Goat’s Milk Artisan Cheese Debuts in Loudoun County

6/29/2013 7:00 AM
By Shannon Sollinger Virginia Correspondent

LOVETTSVILLE, Va. —  Cheese making is part science and part art with a healthy dose of intuition and sensitive taste buds. And that’s exactly what Molly Kroiz, Loudoun County’s newest cheese maker and goat herder, likes about it.

“I like that it’s hands-on, you’re always handling it,” Molly said. “There’s still a lot of science in cheese making, so that part of my brain gets engaged — it’s a nice mix between art and science.”

She also likes, she said, the fact that “there’s an endless amount to know, to come up with new things.”

With her husband, Sam Kroiz, she has launched George’s Mill Farm Artisan Cheese on 100 acres in northeast Loudoun not far from the Potomac River. Sam Kroiz’s ancestor John George settled here in 1732 and his direct descendant, Sam’s grandmother Fran Wire, operates the stone bed and breakfast — completed by John George’s grandson, Samuel, in 1869 — just a stone’s throw from the Civil War barn that houses the goats and fledgling dairy.

The county’s newest cheese makers took a roundabout route to meet, marry and set up farming in Sam’s native Loudoun County. She grew up in Maine, got a biology degree at Mount Allison University in Canada and went to Washington state for graduate school. He’s a U.Va. grad in environmental engineering and they met at a remote — two hours by air from Anchorage, no roads —Alaskan outpost researching fisheries.

By 2010, they were living in southwest Washington state and ready for a change. She was researching fish genetics for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “That put me behind a computer, which was horrible,” Molly recalled.

“We didn’t like where we were, I didn’t like my job, Sam couldn’t find work. We started looking around for alternatives.”

How about cheese making? She had dabbled in it in her own kitchen in Seattle. Sam’s family had farmland in the wealthiest county in the nation where the market for artisan cheeses should be robust.

They settled in at George’s Mill Farm in August 2011, got married at the B&B in October and bought the first goat the following spring.

Molly chose Alpine dairy goats because their milk and butterfat production is good. And she likes the variations in their coat colors. One youngster from this year’s crop — dubbed Fabio — is a cream-buff-charcoal blend and is staying a buck to add his genetics to next year’s crop.

She hand-milked a growing number of goats for a year and experimented with cheese making in the kitchen. By spring 2013, they had installed a milking parlor, complete with vacuum milk lines, on the top floor of the old bank barn and completed a sealed-room, clean cheese making room. Guests can watch her making cheese, which she does every third day, through a large window but not enter the area.

Setting up a small dairy can cost about $100,000, Molly said, but they cut that up-front investment by more than half by doing all the labor themselves — Sam’s carpentry skills were an essential ingredient.

On June 5, the dairy got its Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences permit to produce, but not sell, milk. Molly’s been turning out three varieties of cheese since that day — the Dutchman’s Creek Chevre is ready to eat and to sell as soon as it sets up; the Catoctin “bloomy-rind” ages for up to two weeks and the first batch will be ready for consumers next week, and the feta ages 60 days.

She chose these varieties, Molly said, because they are ready for market at once or very soon. That is going to help with cash flow in the first year of the business.

Her days start early and run long. Up at 4:30 a.m., re-clean the milking parlor, prepare the four milking stations, let four milking does in at a time (she’s milking 11 now, but that number could grow to 25 within a year), herd the goats back to their run-in shed and field, store the milk in stainless steel cans in a stainless steel cooler, wash and double wash everything and sweep out the parlor.

Feed the kids born this spring that haven’t graduated to forage. Check the goats for parasites and health issues. Medicate, as needed — any does being medicated get milked, but that milk is not used for cheese. Every third day, pasteurize about 20 gallons of milk and make cheese. Feed the kids again. Milk again. Feed the kids again and go to bed. And somewhere in there, eat breakfast and lunch.

And in her spare time, she delivers cheese to their 2013 Artisan Cheese CSA members — every other week from early June through October.

“I am very happy with it,” Moly said with a broad smile. Definitely not behind a computer.

That schedule will continue until sometime in December when the does dry up, about two months before giving birth.

And sometime in March or April, the does produce kids, freshen up and the cycle starts again.

Every Saturday morning, the Kroizes head for the Purcellville Farmers Market with a supply of fresh Dutchman’s Creek Chevre, the creamy, classic goat’s milk cheese. The chevre is available plain or with herbs and garlic added — it sold out completely at its second week at the Purcellville Farmers Market.

In another week, she’ll have her first commercial batch of Catoctin, a semi-soft cheese known as a “bloomy rind,” in the same family as brie and camembert. It ages for up to two weeks, and the white Penicillium candidum mold that grows on its surface gives it a white, soft, slightly fuzzy rind and its “earthy mushroomy” flavor.

In the not-too-distant future, when she and Sam have moved the milking parlor to the barn’s ground floor and increased its capacity, and have added a walk-in temperature-and humidity-controlled cooler suitable for aging, she said she wants to add a blue cheese and a “Tomme” to her palette.

Tommes are a group of harder cheeses produced mainly in the French Alps and Switzerland from skimmed cow, ewe or goat milk — they are lower in fat and offer an edible rind, dark and textured after seven weeks or more of aging.

Tommes in Europe typically carry the name of the locale where they were made — Tomme du Savoie, Tomme du Revard, Tomme Boudane. Watch the menu at Lovettsville’s Market Table Bistro for the inaugural Tomme de Loudoun.

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