In March, 2015 Debbie and I were in Milwaukee for a conference, and we decided to take an afternoon to tour Southern Wisconsin farm country - which Debbie had never seen (California girl).
Knowing that Wisconsin is the largest producer of goat cheese, on a lark we decided to find a goat creamery to visit. Fortunately for us, when you search that in Google, La Clare Farms is high on the first page. We discovered that we would get there just in time to view a milking.
Since this was an unplanned trip, we had not done any background research on La Clare Farms and we had no expectations. As a result, it was a wonderful surprise to find that this was a model goat creamery and store - which gave us a first-hand look at how it can done at the highest level of quality in all respects. The viewing area for the milk parlor, the store, and the cafe were all superlative.
If you have never watched large scale goat milking, this alone is worth the trip. As I was to later learn first-hand, goats are smart, quirky, opinionated, and routine-oriented. As a result, large scale milking is part routine and part chaos. As I look back on this now, I can't begin to imagine dealing with this many goats milking at once! We were both very impressed by the impact that having a viewing area and arranging a schedule for customers to be able to watch milking could have on understanding exactly what goes into making the food that you eat.
After viewing the milking, we went to the cafe for lunch. We started with a sampler cheese board, and then had sandwiches.
This cheese board was the first time that we realized that it was possible for goat cheese to actually be superior to cow cheese. We decided during this lunch that this was a goal for our new creamery, we were going to make goat cheese that not only didn't taste 'goaty', but was truly exceptional ... like they make there at La Clare.
Then, the lunch was just as good. It was served by their Cordon Bleu trained chef, who explained the source of each ingredient in our lunch in detail (all local, farm-to-table). The cafe was large enough to accomodate large gatherings, and it is tastefully simple - and, like all things dairy - almost obsessively clean. While we enjoyed their cafe immensely, that is a whole business unto itself and not part of our plan.
Then, we went into the retail store to stock up on some cheeses to take with us.
Knowing now what it takes to consistently produce a single cheese, the breadth of products in their retail store is mind-boggling to me.
They have a wide array of fresh and aged cheeses, fresh milk, gift baskets, pairings, candy, soaps, and probably lots of other cool stuff that I just didn't notice.
This retail store is a great model for us, minus the milk ... since our plans don't include selling milk.
Since this trip, we've visited other goat dairies here in California - which are also very impressive (more to come later on those trips). But, this visit to La Care Farms was certainly formative for us. On the drive back, and on the flight home, and over the many ensuing months - their creamery and store is a constant reference for our planning and inspiration in general.
If you have an opportunity to visit, take the time - you won't be disappointed.