July 31st, 2006
Although the 24 milking goats can browse all the way down to Dry Creek Road, one might never noticed Pug’s Leap because it is nestled back on the hillside among trees and brush so common to the not-quite-coastal valleys of Northern California. Lucky for us- thank you Healdsburg Farmer’s Market- Pug’s Leap was presented to us in broad daylight. We introduced ourselves and thanks to the avid local food supporters of a blog called Fork and Bottle (www.forkandbottle.com) who wrote about us on their slow food convivium’s site, Eric and Pascal had actually heard of us and graciously invited us out to the farm that afternoon.
This invitation was more than gracious considering that Saturdays are their “day off”- meaning that they don’t actually make cheese because they are busy going to market. It doesn’t look like an average person’s day off given that they are still out of bed around 5-ish for the morning milking and then they use the usual cheesemaking time to prepare for market. We descended upon them during their afternoon break- post market and pre afternoon milking.
We started our tour in the “cheese-room-with-a-view” which looks out across Dry Creek Road to the vineyard on the other side. The cheese room is modest and immaculate with a vat/pasteurizer which is in use now and an additional, smaller vat that Pascal hopes to use for making aged, raw milk cheeses someday soon. There are two small aging rooms off the side wall- one used for the delicate drying stage needed for small, mold and ash ripened cheeses and the other with higher humidity and a slightly lower temperature. These rooms are Pascal’s domain- he has always been interested in and good at cooking so this seemed the most logical place for him. As we talked about everything ranging from selecting goat breeds to the grey area around words like artisan and farmstead, Pascal tilted racks of cheeses made the previous day and encouraged the whey and scraps down the drain in the table.
Next we walked out into the milking parlor which is, as Eric described it, “state of the art for the 1930’s”. More important than being fashionable, it is simple and it works for them although it is uphill (a dirt hill) from the area where the does are kept which means that milking can be time consuming… particularly when you have 30 straight days of rain like they did this past winter.
The bucks are kept at the top of the hill and the does are down closer to the road- removing off-season temptations. The goats are eating browse (read: anything that emerges from the ground), hay, and are supplemented with a bit of grain around milking time. Sounds simple and yet, as with so many things on small farms, there are built-in complexities because Pug’s Leap is a small farm without enormous hay storage capacity thus Eric has to drive hours to do a hay collection every other week.
Everything about Pug’s Leap is in response to Eric and Pascal’s mounting discomfort with the state of affairs in farming and food production today; the ultimate example of consumers taking matters into their own hands. They are an interesting breed of new farmers- both stepped into this project with years of professional experience (Eric as an architect and Pascal as an environmental engineer) and little dairying experience. As we walked uphill to the area where the bucks are kept, Eric and Pascal agreed that although this is more tiring than any work they have done before, it is labor that produces tangible and very real results- life and death included- something they can’t imagine giving up.