Farming happy and smart
Kirsten and Cory Spencer of The Happy Goat Farm, Dairy & Cheese Company have found a niche production method and a land-lease agreement that works, resulting in a progressive style of farming that sets these young agrarians apart from any other dairy operation on the island.
The Cowichan Valley is home to a diverse number of farms producing a diverse number of products. It is surprising to learn then that The Happy Goat in Glenora is the only raw goat's milk cheese producer on Vancouver Island. Clearly, the business is not for everyone. Raw milk cheese production can be a regulatory ordeal, explains Cory, but with a proper sanitation program in place and a lot of determination, it is possible.
And yet despite these barriers, entry into goat milk and cheese production can often be significantly easier due to the absence of a quota system such as the one that governs the cow dairy industry. Cory and Kirsten are also taking advantage of a land-leasing agreement which has allowed them entry into the industry at a much lower cost. They still supplement their farm-income with off-farm jobs, but renting land is significantly more affordable than buying. Locked into a long-term lease with the current property owners of a 100 acre former cow dairy, they live and farm on a 7 acre parcel. They were also able to convert an existing building on the property that had sat dormant for 20 years, into a facility capable of handling goat milk production. Eventually, they built a new wing onto the existing building where their cheeses are currently produced.
From cheddar to cheese
2015 marks their fifth year in the Valley. The move from Vancouver to the Valley was a deliberate plan to follow a long term dream of cheese making. The spark was ignited for Cory in 2008 when he came across a Vancouver cheese shop selling over 400 varieties. The notion that there was more to cheese than cheddar was a turning point. Soon after, Cory was laid off from the software development industry. He contacted Moonstruck Organic Cheese on Salt Spring and spent that summer there learning to make cheese. This first experience was followed a few years later, in 2010, by apprenticeships in northern England and southern France working with both goat and sheep dairies and cheese makers.
Cory and Kirsten moved to the Cowichan Valley in November of that year. Thirty-one milking goats goats arrived in December and they began milk production in January of 2011. They started by selling their raw milk to Hilary's Cheese. Two years later, they began the process of building their own cheese-making facility.
Cheeses for all seasons
The Happy Goat produces only raw goats milk cheeses. Under this style of production, a wide variety of bacterial cultures are available to create a wide variety of flavours that are, as Cory describes, "more rustic and more complex than their pasteurized counterparts." He adds that raw milk production allows customers to taste the subtle changes in the milk as the seasons progress. "A large quantity of beautifully flavoured milk is produced when the goats hit pasture in May,” explains Cory. “By the end of fall, the fat content goes up and you can really taste the difference in the cheese."
Every step of The Happy Goat cheese making process is completed by hand. Aged, hard cheeses with a natural rind are their specialty and the varieties they offer are a direct homage to their time spent cheese making in England and France. They currently offer four varieties of cheese which are sold through a number of cheese shops and featured on the menus of multiple fine dining restaurants on the island. They do not currently retail cheese from the farm.
They produce Arkleby, a hard, tangy cheese with a golden rind; Mandolin, a smooth, creamy cheese with a herbed rind; Tallentire, a hard Crumbly, salty, earthy cheese with a vein of ash running through its centre; and Tomme de Vallée a rustic, natural rind cheese. There are plans to release more varieties in the future. The Happy Goat also sells garlic, poultry, and eggs.
To learn more about this dynamic duo and their kids, or to find a list of where their products are sold, visit www.thehappygoat.ca.
Photo Credit: Kirsten & Cory Spencer