LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 1, 2010) – In Kentucky, goat dairy is a rising commodity. In the field, Susan Miller is quickly gaining popularity and widespread respect as Kentucky’s goat dairy pioneer. University of Kentucky Extension Associate for Goat Production Terry Hutchens said her brand, Bleugrass Chevre, is what many budding goat cheese entrepreneurs hold as the standard, and that’s why her farm was recently the site of the first Kentucky Cheesemaking School.
"In Kentucky, there’s a great deal of interest in locally grown, locally produced products," said Hutchens, who organized the school. "This (cheese making) fits that, and it adds value to the price of milk. Unless you are producing an end product, there's really nowhere you can sell goat or sheep milk. You have to process it into something to make a profit."
Hutchens said participants in the school were fortunate to learn cheese making techniques from Steve Zeng, a food technologist and dairy extension specialist for Langston University in Oklahoma. He came to the United States from China in 1986 to learn cheese making; currently, Zeng travels around the United States and abroad teaching these techniques and promoting goat cheese as a way to add value to small farm enterprises.
"I'm very excited to work with goat producers and help them utilize goat milk," Zeng said. "I try to make people understand they have to take good care of the animals because they are your main source of high-quality milk. I suggest small operations start with fresh cheeses, easy cheeses, like feta and mozzarella, and then as they gain experience, they can start creating more sophisticated, complicated cheeses like Cheddar, Parmesan or Chevre."
During the hands-on school, participants learned to make soft cheeses like cream cheese, Brie and Camembert, hard cheeses like Gouda, Colby and Cheddar. They also learned to make yogurt and conducted a sensory/quality evaluation of their products.
Participants included individuals already raising goats; Jennifer Turner raises a small goat herd on 14 acres in Shelby County. She has experimented with cheese making for her family’s personal use and came to the school to learn more techniques and explore taking her craft to the next level.
"I came to the school because I wanted to learn it the right way," she said. "If I choose to do this for profit, I’ll know how to get started. I’ve already made feta, Brie, mozzarella and a few other cheeses at home, but I want to experiment with different kinds of feta. I definitely want to sell at some point. I like to keep things local and small market, so maybe soon."
Although the initial investment is quite high, cheesemakers can expect good returns of about $1 per ounce of cheese at local markets. Goat cheese sells for between $15 and $20 at cheese stores.
Hutchens said interest in the school was very high, and they didn’t have enough space for everyone who wanted to participate. He plans to help organize another cheesemaking school for the fall.
For more information on the Cheesemaking School, contact Terry Hutchens at 859-257-2465 or email email@example.com.