rinds go).  To quote well-known cheesemonger and author Gordon Edgar of San Francisco’s Rainbow Grocery Cooperative: “Red Cloud is an incredibly underrated cheese. Many people have tried — and failed — to make a raw milk, washed rind, goat cheese that is consistently good, but Haystack has this one down.  Red Cloud is firmer than you might imagine for this style, but is meaty, fruity, tangy, and complex.  This is one of my favorite American cheeses.” Thanks, Gordon!

I can’t help noticing that men in particular seem to have a thing for washed rinds. Maybe it’s a holdover from their bachelor days, when they happily wallowed in their in their own filth, living amidst dirty clothes, sheets, and dishes. Perhaps it’s more primal than that: he who was the smelliest produced the most blatant pheromones in order to secure a mate.

Whatever the reason, dudes usually dig stinky cheese, in the same way they love beer. This is convenient, because washed rinds and beer are a love match like no other. This Valentine’s Day, give that someone special (even if that person is you, and even if you’re female) the gift of romance. Nothing says, “I love you” like a super funk cheese and a six-pack of craft brew.

Some pairing tips:

Belgian ales, Lambics, hard ciders, and IPA’s are particularly washed rind-friendly. The rule of thumb is to match intensities between beer and cheese, or strive for contrast (this also applies to wine, spirits, or N/A beverages). Pair beer with our Sunlight or Red Cloud, or world-class cheeses such as Munster (the real deal is a primo soft, stinky cheese from Alsace; Muenster is a semi-soft American invention that is fairly bland); Livarot; Pont l’Eveque, or Taleggio. For domestics, we love Rush Creek Reserve (Uplands Cheese Company), Red Hawk (Cowgirl Creamery), and Grayson (Meadow Creek Dairy).

 

Where’s the beef? At Oskar Blues’ Colorado ranch.

Are you a Bart’s Trustafarian Burger (Haystack Mountain chevre, arugula, honey, bacon)” person, or a “There’s a Hippie in My Home (veggie sandwich)” type? If it’s the former, read on. The latter? No offense, but this one’s not for you.

The signature Chuburger

The signature Chuburger

It recently came to our attention that Oskar Blues’ Home Made Liquids and Solids location in Longmont makes a damn fine hamburger, using beef and pork from their own ranch. Last week, we went in for a fix, and ended up chatting briefly with chef de cuisine Louis Thomas. He told us a little more about the brewery’s innovative agricultural endeavors, as well as revealed the secrets behind the famous “Wusstah Re-mastered” burger.

Haystack Mountain: So, you have a ranch out in Hygiene called Hops and Heifers. What are the details?

Louis Thomas: We started the ranch in 2010, and the beef program in April of last year. Hops and Heifers is actually located right next to Haystack Mountain [the landmark). We have approximately 20 head of Angus on 50 acres, plus two acres of high-trellis hops. We also raise Berkshire pigs, and have additional cattle at our sister ranches in Wellington and Kersey. Geoffrey Hess is our ranch manager.

HM: And where does that beef end up?

LT: Primary in our burgers, because they’re such a big part of our business. We also do chicken-fried steak, and the pork goes in our Berkshire burger, and smoked belly. We’ll also reserve special cuts of beef and pork for our quarterly beer dinners.

HM: In our line of work, whey–which is the by-product of cheesemaking–is often fed to pigs as a high-protein dietary supplement. Do you use anything from the brewery to feed your livestock?

LT: We do. We give them the spent grain, which is low in sugar, and high in protein. It’s economical and healthy.

HM: Speaking of health, tell us about your Wusstah burger.

LT: Well, I lived in Worcester, Massachusetts, before I moved here, and I grew up near there. It’s ham that’s been brine-cured in Mama’s Little Yella Pils, then whiskey barrel-smoked. The burger is topped with mustard (also made with Mama’s), and unmelted, aged cheddar.

HM: We will definitely see you soon!

Burgers in pasture

Burgers in pasture

Berkshire piglet

Berkshire piglet

 

Hops with Haystack Mountain in the background

Hops with Haystack Mountain in the background

 

Apparently we're not the only ones who love goats!

Apparently we’re not the only ones who love goats!

 

[Photo credits: Oskar Blues Brewery]

 

 

The “solid” facts about winter cheesemaking

Most people don’t realize that cheese is a seasonal product. Since its discovery sometime around 2000 BC, fresh cheese has been a way to use surplus milk. The process of aging cheese is actually one of the earliest methods of food preservation, and provided crucial protein and other nutrients during the lean winter months, when certain species of dairy animals don’t usually lactate.

Milking goats

Photo credit: Barry Staver, from “Doing Time Together,” culture: the word on cheese, Winter ’12.

Despite advances in the dairy industry over the centuries, cheesemaking has changed little, and on a small scale, remains a highly seasonal endeavor. Since milk is the main ingredient in cheese, it’s important to understand how its chemical composition changes over the course of a year. These factors are additionally influenced by species, breed, terrain, and climate.

Milk comes from lactating mammals, i.e., those that have recently given birth. In the case of cheese, that milk comes from a ruminant, or cud-chewing mammal with a four-chambered stomach. The stomachs of ruminants are specially adapted to break down their entirely plant-based diet.

Now, think about the seasonal nature of grasses and other woody, leafy plants (goats are browsers, rather than grazers, and so prefer to strip branches of shrubs and trees or nibble thorny grasses to obtain nutrients). Here in Colorado, pasture is either covered in snow, or fairly barren, as is the case with our high-desert dairy in Cañon City. In that part of the state, there’s little in the way of forage for goats, even during the spring and summer months, which is why we supplement our goats’ diet with alfalfa hay and grain year- round.

Eating Goats

Photo credit: Barry Staver, from “Doing Time Together,” culture: the word on cheese, Winter, ’12

The change in diet is one major reason why milk undergoes compositional changes with the seasons. In the case of our herd, the biggest change that we see is in the ratio of solids (fats and proteins) in the milk, which become higher in winter.

Climate changes can also affect milk. There’s  a sharp contrast in seasonal temperature in Colorado (in Cañon City, it routinely tops 100 degrees in summer,  and drops to the mid-20s in winter). Goats are naturally inclined to drink more water in hot weather (which is also generally when they’re lactating), which results in lower levels of milk solids during the summer months. The variance in milk solids requires our cheesemaker to carefully review their levels and make slight recipe adjustments throughout the year.

The timing of breeding season also depends upon goat breed and climate. Goats naturally lactate for up to 10 months after kidding. Ideally, they’ll be given a break before being bred again, to allow their bodies to regain strength. For a cheese company of our size- we maintain a herd of 1,100 milkers- we can stagger the breeding. This enables us to keep a small, but continuous, supply of milk throughout the year, so we can continue to make cheese. Like us, many cheesemakers also have aged cheese in their line, so they have product to sell during the winter months.

Fortunately, our does have just started kidding again, and a plentiful supply of milk and bouncy baby goats are just around the corner. We look forward to seeing you soon at the farmers markets!

For more detailed information on goat milk composition, go to the DRINC (Dairy Research & Information Center, UC Davis) website.