Boston Globe – In Ohio cow country, he’s making cheese from a herd of goats
By Elizabeth Mindreau | BOSTON GLOBE CORRESPONDENT JULY 22, 2014
WAUSEON, Ohio — The flat land and fertile fields of northwest Ohio are an ideal place to grow corn and soybeans and graze cattle. One farmer has decided it’s also ideal for goats.
“I’m the only one in northwest Ohio doing this,” says Del Burkholder, 49, of Turkeyfoot Creek Creamery, located on 5 acres about 40 miles west of Toledo. “I’m a joke to a lot of people. Because it ain’t cows, it’s goats.”
The farm and creamery are set back off a long straight county road, next to a 100-year-old red barn. Burkholder, a soft-spoken and amiable cheesemaker, works on the farm that is also home to his wife, Linda, and their son Seth, 20. Youngest son Chad, 19, is home for the summer after finishing his first year of college. Linda helps with the paperwork, names the goats, and is the head of the vaccination program in Fulton County. “This is all cow country,” says Linda, “from Ohio on to the Rockies.” Despite this, her husband began making goat cheese two years ago with milk from his own herd. “This on the East or West Coast is normal, but not here,” he says.
Seventy-six of his 130 Alpine, LaMancha, and Saanen goats are milked twice a day for chevre (plain and flavored with garlic, honey, peppercorns, and pineapple), aged Gouda, cheese curds (plain, dill with garlic, and sun-dried tomato pesto), and feta. With the help of Seth, who is his business partner, Burkholder operates three facets of one business: the goats, the creamery, and sales. His weakness is sales, he says. “I don’t like being turned down. You know, that’s a negative for me. That hurts. I want everybody to use my cheese. I think it’s the best cheese out there.”
Others agree. Cheesemonger Wendy Wallace, who works for The Andersons, a Toledo-area store that sells everything from work boots to fine wines, says the Turkeyfoot Creek cheeses are “over the top fantastic” and “of the highest quality.” The store carries the entire line and Wallace says, “It’s a great seller here.” In fact, she says they are the most popular of the locally made cheeses represented in the store’s selection of over 350 domestic and international varieties.
A Dutch cheese consultant helped Burkholder install the gleaming stainless-steel cheese-making equipment that was shipped through the Great Lakes from The Netherlands. The consultant was also “hands-on showing me how to make the Gouda,” says Burkholder, whose small creamery is named for a stream that cuts along the edge of the pasture land. Turkeyfoot is becoming known among local chefs, European expats, and farmers’ market patrons.
It’s easy to understand why. Chevres are incredibly fresh and creamy. Honey from hives on the farm sweeten one of the varieties. Five- and 10-pound wheels of Gouda (traditionally made with cow’s milk), are waxed and matured in a cheese cave within the creamery. This spectacular, sharp cheese is currently sold aged seven months, but some restaurants request it aged 1½ years. Burkholder’s bestsellers are cheese curds he hand-cuts (when they’re made with cow’s milk the curds form on their own); at restaurants, they are served fresh in salads or battered and deep fried as an appetizer.
Feta is very moist, smooth, and creamy. Burkholder’s newest venture is a goat’s milk cheddar he hasn’t yet tasted. Five wheels are in the cheese cave and Burkholder says he won’t “crack one open” to try it until they have aged for three or four months.
Goats have been a part of Burkholder’s life on-and-off for over 40 years. The fourth of five children, he grew up on a farm 7 miles from the creamery, where his dad raised steers and his mom made cheese and ice cream using extra milk from Burkholder’s first goat, named Groovy, and her offspring. Before becoming a cheesemaker, Burkholder was a commercial painter until he developed an allergy to paint fumes. Now, with Seth by his side, Burkholder looks to the future.
One dream that brings a wide smile to his face is his mother’s goat’s milk ice cream. “That’s my goal,” he says. “I want to sell ice cream some day.”
For a man born and raised in cow country, goats are definitely in his future. “I can’t complain,” he says, “it’s going good.”