Say (Goat) Cheese!
Farm that makes cheese adds to local food offerings

By: KATHY NORCROSS WATTS | Special Correspondent
Photography By: ANDREW DYE
Published: October 28, 2012

GERMANTON --

With stars still shining in the dark early morning sky, Rose and Carmela wait for Robin Blakley just outside the milking room at Buffalo Creek Farm and Creamery in Germanton.

The two milk goats will be first in the line of a dozen goats that Robin milks at 7 a.m. each morning on the 34-acre farm. Inside the basement creamery, stainless steel sinks and counters shine, and Robin's husband, Johnny Blakley, dons blue scrubs and protective booties. He carefully unwraps, turns and rewraps the wheels of cheese that have started to form.

Buffalo Creek Farm and Creamery, Forsyth County's only goat dairy currently making goat cheese, sells farmstead goat cheese.

"We milk our own goats and use our own goats' milk," Robin said. "Everything is done here on the farm."

Dreams of a dairy

The Blakleys have owned their farm for 20 years, and they've worked to return it to a working farm, as it once was. At one time the property was used as a dairy farm, and then a fish farm with 21 shallow lakes full of goldfish. When the Blakleys purchased the land in 1992, it had been neglected for several years.

They worked strategically: First, they restored the farm buildings, and then they built a commercial farm store where they sell fresh eggs and chicken and meat from their Dorper cross hair sheep and Hereford/Angus cross cattle. They've nurtured a herd of dairy goat breeding stock, and Robin began milking the goats and making goats' milk soap to see if she truly wanted to pursue milking the goats to make cheese. They made cheese for themselves and drank goats' milk.

Their herd includes approximately 75 Nubian and Nigerian dwarf dairy goats, and she rotates their lactation schedule in order to ensure she has milk to collect.

"It's a commitment," Robin said in what is a tremendous understatement.

Her goats file in two at a time, and she feeds them breakfast while they stand on her metal milk stand. Her head rests next to each goat's flank as she milks, and she listens to the goat's belly gurgling and the milk swishing into the stainless steel bucket in the five minutes it takes to milk each one.

"There's something real relaxing," she said as she tried to explain why she does what she does. It's clear she shares a bond with her goats. "You feed them, you milk them; each goat - they've got different little personalities."

When she's finished, Rose and Carmela walk primly through a side goat door. Show Time and Brown Sugar are next in line. She collects approximately 10 gallons from the 12 goats she milks, then pours the milk through a filter into a bucket where it cools before it can be refrigerated or used to make cheese, and that's when Johnny takes over.

Making cheese

Ask Johnny why he does this, and for him the answer is simple: "I like cheese," he said. "Cheese is extremely expensive, and I like some of the stronger flavors."

It took two years to complete the dairy project due to permitting, planning, construction and meeting all the required inspections. This summer, they began making raw milk aged farmstead goat cheeses, and after receiving their Grade B dairy license to make cheese, the first batch was ready to be sold in October.

"I just think they ought to be applauded for their persistence and determination to go through all the processes to get permitted and have everything done so they could sell the cheese," said Mark Tucker, county extension director of the N.C. Cooperative Extension in Forsyth County. "I think it's a great addition to our local food offerings in the county."

Johnny took numerous cheese-making courses, and they visited several North Carolina goat dairies, including Paradox Farm in West End, Prodigal Farm in Durham and Goat Lady Dairy in Climax. He makes Gouda, Havarti and a salt-washed rind cheese. Because they are using raw goats' milk in their cheese, it must age at least 60 days, but their cheese typically ages three to four months. Inside the cheese cave, stainless steel shelves hold vertical rows filled with 2.5- to 3-pound wheels of goat cheese, clearly labeled by date, some with red-waxed rinds and others with salt-washed natural rinds.

"You've got to do your homework," Johnny said. "You've got to know what it's going to take to learn it, and you've got to be committed. We're in this for the long haul."

Soft goat cheese, often called chevre (the French word for goat), requires pasteurized milk, and, as they've done through this entire dairy-building dream, the Blakleys have a methodical approach. They've saved a corner in the cheese room for the $15,000 pasteurizer they will purchase when they sell enough cheese to afford it; their website reports they hope to be selling fresh chevre in 2013.

