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Gothberg Farms: Goat cheese at its finest

May 4th, 2015 | Category: Community

by Jessamyn Tuttle

When Rhonda Gothberg decided to get a milk goat for her family, she didn’t know what she was getting into. “She was amazing,” Gothberg said. “I thought three more would be good.” One goat led to another, and soon she had a small herd, and more milk than she knew what to do with. Making cheese seemed like an obvious solution.

Rhonda Gothberg creates 32 different products at her Bow-based farm. An honor box (below) filled with cheese for sale sits outside the barn. PHOTOS BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

Rhonda Gothberg creates 32 different products at her Bow-based farm. An honor box (below) filled with cheese for sale sits outside the barn. PHOTOS BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

A cheesemaking course at the local WSU extension got her started making her own goats’ milk cheeses, and she shared her product with friends and family, who told her, “This is the best cheese I’ve ever had” and “You could sell this stuff!” Gothberg, after looking into the extensive government rules and regulations for making and selling cheese, decided to jump in. After a lifetime spent in nursing, she said, “Nothing daunts me.”

She threw herself into preparing her property, a small farm on the Skagit flats near Edison, for professional cheesemaking. Warned by the local inspector that almost nobody passes the first time around, she applied her medical experience to the task and came out with perfect scores. “I set everything up like I would an operating room: clean and cleanable,” she said proudly.

From milking, cheesemaking and barn cleaning to packaging and marketing, she got her business started in 2002.

“I did it all by myself the first year,” she said. Gothberg’s first concession to needing help was to hire a Saturday cheesemaker, but as her business grew she added a single full-time position plus various assistant milkers and cheesemakers.

“We have awesome, awesome people who work here,” she said.

All of Gothberg’s cheese comes from LaMancha goats, a breed easily recognized by their extremely short ears. Gothberg had no experience with goats at first, so she began researching.

“Once I met the LaMancha that was it, I didn’t even look at other breeds… I never looked back.”

She finds LaManchas to be curious, quiet and sweet-tempered, and they produce excellent milk.

Dairy goats need to be bred to produce milk, and the farm’s recent kidding season has produced over 60 baby goats. The kids stay with their mothers for a few days, then are gradually weaned to bottle feeding. That lets Gothberg switch them to cow’s milk, which is more affordable. (She estimates goat’s milk – needed for cheese production – costs her about $20 per gallon.) Gothberg keeps a few of the kids to refresh her milking herd and sells the rest.

Goats at Gothberg Farms. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

Goats at Gothberg Farms. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

Gothberg Farms goats Jessamyn Tuttle web

After some trial and error, Gothberg Farms has settled at a permanent herd of 20 milking goats. “It’s our perfect number,” Gothberg said. “We know them all by name… we can give them everything they need.”

Being able to provide individual attention to every goat led to them becoming the first dairy in Washington to attain Animal Welfare Approved status. The goats are milked by machine, but most of the work on the farm and in the cheeseroom is done by hand.

“We’re very old school,” Gothberg said.

The goats live in a comfortable barn with access to open pasture, and are fed on hay grown on the property as well as a custom grain blend that Gothberg has made for her at Conway Feed.

“I put as much science into the goats and their care as I do in the cheesemaking,” she said.

Gothberg makes 32 different products, ranging from seasonally available fresh cheeses like chèvre and ricotta to aged cheeses like cheddar and Gruyere, plus Greek yogurt in the summers. The fresh chèvre is a personal favorite of Gothberg’s for its versatility.

“It goes with everything,” she said.

Gothberg also particularly loves her Caerphilly cheese, a Welsh style similar to a cross between gouda and cheddar, and a gouda called Cinco de Mayo with red chile and garlic.

“It’s my Texan side coming out,” she said.

One of the most popular cheeses is one of her own creations called Woman of La Mancha, an aged cheese rubbed with smoked paprika, and for Boundary Bay Brewery she makes a special cheese called Buck’s Brew, brined in the brewery’s Scotch Ale. She’s isn’t personally fond of mold ripened cheeses, so she doesn’t make them. “I don’t make a cheese I don’t love to eat,” Gothberg said.

Farm products are sold at the Anacortes, Bellingham and Everett farmers markets, and through a few stores including the Bellingham Community Co-op and the Seattle-area Metropolitan Market chain. Her cheese is also on the menu at various local restaurants, such as Chuckanut Manor, Nell Thorn and Grand Central Bakery, plus Molly Moon’s ice cream in Seattle recently offered a special flavor of Peach Goat Cheese with Gothberg’s chèvre. But to get it straight from the source, locals and day-trippers can visit an honor box stocked outside her barn, just a few feet from the milking parlor. Cheese doesn’t get much fresher than that.

Gothberg Farms is located at 15203 Sunset Road in Bow. Visit online at www.gothbergfarms.com.

 

Published in the May 2015 issue of Grow Northwest

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