Get Out of Town!
Milking Every Moment
March, 2020 - Issue #186
courtesy of shutterstock
courtesy of shutterstock

Although I've vacationed there for years, and briefly been a resident, the Central Coast still holds surprises for me when I visit.

This time it was goats.

Not far from Hearst Castle is Stepladder Creamery, a working farm and ranch that dates to 1870 and features a milking herd of 54 goats.

Who knew?

Turns out my dad did. He's turned into quite the tour guide since retiring in Shell Beach. So, when the extended family gathered for a recent visit, he booked a farm tour and cheese tasting for all of us.

Just past Cambria, we turned right on a two-lane road leading into the hills and away from the surf rolling ashore at San Simeon State Beach. I couldn't believe a 740-acre farm was hiding somewhere in the distance.

But five miles later, we found ourselves in the midst of what looked to be a children's book farm spread across a green hillside meadow. Farmhouse. Big red barn. A dog to greet us. And goats.

"The happy accident here was washing the cheese rind in hard cider. The result is a UNIQUE FLAVOR matched with a mild, creamy texture that is particularly good for melting."
After a brief introduction to the farm, our tour guide Whitney ushered us into the goat pen. The curious members of the herd immediately surrounded us. They were quite affectionate with my youngest cousins, Emi, 4, and Adi, 2, who enjoyed the attention.

Whitney explained the logistics of goat husbandry, pausing more than once to admonish unmannerly behavior, like nibbling someone's jacket. The goats are bred each year and only the females stay on the farm. With the exception of two lucky guys kept for breeding, the rest of the males are sold off.

We moved on to the barn to see the milking room, where the herd visits morning and afternoon during milking season. A maze of tubes and hoses collect their milk, which is piped into shiny storage tanks in another room.

Impressive, of course, but our herd was most interested in the next stop - the tasting room.

We crowded around a wooden counter as Whitney cut cheese, paired the different varieties with crackers, honey and even jam, and explained their unique characteristics and recommended uses.

Not everything we tasted was goat milk cheese. Stepladder purchases milk from the dairy at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and makes a wide variety of cheeses.

First up was the Bob Ross, named in honor of the painter famous for his instructional television series in which he encouraged viewers by saying, "We don't make mistakes, just happy little accidents." The happy accident here was washing the cheese rind in hard cider. The result is a unique flavor matched with a mild, creamy texture that is particularly good for melting.

The Paso Vino is aged six to eight months, but gets its name from soaking two days in syrah from Castoro Cellars near Paso Robles. A manchego-style cheese made from cow's milk, it has a firm texture and is perfect for nibbling.

Next, we sampled the Ragged Point, a smooth and creamy cow's milk cheese reminiscent of brie that was balanced with the sweetness of raspberry preserves.

The Big Sur, a blend of cow and goat milk, includes fungal culture. Accented with avocado blossom honey, it yields a tart and sweet experience that is very creamy.

We finished with two fromage blancs. One is marinated with olive oil from a farm in nearby Templeton. The other is mixed with chili powder and delivers a pleasing bite that contrasts with its light, fluffy texture.

There was no surprise, of course, in how the tour would end - with my kids saying we should buy one of every cheese we sampled. And recommending that we get a goat. We settled on three favorites - Bob Ross, Paso Vino and the Spicy Fromage Blanc.
Eric Harnish lives in Castaic with a dog, a cat and a tortoise, but no goats.

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