Sharing the farming life

Customers who stop by the farm store can peer into the pastures to see the goats that produced the milk for the farmstead cheese and chickens that laid the fresh eggs. Friendly turkeys gobble and show off their tail feathers in a nearby pasture. Eventually, the Blakleys will be adding farm tours for small groups as part of their agri-tourism effort. The farm is also a drop-off site for Piedmont Local Food, an online virtual farmers market.

"Survival of small farms is dependent on educating the public about rural life and the origin of their foods," their website says. "Our goal is to bring nutritious food to our community and to teach others where their food comes from."

Local foods advocate Barbara Lawrence said that she met the Blakleys when they sold their goat milk soap at the Cobblestone Farmers Markets in Winston-Salem. The Blakleys sell their soap and cheese at their farm store because they can get work done on the farm in between meeting customers. They do not have plans to expand into grocery stores due to the size of their operation.

"The presence of a dairy that's able to sell retail to customers - and make it - is a great step forward for healthy food and farmer livelihood," said Lawrence, who is treasurer of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. "Be willing to buy the product: If people think that large industrial food production isn't the best, they need to find some way to support farmers.

"They love what they do. People do gravitate to that. Once they've had an encounter with a passionate farmer, they never forget."

Both Blakleys say they're retired, but anyone who sees what it takes to operate their farm and goat dairy will likely question that label. Johnny, 57, retired from the Winston-Salem Police Department, and Robin, 58, retired from fleet operations at Reynolds Tobacco Co. Though the work required to operate their creamery seems enormous, both are passionate about what they're doing.

"If you didn't enjoy it, you would not want to do this," Johnny said. "With this many animals and milking to be done, there's no such thing as a vacation."

In fact, their idea of a vacation is a Sunday morning trip to the State Fair, and even then, during that brief few hours away, one of their goats gave birth to twins.

"It's a quality of life product for the farm to pass on," Robin said. Their two grandchildren spend lots of time on the farm. Their son, Andy, lives in Germanton, and he helps them with labor, and their daughter, Erin Thompson, lives in Clinton, and she helps with the website and sells items in the store.

"We want to give them a choice," Johnny said. "If they choose to do this, we want to have all the foundation laid."
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Our farm was featured in the November 24, 2012 WXII 12 News, story about Small Business Saturday on November 24, 2012.
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(CLICK) to the picture above to watch the interview.



Our farm was featured in the October 28, 2012 edition of The Winston-Salem Journal
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Goat cheese ages in a refrigerated unit on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at Buffalo Creek Farm and Creamery LLC in Germanton, N.C.
Johnny Blakley prepares goat cheese on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at Buffalo Creek Farm and Creamery LLC in Germanton, N.C.
 
Robin Blakley milks a Nubian Goat on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at Buffalo Creek Farm and Creamery LLC in Germanton, N.C.
Robin Blakley collects goats for milking out of her field on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at Buffalo Creek Farm and Creamery LLC in Germanton, N.C.
Johnny Blakley holds a 2-day-old baby goat on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at Buffalo Creek Farm and Creamery LLC in Germanton, N.C.
A pair of 2-day-old baby goats explore their surroundings on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at Buffalo Creek Farm and Creamery LLC in Germanton, N.C.
Johnny Blakley holds a 2-day-old baby goat on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at Buffalo Creek Farm and Creamery LLC in Germanton, N.C.
 
A goat works to get the attention of Johnny Blakley while he stands in his barn on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at Buffalo Creek Farm and Creamery LLC in Germanton, N.C.
Goats inspect the gate that Johnny Blakley is leaning on on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at Buffalo Creek Farm and Creamery LLC in Germanton, N.C.
Goats eat off of a hay bail on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at Buffalo Creek Farm and Creamery LLC in Germanton, N.C.
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Johnny Blakley (left) talks to his wife Robin as she pours out a milking pail full of fresh goat milk into a container for cooling on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at Buffalo Creek Farm and Creamery LLC in Germanton, N.C.
Buffalo Creek Farm and Creamery, LLC
Farmstead Goat Dairy
3255 Buffalo Creek Farm Road
Germanton, NC 27019
336.969.5698
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