August 27th, 2006
Name: Rollingstone Chevre
Owners: Chuck and Karen Evans
Location: Parma, ID
Animals: 90 milking, 120 replacements- all pure bred Saanens
Cheese/Products: Chevre (in logs or rounds) flavored and plain, Tortas in multiple flavors, Aged Anise and Lavendar wheels, Idaho Goatster, Orange Zest Pecan Wheel, Late Harvest Wheel, Blue Age, Brandywine
More info: RollingstoneChevre
Rollingstone Chevre is celebrating its 18th anniversary this month! Many congratulations to Chuck and Karen Evans. I can only imagine what the chevre market was like when they started out in 1988 and they were the first Grade A goat dairy in the state of Idaho- true pioneers. They don’t seem to see themselves as pioneers though, their move into dairy was a gradual one and it all began with the family goat they purchased because their daughter was allergic to cow milk. All of this began in Michigan where they lived with their first goats until moving to the town and home where Chuck grew up in Parma, Idaho.
The Evans’ milked their goats by hand until they were up to a herd of 50 (note: this would take a very, very long time). While they were growing their herd, Karen was making cheese on a small scale, entering it into competitions at the goat shows and getting a lot of positive feedback. With a bit of encouragement from a food critic, Karen and Chuck began to entertain the idea of having a goat cheese business.
When we arrived at Rollingstone they took us on a quick tour of their family farm. Both Chuck and Karen have people helping them most days of the week- this is one of the niceties that comes with being in the business for 18 years- so Chuck doesn’t have to milk every morning and night and Karen gets some assistance with packaging and even turning cheeses that are still draining. This meant that they could take a little bit more time to walk us through their operation. The first room in the cheese facility is still under minor construction because it is being turned into an on-farm tasting room, something Karen has wanted for some time now. The tasting room opening day is scheduled for August 28th- their official cheese anniversary.
While we are totally behind the development of MORE cheeses from Rollingstone we are relieved that Karen is not likely to drop many (if any) of the varieties that she is currently making. Her chevre- plain and in all varieties- is that of someone who has honed their craft over time. We thoroughly enjoyed the tortas, and also her fromage blanc with basil. Of course we wanted to know how many one hit wonders she has made over the years and surprisingly she said that most of their cheeses have such staying power that the bigger challenge was to reign the product line back in to a manageable number of styles. I would bet that Karen’s experience as an artist (both she and Chuck are accomplished artists), showing and selling her work, helped her with sales in the cheese world.
We proceeded to the cheesemaking and aging rooms. Karen and Chuck built their cheese room using pieces of a barn in town that was being dismantled- a testament to the resourceful nature of cheesemakers. Karen still wonders how she and Chuck did all that work themselves, climbing up into the rafters of this old barn to get the beams that support their cheese facility today. Although not every door opens and closes with perfect ease, the facility has worked wonderfully for them for the past 18 years. The only thing missing in their original construction was adequate space for maturing their cheeses. They have a good deal of space for the cheeses they are making now but not enough space to create different environments (temperature and humidity) which would allow them to work on different styles of cheeses.
The Evans’ have plans to build two additional aging rooms this summer. Sounds simple enough until they mention that they are using straw bale construction to dot it. Now I don’t know that this makes what they are doing inherently more complicated but it is definitely interesting and I look forward to reading all about the construction and their experience using these new maturing rooms in the chronicles they promise to keep and share with us. With this added maturing space Karen hopes to make more aged, tomme style cheeses. Although her clients are largely satisfied with the cheeses she produces today, she explained that she wants to experiment with new recipes to challenge herself as a cheesemaker.
In order for Karen to expand her cheesemaking, Chuck will need to expand the herd so that she can continue to fill all her orders for fresh cheese while experimenting with aged products. He is considering an expansion of his milking parlor which is different from most other setups we have seen in that there are no stanchions (bars that lock their heads in place while they are milked) or clips to keep the goats in place. Fifteen goats come into the parlor at a time and stand in a row with access to grain while the milker works the line with multiple milking units along the line. Chuck is definitely a herdsman who focuses on breeding and has and knack for it. His aim is for his goats to be excellent in both form and function.
Chuck’s skills as a herdsman come from years of experience working with all sorts of animals. He shared many fascinating stories about the people he met and places he visited when he was breeding and showing all types of horses. As a result of his patient and inquisitive nature, Chuck had the opportunity to learn from many veterans in the business of showing animals. One of the most interesting things he learned was the practice of managing your animals by learning how they think. This may sound odd but in watching how Chuck manages his herd I can see that he doesn’t use force to get the goats to do what he needs them to do rather he makes the desired behavior the goat’s best and most comfortable option. It is a skill that allows him to be sensitive to animal comfort and still get the results he needs from his animals.
I also got a peek at Chuck’s latest animal project: his chickens. They are incredibly interesting to look at and I can attest to the quality of eggs they produce as I was lucky enough to taste them both scrambled and as part of Karen’s homemade scones (which are to die for)! Luckily Chuck recently found an outlet to sell his eggs as he and Karen are not able to keep up with the chickens’ production levels on their own. Given that both the Evans’ are trained artists they will design a label on their own, as they did for their cheeses, and the eggs will be sold under the name Chuck’s Cheerful Chicks. Solid.