But, despite the urge to do nothing, no way would I miss a trip to Hawaii Island Goat Dairy. When our plans came together for this trip, I emailed Dick Threlfall, owner and cheesemaker at HIGD asking if a visit were possible. He called immediately, welcomed us to come and meet his goats… and as it turns out, he reads my blog and visits the website…
Established in 2001 by Dick and his late wife Heather, on the slopes of Mauna Kea above the town of Honoka’a, this farmstead goat cheese operation sits on a retired macadamia nut orchard. Dick invited us to come for the make but it takes place at 4am. We are two hours away and we opted to come for the afternoon milking. However, our timing was off and we arrived too early for the milking. Dick was graciously took time away from his afternoon downtime to give us his VIP tour and let us meet the Ladies.
What started as a “retirement hobby” is now a 24/7 operation for Dick, who at 81 gets up at 2am to begin his day
making cheese, milking the Ladies and overseeing the entire operation. He has nine part-time employees plus one intern (the current one is from Oregon and is spending six months learning the ins-and-outs of running a dairy from mucking the stalls to milking to making cheese). Dick and Heather lived on the island for most of their lives and have several children, grands and great-grands still living there. Dick spent his first career as a farrier for the ranches on the Big Island; we passed several ranches on our way up the mountain. The famous Parker Ranch graces the slopes of Mauna Kea in the Waimea area.
As with most dairy operations, we drove to the middle of nowhere; from desolate lava fields up Mauna Kea into the verdant tropical forest where regular “hacking” is necessary to keep the forest at bay and the roads passable. The GPS got us there with only one stop for “we’re looking for the goat farm”… less than a hundred yards from our destination.
Our initial greeting was from the kids who were awaiting pick-up to head to their new homes. Dick breeds his Ladies all-year round and has charts with birthing dates (always approximate as nature sometimes has its own time-table…). Once pregnant, he lets the Ladies rest for the two months before birthing and takes them off the milking schedule. He wants twins for birthing although a few produce triplets. Turns out that when a doe births a single, her milk production drops as her body tells her she doesn’t need to produce as much milk.
Because HIGD is a small operation, Dick uses every trick to keep his yield as close to sixty gallons a day which produces about sixty pounds of cheese; a respectable eight to one ratio. (Another trick he uses is to sell the kids as soon as possible after one week. Otherwise the longer they hang out with their mothers the more they “suck” out milk needed to produce cheese.)
The Ladies are milked twice daily and yield about one gallon of milk each day. They graze rotationally year-round, moving weekly to new pastures. The Ladies love the leaves of the old Macadamia trees, which contain a lot of tasty oil, and they keep the lower limbs trimmed year-round. While touring, we watched a doe jumping, trying to get at the leaves a bit higher than she could reach. The pastures are lush from the rain and the heat of the summer. In addition to the Macadamia leaves, one of their favorite treats is Bana Grass from Africa which contains 14% protein, an important part of their diet.
Our tour began in the milking parlor where five goats are milked at a time. With fifty-four milkers in the current
line-up, milking takes a while. From the parlor, we walked the stalls where the Ladies wait their turn to be milked. We then toured the make room, clean enough to eat off the floor, and the caves where his surface-ripened lovelies were aging. He also had a couple tommes aging and one experimental tomme he had rubbed in EVOO and paprika, somewhat similar (in concept) to The Lady of LaMancha cheese made by my dear friend, Rhonda Gothberg.
We tasted his Fromage Blanc which he calls “Midnight Blanc” because he gets up in the middle of the night to make it… he makes and sells ninety pounds of this tasty cheese each week. Creamy, mild, slightly sweet, I imagine this cheese would make an amazing cheesecake. Dick has trouble meeting the demands for this cheese which he primarily sells at the Waimea Farmers’ Market and to local chefs. Well-known Island Chef, Alan Wong, brings his wait staff to the dairy every year to work a day and learn about the cheeses that are used in his Hawaiian Regional Cuisine.
After the tour, we got to meet the Ladies who were only too happy to say hello… close to feeding time… and I got a selfie with one of the more friendly of the group… she became especially interested in eating my top. The Ladies are “serviced” by several bucks who also live on the farm and bucks who “donate” their services via FedEx.
Dick sent us on our way with a wedge of his Hamakua, a semi-hard Tomme aged five months…our dinner tonight with review to follow.
Dick uses a vegetarian rennet for his cheeses; good news for all our vegetarian cheese lovers…
I want to thank Dick for taking the time, especially during his afternoon downtime, to show us around and introduce us to the Ladies. Anytime you can spend time on a farm with those who toil to produce the cheeses we love, is a day spent knowing there is a God… if you get the chance, go hang with a Cheesemaker; you’ll better appreciate the product and wonder why it doesn’t cost more…seriously…
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Interviews will continue throughout 2015… sometimes, they will be “stand-alone” and sometimes they will be presented as round-table discussions with several Cheese Professionals answering the same question. Those participating includeCheesemakers, ACS CCPs™,Cheesemongers and Cheese Professionals and Experts who contribute to this Wonderful World we call “Cheese”.
List of 2015 Cheese Professionals.
List of all Cheese Professionals Bios.
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