You’ve heard of a microbrewery, no doubt. But how about a microcreamery?
Clovis has one now.
Rocky Oaks Goat Creamery, a farm with 16 goats, is making and selling its goat cheese. The little operation just got the approvals needed in September to start selling the eight kinds of cheese it makes.
The goat farm is on the edge of Clovis on Mendocino Avenue, not too far from the Red Caboose Cafe.
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Running it are Margie and Joel Weber. She’s a former RN and nurse-practitioner who grew up on a dairy farm in Southern California. Her husband Joel is a pharmacist working in corporate finance at Community Medical Centers. For years they had goats as a hobby, but recently turned it into a business together.
“I wanted to retire, but really wanted something more to do,” Margie Weber said.
She liked cheese and liked goats, so she took a cheese-making class at Cal Poly. Now she holds the titles of creamery owner, head milker, cheese maker and mama to the goats.
The 16 ladies are named after country music singers or princesses. For example, there’s Cinderella, Bella (queen of the herd), Carrie (as in Underwood) and Trisha. Named after Trisha Yearwood, this goat was smart enough to work the latches on the barns and let her roommates out.
They are all Nubian goats, a breed with big, floppy ears. The little ones are bottle fed, making them friendly around people.
The goats are guarded by two giant Anatolian shepherd dogs named Blake and Barbara (after Blake Shelton and Barbara Mandrell) that are as big as the goats.
The goats sometimes seem a bit more like pets than farm animals.
“These are all our ladies,” Weber says as she enters the pen to pet and talk to the goats. “How is everybody? What are you doing?”
The creamery is just getting its start, so there’s only a few places to buy the cheese so far. You can buy it by contacting the creamery directly online or at (559) 297-2253. The owners also hope to sell at farmers markets soon. And from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, you can buy the cheese at an event at Longhorn Feed and Supply, 5092 N. Academy Ave. in Clovis.
The cheese sells for about $10 for a half pound.
Things are a little slow these days at Rocky Oaks as the milking season wanes. All of the goats are pregnant and will start giving birth – kidding, as it’s called – in February and March.
That’s when the milking and cheese making goes into full swing. Goats can produce a gallon of milk a day, which translates to about 15 pounds of cheese a day during their peak production. Two Fresno State interns help out, along with an employee who helps make the cheese.
In the grand scheme of things, the operation is still “extremely small,” Weber said.
Most people know goat cheese as the creamy soft cheese sold in logs at the supermarket.
Rocky Oaks makes that (the Princess Pride sold in a tub), but also other kinds of cheese that vary widely in color and taste. All are featured on its website.
There’s the vino queso, which is soaked in red wine and has a deep purple rind. There’s a gouda-style cheese in a red rind that’s aged for two months.
The Webes cheese is a nod to the Weber name. It’s a brie-style cheese covered with black vegetable ash (actually food-grade charcoal) that gives it a colorful appearance.
Goat milk, and by extension goat cheese, are easier for human bodies to process because it has smaller fat globules.
“It’s more digestible,” Weber said. “A lot of people who can’t tolerate cow milk can tolerate goat milk.”
Goats seem to be in vogue lately, at least the little ones that prance around in YouTube videos. But here in the epicenter of agriculture, goat farms aren’t big business.
There’s one in Hanford, Summerhill Goat Dairy, which sells its goat milk at Trader Joe’s and Sprouts stores. Another goat farm, Basilwood Farm in Prather, specializes in goat milk soap and is open to the public on certain days.
And goat cheese has its critics. Some people say they don’t like goat cheese because of a bit of a funk, a gamy taste sometimes called “goatyness.”
That comes from the male goats, the bucks, being around the female goats, Weber said. That odor, designed to attract female goats, can transfer into the milk.
To avoid it, the bucks are only around the female goats during breeding season. The rest of the time they live at the Webers’ home.
Weber encourages skeptics to give it try, saying she doesn’t taste that goatyness in her cheese.
“If people have that perception, they can try it and see, because this is a very mild cheese,” she said, ”but this is from goat milk so it still might have an aftertaste.”
All of the milk in the cheese is pasteurized. In fact, cheese making is a highly regulated process in California, with each batch of milk tested to make sure no antibiotics show up in the milk and other checks.