September 11th, 2007
We had a magical experience in Austin, Texas last Friday- regardless of the previous night’s stay at the O’Hare Best Western (missed our connection en route to TX). Our friend and Cheese by Hand designer, Nancy Nowacek got to see what it was like to visit a dairy Cheese by Hand style. The visit was even cooler because it was the Chrissy Omo and her family at CKC Goat Dairy in Blanco which is about an hour outside of Austin. Chrissy is currently a college student at Texas State- she juggles that committment with dairy farming by restricting her school schedule to morning classes. This means that she has two distinct mornings during the week- one milking goats at dawn, and a second a few hours later in a classroom at the university.
Austin in located in the region of Texas known as Hill Country. Because it is Texas, and everything is bigger in Texas, the hills there are long and rolling- stretching out as far as the eye can see. The landscape was much greener than expected for September because the area has gotten so much more rain that usual this summer. Driving around in such a vast expanse of space so soon after leaving New York City blew my mind- even the sky appeared to have grown overnight.
Chrissy got into goats by participating with FFA as a youngster. She raised meat goats and quickly realized that she wanted goats that would stay around longer than those sold off for meat so she switched to dairy goats. As it goes with so many goat enthusiasts there is a sudden rush of milk at some point and the next logical step is to make cheese. This is exactly what Chrissy did. CKC is currently milking 16 goats but the total herd is up to 87, including a couple billy goats for breeding. They are bred rotationally so that the dairy has a year-round milk supply. The total acreage on the farm is almost 70 and there is plenty of pasture and brambly stuff for the goats to get most of their diet from forage with a minimal supplement of grain.
The whole family pitches in to support the CKC business. When we stopped by Chrissy’s father was busy painting the tasting room area that had just been completed. One of their local food heroes, Sibby Barrett is bringing a group of her culinary students out to the farm next weekend as part of her “Random Acts of Cooking” courses where the students visit a number of local farms and producers to gather the goods for their cooking lesson. You can read about Sibby’s local, culinary courses here.
CKC produces a wide variety of goat’s milk cheeses- spreads, small disks reminiscent of the French classic selles sur cher, marinated feta, a blue cheese, and soon to come some natural rinded tommes. Their cheese production room is simple and spacious- with ample room to increase volume. They sell their output at a farmer’s market nearby in San Antonio and to a number of small food purveyors local to them and also a number in the Austin area.
We sat around the table with Chrissy, her mother, and her two younger brothers to taste some cheese and hear about the time they spent in Europe together as a family- this is where their love affair with handcrafted cheeses began. Their cheeses are delicious- on par with many American goat’s milk products let alone European imports. I look forward to re-visiting Austin and sampling the aged cheeses as they roll out.
It was a fantastic afternoon. The entire family just could not have been any nicer or more welcoming. We were there for a little over an hour and I think we laughed (hard) more than ten times- always a solid indicator of good company. They enjoy what they do, working hard and making sure to have a good time while doing it. When we got back into the car nancy asked if that visit was representative of what we’d done on our tour last summer. I replied with a resounding “Absolutely!” while Michael said wistfully, “Man, that was a great summer.”