Why did you start a goat cheese business on your Fordland farm?
We bought this property at the very beginning of 2006. It kind of started as we just wanted to be more self-sufficient, produce more of our own food. We started with a garden, and chickens and ducks, for eggs and meat. I had always wanted goats. My great uncle had a farm when I was a little girl, and he had goats and pigs and chickens. When we still lived in Springfield, I had been buying cows’ milk and just making cheese in my kitchen. [My husband] Barry and I started talking about a way for some of the animals to actually pay for themselves. We got goats in 2007, and we decided to start making goat cheese.
What types of cheese do you make?
We make a plain chevre; an urban garlic; a hog heaven, which is bacon and chive; fire-roasted jalapeno; cranberry pecan; chocolate chip; and horseradish. I originally thought we’d make chevre and maybe feta. People kept saying, “Well, what do you do with it?” They didn’t know what to do with goat cheese, so we started doing some different flavors just to show people how versatile it is and how you can use it. As far as other cheeses, we do the feta; Chimney Rock, which is a bloomy rind with an ash coating. We do another bloomy rind called The Dude that is a little firmer texture. We do a French Alpine style cheese, a hard aged cheese; blue cheese; Romano; queso fresco and a habanero queso fresco.
How do you bring your cheese to market? Do you sell direct to consumer and wholesale?
We do a direct to customer at farmers markets. We also sell at several retail outlets. We also sell to several restaurants, The Bruncheonette in Joplin; in Springfield, Gilardi’s [Ristorante], The Order, Springfield Brewing Co., Farmers Gastropub, Derby Deli, The Pitch; and Big Cedar in Branson.
Have you made changes to the business model?
We started out milking all our own goats. … It takes a lot of time out of the day. We started buying milk from some local grade-A goat dairies. I’m hoping that I can buy more and then we can expand into the St. Louis and the Kansas City areas.
Tell me about the art of cheese making and what you can achieve with your small-batch approach.
It’s a really good balance between art and science, two of my favorite subjects. My degree is actually art education. I like getting my hands in there and the physicality of it. I like to cook, too. Basically, you have a recipe, and then, like cooking, once you know a little bit about the science of it, you can develop your own recipes, which is what we did with The Dude and Chimney Rock.
How have you diversified the business, specifically with agritourism?
We have been doing the cheese nights, the cheese making classes. I’m working on getting it set up, but we’re going to do Airbnb experiences, too, so people can come into the make room and help me make cheese or they can help milk the goats and bottle-feed the babies. We kind of started doing that to increase revenues and also to allow the customers a little more one-on-one and the interaction and connection. I typically do one (cheese making class) a year ... and the cheese nights we do one a month June through October.
Small farms have struggled with the advancements in technology and growth of industrial agriculture. Talk about the challenges and how you are keeping afloat.
The challenge is making money and not running yourself ragged and running yourself into the ground, which is why we diversified and started adding the agritourism. We keep doing it because we enjoy it. I love the goats. I love cheese.
Lesley Million can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Dallas couple follow their bakery franchise dreams to Springfield, and now a Joplin store is on the way.