In Sonoma County, CA there are vineyards as far as the eye can see. The land is open for rows of grape vines, the air is dry and hot to grow grapes that will later be made into wine. But down Napa Road situated in between two vineyards sits LOLA Sonoma Farms where goats roam and scream.
With five does on the farm and three currently producing milk for their kids, extra milk is taken to make goat cheese.
Lori Melançon, owner, farmer and cheesemonger of LOLA Sonoma farms taught herself how to milk the does and make her own goat cheese. Although the recipe has yet to be perfected, it’s still a tasty work in progress.
Lori isn’t your typical farmer. A University of California, Davis graduate she had a successful career as a communications executive within the biopharmaceutical industry for 20 years. As Head of Corporate Affairs for Onyx Pharmaceuticals, she attended countless FDA advisory committee meetings. Ironically now living life as a farmer, Lori has yet to have her goat based products FDA approved and for this, she is unable to sell her goat cheese, goat milk based lotions.
Lori wakes at 6:30 am, her husband Chris has already been out in the pasture for two hours. Still, in her teal pajamas, she drinks the leftover coffee Chris had made earlier and adds goat milk until the now lightened coffee hits the rim of her mug. After coffee, she puts on a pair of tan cargo pants, her favorite blue yoga tank top and a straw sun hat to minimize the risk of sunburn.
“You got to get out there early on the farm,” she said. “By midday, the heat is just too much.”
She walks from the house out to the pasture carrying a blue canvas basket, which holds three separate mason jars.
After feeding the Kunekune boars and their dozen piglets, the two guardian dogs and all the four bucks, Lori enters the doe pen. The baby goats scream for their mothers and the adult does run and greet Lori. Her worn, brown cowboy boots shuffle through the hay and alfalfa that lies on the barn floor while she says hello to each goat individually.
Stella, a San Clemente Island doe is herded into the milking area. She leaps onto the milking stand ready for her morning snack. Lori pours seed into a bowl, which keeps Stella distracted through the milking process. Lori spays disinfectant on Stella’s utter and teats and cleans the area thoroughly. She repeats the process.
“It’s easy for mud to get on them, so it’s very important to clean the area really well,” she said.
With Stella all settled, Lori sits on an old toolbox that is the perfect height to milk. She grabs a large Mason jar from the basket, grabs hold of one teat and squeezes with her thumb and palm. A thin stream of warm milk splashes the side of the glass jar. She switches sides and exhausts the other teat of all its milk. Five minutes later, the jar is nearly full.
Lori cleans Stella’s utter one more time, unleashes her from the milking stand and gives her a treat. Stella is off to graze with the others.
Lilly, a Nigerian Dwarf doe is up next. Lori goes through the milking process a second time and after Lilly has filled the second Mason jar, it is her mother, Callah’s turn in the stand.
“Callah is a kicker,” Lori said. Lori secures Callah’s legs into straps to make it a smoother ride for everyone. The third jar is filled, the last goat is cleaned off and Lori refills her blue, canvas basket with all three jars. She locks the doe pen gate behind her and walks back to the house.
In the kitchen, she grabs a strainer, a 32 ounce Mason jar and paper filters. She drains all three jars of goat milk through the paper filter, through the metal strainer and into the Mason jar.
“The filter will catch any dirt or hair that may have ended up in the milk,” she said. The last drop of milk is poured and set aside.
Lori fingers through her bookshelf in the living room and stops at a large book that reads, “The Art of Natural Cheesemaking,” by David Asher. She reads over the recipe, pours the filtered milk into a pot, adds a few drops of coagulant and places the pot on the stove. She adds a dash of Chevre culture and stores the pot at room temperature overnight.
The next afternoon a thin layer of whey sits on the curd below. Lori spoons the curd out of the pot with a slotted spoon and into a cheesecloth to be drained.
She fills the leftover whey into a Mason jar. “A treat for the pigs,” she said.
A few hours later, she unwraps the lump of cheese from the cloth in a bowl. She salts the cheese and tastes it.
The cheese will last Lori and Chris a week. It will be smeared on toast in the morning, added to salad for lunch and even baked onto salmon for dinner all thanks to the playful goats on the farm.