Every bit as beautiful as its name would suggest, Dreamfarm sits on a ridge above the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in Cross Plains, Wisconsin. The 25-acre farm, owned and operated by Diana and Jim Murphy, is the couple’s dream realized. After purchasing the farm eight years ago, they began exploring fresh, artisanal goat-cheese making. Recently, while finishing up the pasteurization of 254 pounds of fresh goat milk, Diana shared the history of their business as well as her path to becoming a certified cheesemaker.
The couple had originally been living just three miles down the road with their four daughters. Diana was enjoying work at Vermont Valley Farm. After a long search, they found and moved onto their new farm. They started with a couple of bunnies, a couple of pygmy goats, and a couple of chickens. Born and raised seventh of eleven children on a traditional dairy farm, it didn’t take Diana long to realize, “We got to the point where if an animal was on the farm, they had to give back in some sense, so we converted from the pygmy goats to the dairy goats, and we had more milk than we knew what to do with.” Knowing that she eventually wanted to begin making cheese, Diana settled on raising Nubian and Alpine goats in order to capture the best of each breed in their offspring. (Nubians are known for producing milk high in butterfat but less in volume, whereas Alpines are known to be big producers with a lower butterfat content in their milk.)
CERTIFICATION AND BEYOND
Diana began by experimenting with making cheese in her home kitchen and bringing samples of her fresh cheeses to Vermont Valley Farm owners Barb and Dave Perkins, who eventually offered to include Dreamfarm cheeses and eggs in their CSA. Through a value-added artisanal cheesemaker program designed by Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) and the University of Wisconsin, Diana achieved certification. Going back to school years after completing her art degree, Diana took the required classes over two years at the UW-Madison and performed a 240-hour internship at Cedar Grove Dairy in Plain, Wisconsin.
After passing her certification test and without a dairy to call her own, Diana needed a resource to begin using their goat milk and producing cheeses. Soon, Anne Topham, owner of nearby Fantome Farm, struck a deal with Diana—she could make goat cheese in their dairy in exchange for her assistance on the Fantome Farm. It was through this valuable experience with Anne (a pioneer in the making of artisanal goat cheese) that Diana learned what was needed for running a small-scale cheese-making operation. In doing this, she also made an important connection for procuring her own dairy equipment.
Just when Diana was beginning to look at building her own kitchen, a small-scale cheesemaker in Arkansas was looking to sell their complete kitchen but only to a serious artisan. Diana praises Anne, who she said not only provided her with a lot of knowledge but also vouched for her and assured the seller that their equipment would continue to be put to good use in a small-scale cheesemaking dairy. After the cheesemaker shipped the kitchen to Wisconsin, Diana and Jim spent two seasons converting one of the buildings on their property into a certified dairy which was completed over three years ago.
MINIMALLY PROCESSED CHEESE
Diana now milks 20 goats two times daily, and Jim helps with the morning chores before going to work, but the actual cheesemaking is a solo pursuit for Diana. After milking the goats—four at a time with a vacuum line into buckets—she hauls the milk from the milk house and loads it into the pasteurizer where the milk is brought up to 145 degrees and held there for 30 minutes. Once cooled down to 80 degrees, Diana pours out a bucket of pasteurized milk and sets it aside for the kids in the barn. Feeding them pasteurized milk helps to prevent several common goat maladies from being passed to the offspring. Rennet is then added to the remaining milk in the vat where it is left to coagulate until the next day when Diana checks the pH to determine if it’s ready for the next step. Skimming off little layers at a time, Diana moves the yogurt-textured milk into cheesecloth-lined stainless steel baskets placed on a drain-table to allow water in the milk to drain away.
After draining has removed a significant amount of the water, the soft, creamy cheese left behind is ready to be either packaged as plain fresh cheese, or mixed with spices for one of the deliciously seasoned blends. Italian, Herbes de Provence, Pepper, Garlic and Dill are among the current blends available in the Co-op’s cheese case, but Diana says she’s always experimenting and has several other varieties in the works, including a soft-ripened cheese she has named Rosebud.
After seven years of making cheese and living on Dreamfarm, and with a characteristically wide smile on her face, Diana summarized her satisfaction with the decision to become a cheesemaker, “I get to milk the goats; I get to make the cheese; I get to see the people who buy the cheese. I like that I can see it go full circle; I think it’s part of that creative edge of me.”