Anne and Johnny Jones started Latte Da Dairy in 2005 with five acres of land and a wild cheese-making dream. Anne, a veterinarian by trade, bought just two goats to get started and named them Serenity and Rosemary. But, no kidding, things have really changed in eight years. On April Fool's Day this year (although it absolutely wasn't a joke) they posted pictures of the most recent addition to their herd, "Babies 30 & 31 born last night. 2 LaMancha boys."
The Jones have both LaManchas and Nubians, which are a breed of goats that produce milk with a high butterfat content and, since they are by genetically inclined to tolerate warmer temperatures, are the ideal dairy goats for this area. The Nubians' long soft ears frame almond-shaped eyes that give them a delicate and wise appearance.
At Latte Da Dairy, the goats are collectively called "the girls" and "dairy divas," and they all have charismatic names like Milky Way, Wonder and Calypso. The girls also have their own security team. Kangal livestock guardian dogs (a Turkish breed) named Hanim and Abla keep a look out. Plus there's fluffy white Chuck, a Great Pyrenees.
The Joneses, the goats and the guard dogs are all one big happy cheese-making family. And they're pretty good at it too. Latte Da Dairy works under a set of core values to produce a superior Grade A milk cheese and use near-organic practices to produce a pure product.
Last year at the Great American Cheese Society annual competition, Latte Da Dairy took home third place with their Latte Da Caerphilly in the category of goat cheeses aged for more than 60 days. They also took second with a chocolate goat cheese truffle in the "flavor added" category. Considering they were up against some of the best and oldest cheese makers in the world, this was quite an impressive feat.
But, it's not easy to jump from novice to make award-winning cheese.
"It is easy to make a mediocre product," Anne says, "but a bigger challenge to make a superior product. We set out to do this on a scale that we felt comfortable with and with goats as the centerpiece. Milk quality and cheese quality then followed."
With that high standard comes some challenges. "At the scale we do this, we need to charge a premium price yet still make very little (sometimes no) profit."
Fortunately, the Dallas palate has come a long way, even since when they started their small cheese making business a few years ago.
"We've been fortunate that the DFW consumer values what we do and are willing to support us as dairy farmers and artisan cheese makers," says Anne. But, she offers a bit of advice for any budding cheese makers out there with their eye on a couple wide-eyed Nubian goats:
"Think long and hard about this. Do your research. I often get people who say, 'Oh, I want to make cheese!' They have a romantic idea that I play with and enjoy the goats all day long. Or that I milk the goats and make cheese while sipping on a nice cabernet. Not true! It's minimal profit for extreme amount of work, effort and commitment. The only way you can do this & be successful, or stay sane, is to have a true passion for it."
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Latte Da Dairy goat cheese can be found at all area Central Markets, Scardello, the White Rock Local Market and both Coppell and Fort Worth Farmers Markets. They offer a selection of Chevre, feta, Brie, Gouda and Caerphilly.
Several local restaurants also include the goat cheese on many of their dishes, including Abacus, Rathbun's Blue Plate Kitchen, The Mansion, Smoke, Oceanaire and Café Modern.
Latte Da Dairy will host an open house on May 12 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. if you'd like to meet the girls and learn a little more about the Latte Da Dairy operation.
And about those 31 goats, some of those kids are actually for sale, if you're in the market.