Award-Winning Goat Milk Products
By Anita Rafael
Principal Photography By Louisa Conrad
In my next life, I want to come back as a dairy goat, preferably a lush-bearded, long-eared, snow white Saanen like Orion. Orion is six years old and comes from a distinguished line of Swiss ancestors. She is plump, healthy, and fully content with her lot in life. How could she not be? She is the “queen” at Big Picture Farm in Townshend. Spring, summer and fall, she grazes alongside her daughters, granddaughters and their cousins and best friends throughout nearly 90 acres of rocky pastures and open, shrubby woodlands spread out close to the summit of Peaked Mountain. The unobstructed panoramic view she enjoys from that elevation, a straight shot across to the eastern face of Stratton Mountain, is spectacular.
Orion is one of 36 dairy goats at Big Picture Farm and there are other Saanens, some Alpines, and many affectionate, floppy-eared Nubian goats. The herd belongs to husband Lucas Farrell, a poet, and wife Louisa Conrad, an artist working in diverse media. Former academics turned farmers, together they have owned and worked this dairy farm for six years. It is where they make cheese and other products in surgically spotless facilities on the lower level in their big red barn.
MUSIC FOR GOATS
The making of a good cheese starts with successful milking, and that sometimes calls for a little entertainment. “During the morning milking, the goats like classical music or easy listening, and in the afternoon, they go for Dixie Chicks,” Lucas says. “They milk easily when they are relaxed.” From the two milking sessions combined, each goat gives about a gallon of milk per day, which processes to about one pound of cheese.
The cheese that Lucas and Louisa hand-make is a washed-rind product that they call Sonnet. “Two years ago, our cheese won a ribbon from the American Cheese Society,” says Lucas. “We use milk only from our own goats to ensure freshness and seasonality to the flavor. We make wheels of Sonnet once or twice a week during the spring and summer and age it for several months in our own cave. It tastes creamy, nutty, sharp, and smooth.” The 2015 production has sold out. By August, three to five-pound wheels at $30 per pound will be ready and properly aged.
You might think that nothing could possibly be better than that lovely Sonnet. But then there’s this to consider: Goat milk caramel candy. In 2011, Big Picture Farm’s sea-salt- and-bourbon-vanilla caramel won top honors at the Fancy Food Show in New York City, and newer flavors of their caramels won again in 2015 at the show for “Best Confection.”
Louisa uses her creative talents to draw cheery, candid portraits of each of her goats and she puts her sketches on the packaging of the farm products, as well as on embroidered linen tea towels, pillowcases, apparel and other useful items that the farm sells. Is this a dream come true? Fine cheese, the perfect candy and unique gifts are all in one place.
Big Picture Farm is located about 22 miles from Stratton Resort, and is visible from Peaked Mountain Road in Townshend. The property is private and not open for tours though, except by appointment, best made well in advance by email. In springtime, Lucas, Louisa and their farm apprentices have their hands full taking care of many baby goats while the new season of cheese making ramps up to full production.
Look for Big Picture Farm goat cheeses and goat milk caramels at specialty dairy and food stores around the country or order online. You can also meet the folks from the farm at the West River Farmers Market from 9am–1pm on Saturdays. In summer, the market is on Route 11 in Londonderry.
I’ll never forget my very first Big Picture Farm goat milk caramel. It was a roasted raspberry-rhubarb confection. The first flavor my taste buds found was, of course, that delectable, milky sweetness. ‘Aaah! Candy!’ said my brain. Three or four chews into its soft, buttery goodness, I responded to the sunny sensation of fruit, the tang of something berry, something pleasantly tart, and I tasted, perhaps, just a grain or two of sea salt. Then, the finish! It had an effect not unlike that of a superb wine, with lingering notes of warm, full-bodied vanilla, both in my mouth and in someplace deep in my instantaneously-addicted brain. Eating just that one Big Picture Farm caramel forever rede ned the word “candy” for me. Can farm-made goat milk caramels be ranked as comfort food? Do these caramels taste this good to me only because I happen to personally know the goats?
Begin mouthwatering now and savor these: choose maple cream, wild chocolate mint, cider honey and many more tempting varieties. An editor at Food & Wine magazine once said, “They’re subtly goaty.” I say there is nothing subtle about them. These caramels are kick-you-in- the-teeth delicious.