The Key to Good Cheese? You Gotta Love Your Goats. (No. Not That Way.)

When a dish transcends its components, its circumstances and a critic's expectations, it's almost invariably described as "made with love." The treacly sentiment may or may not hold true in the kitchen, but a recent tour of goat dairies in the area demonstrated how much unconditional affection has contributed to the quality of the local cheese scene.

"You've got to love the goats," explains Maryann Lynch, an amateur farmstead cheese maker who joined Scardello's annual local cheese tour Saturday. "You can't produce high-quality milk unless your goats are very healthy, so you've got to be completely attuned to them"

The featured cheese makers' adoration for their animals was immediately apparent to those who took the tour, who heard far more about debudding horns, mastitis and goats' favorite music for milking (they're partial to soft rock) than texture and herb coatings.

While Cheryl Haubrich (On Pure Ground, Bonham) and Anne Jones (Latte Da Dairy, Flower Mound) are extraordinarily serious about the quality of their cheeses, they clearly see themselves as conduits for their herds' marvelously pure output rather than craftswomen making magic with raw milk. At both dairies, the rambunctious goats -- not the kalamata olive feta that Jones sells to restaurants such as Abacus and York Street, or the delicate chevre that Haubrich layers with honey and figs -- are the stars.

Jones, a former veterinarian, doesn't like to mess with the milk from her Nubian and La Mancha "divas," all of whom are named for accomplished women: There's an Oprah, Amelia and Jackie O among the goats settling under a shade tree and nibbling alfalfa. Jones is so committed to a hands-off approach that she prefers to sprinkle seasonings on her fresh chevre rather than subject the soft cheese to an electric mixer.

"You can make a lousy cheese from really good milk, but you can't make a really good cheese from lousy milk," says Jones, explaining why she devotes most of her 14-hour long workdays to safeguarding her goats' health and happiness.

Jones started making cheese in 2006, not long after sampling fresh goat milk from Pure Luck Dairy in Dripping Springs.

"I just fell in love with it," she recalls. "And I've always liked goats: They're gentle, kind creatures."

Cheryl Haubrich's husband, Paul, who ran a mainframe computing company for two decades before the couple launched its dairy in 2007, feels the same way about On Pure Ground's herd:

"They're wonderful little animals," he says.

Scardello's owner, Rich Rogers, says many new cheese makers like Jones and Haubrich are dedicated to "animal husbandry," a somewhat creaky concept in the age of industrial farming. He believes their superior goat tending has helped raise the bar for Dallas cheese. "That's why the cheese tastes like the cheese tastes," he says.

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Hanna Raskin
Contact: Hanna Raskin