June 14th, 2006
Name: Pure Luck Dairy
Owners: The entire family- Denny Bolton, Amelia Sweethardt, Gitana Sweethardt, and Claire & Hope Bolton
Location: Dripping Springs, Texas
Animals: Approximately 110 Nubian and American Alpines (milking around 65)
Cheeses/Products: Chevre (plain and flavored), Basket Molded Chevre, Feta, Del Cielo, Hopelessly Blue, Sainte Maure, Claire de Lune
More info: www.purelucktexas.com
Pure Luck Dairy straddles Twin Oaks Trail, we learned this by barging in on Denny Bolton in the Pure Luck Office who kindly directed us to the dairy where we found someone who could find Amelia for us. Many of you who are familiar with Pure Luck know that the farm is going through a large transition with the loss of its founder Sara Bolton last November. Amelia Sweethardt is her daughter and also has been a cheesemaker at the dairy since 1997. She has taken over the cheesemaking reigns. In addition to Amelia, two of Sara’s other daughters Claire and Hope also assisting with multiple aspects of the dairy, not to mention Denny Bolton (Sara’s husband and partner in the business) and Gitana Sweethardt who also helps run Pure Luck. All four of Sara’s girls grew up milking goats and drinking fresh milk from their own farm so they understand the value of what they do let alone the work required to run the dairy.
Of course the day we scheduled for our visit was Amelia’s day off- if there is such a thing on a dairy farm. While we waited for her near the dairy, we were entertained by a sound sampling of farm animals…goats, of course, a couple of dogs and a shameless attention seeking cat. I always see it as a good sign when all animals on a farm are friendly.
Amelia bounded out of the trees- her home is just a short walk from the cheese room- to welcome us. We had arrived on a cheese nurturing rather than cheesemaking day meaning that cheeses made earlier that week were being salted and turned. Pure Luck sells most if not all of their cheese in Texas- the majority goes to markets in Austin, San Antonio and Dallas. In the cheese room we met Juana who might as well be family- there is no one new at Pure Luck because everyone is either blood related or has been around for years. The entire staff is bilingual including the new Pyrenees puppy who goes by Lucy or Lucia. We watched as Amelia flipped the Sainte Maure and Juana salted the chevre in a large mixer. Amelia explained their plans for an expansion of the make room space. Currently all of the cheeses are aged in a cooler on the other side of Twin Oaks Trail, the expansion would bring all aspects of cheesemaking to one place. Of course as soon as I found out that they would have more space I asked the logical question: does that mean you will make more cheese? Amelia was careful to note that they will focus on getting their expansion built before they plan on increasing their output. This is precisely what I would expect from any farmstead cheesemaker because many of them agree that slow, steady expansions are the only way to go and patience is essential.
In my notes from that day I found something about the milking parlor: “maybe the cleanest milking parlor I’ve seen yet”. As we walked through the parlor, Amelia showed us where the goats wait their turn to be milked and then the area where they can snack on some alfalfa on their way back out to the pasture. She explained that the kids are still nursing from their mothers once during the day (after the does go through the parlor in the morning and have spent a bit of time on pasture) and then separated from them in the evenings- it is something they are experimenting with. In the past they noticed that the kids that nursed longer became stronger does so they are considering this in their herd management evaluation. While maintaining the principles her mother set in place for the farm, Amelia is also considering new ways of doing things. For example she is looking at their options for producing some of their own feed and she is also investigating outlets beyond auctions for the kids they do not keep. We finished up our tour of the cheese plant by walking through the bulk tank room- never the most exciting but always an important part of the dairy. They are making cheese 3 times each week which creates a sound workflow given the variety of cheeses they produce and the handling they requires in the days immediately after they are made.
Pure Luck is a stellar example of a small, farmstead dairy that has developed an operation that is sustainable given the land they have and their staff. Amelia said something that struck me as a unique perspective in the world of farming (and she said it matter-of-factly too), “If you need someone to work for you in the high season you have to figure out how to employ them in the low season too”. One example of this is the decision she and her mother made to develop cheesemaking seminars during their off season to keep cash flowing through the dairy. They also have the added benefit of sharing some employees between the dairy and their organic herb, vegetable and flower farm business across the road.
Walking around with Amelia it is abundantly clear that her mother’s vision for the farm runs strong throughout the entire place and for good reason; everything is clean and simple and everyone is on the same page- healthy and well-managed animals produce great milk for cheesemaking. This means that we can count on the continuation of beautiful farmstead cheeses which is wonderful. We can also look forward to ongoing developments at Pure Luck…maybe even more cheese?