Q & A with Angela Miller, American Cheesemaker
July 15, 2010
Ever wonder what it’s like to move out to a farm, raise a few goats, and craft artisanal cheese? Well, Angela Miller, high profile Manhattan career woman, decided to do just that. Unsatisfied with her life as it was, Miller and her husband purchased a farm in Vermont, restored it to its old glory, and started raising Oberhaslis goats. We caught up with her recently at Beard on Books (discussing her new book, Hay Fever) to chat about the positive, the negative, and how she wouldn’t change a thing about her life on the Consider Bardwell Farm. Describe an average day on the farm. I’m off and running as soon as I wake up at 5:00 A.M. First my team and I have to sanitize the milking equipment, bring the girls (meaning our Oberhaslis goats) from the pasture to the barn, and start milking them by 6:00. After we are through with milking, which takes about two hours, the cleanup in the milking parlor and milk house begins. The girls then go out to a new pasture, and we bring fresh water and feed to the separate pastures that hold the girls, babies, yearlings (goats one to two years old), and bucks. We turn on the electric fencing and then have breakfast. After that I hold a meeting with the farm team to discuss the day’s issues. On any given day, I may have to speak with the maintenance man, Bob, about the new cheese cave we are building, or with the cheese team about any problems they may be having. In the midst of this, I help pick out, cut, wrap, and pack Consider Bardwell’s cheeses for farmers’ markets and our accounts. At 4:30 we have to sanitize the milking equipment again and bring up the girls from their pasture for a second milking. We repeat the cleaning and feeding we did in the morning. All of this is hopefully finished around seven, after which I make dinner, relax with a glass of wine, answer emails, and fall asleep by ten. To some of us, your life of raising goats on a farm may sound perfectly idyllic. What’s most challenging about it? Is there anything you would change if you were to start this adventure all over again? There is absolutely nothing I would change! Nonetheless, the schedule is grueling and unrelenting. I do have great help now, which allows me more time to promote the farm and work with my favorite clients. You raise Oberhaslis goats on your farm. Can you explain some of the characteristics of this breed and why you chose it for cheesemaking? Oberhaslis goats (named after the Swiss town of Oberhasli) are Swiss alpine goats that enjoy cool and cold weather. Vermont and Oberhasli’s climates are similar, so these goats are very compatible with our location. The goats produce a high milk yield that’s low in butterfat content (which can be good or not so great depending on your viewpoint). Interestingly, I chose to raise Oberhaslis goats because the first farmhand I employed was a young woman from Provence, France, who had raised and milked these goats there. She had also used the milk to make chèvre for local restaurants. I was still very new at raising goats and decided to follow her advice and expertise. The Consider Bardwell Farm website mentions that you employ rotational grazing. Can you explain what this means? Rotational grazing means that we move the girls to a new paddock every 12 hours so that they have new, delicious high grass to eat and are not eating in areas they have sullied. Goats are susceptible to stomach and intestinal parasites, and it helps to move them frequently to keep them healthy and happy. No paddock is reused within 60 days from its last use (because 60 days is the life cycle of a parasite). Furthermore, munching on fresh grass contributes to the milk’s flavor profile, which means more delicious and complex cheese. What is your favorite cheese made at Consider Bardwell? I have to say my favorite is Manchester, our raw goat’s-milk tomme. Tomme cheeses are characteristically made by heating milk to a low temperature, then pressing the eventual curds into molds—either by hand or by weights. It’s quite rustic. While the overall taste is always nutty and earthy, the rotational grazing helps give each batch its own distinct flavors—no two are exactly the same. What are some of your other favorite cheeses made by American artisans? I thoroughly enjoy Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese from Uplands Cheese Company in Wisconsin; Tarentaise from the Thistle Hill Farm here in Vermont; and Bayley Hazen Blue by Jasper Hill Farm, also in Vermont. Plus many more—bring ‘em on!