Saturday, August 14, 2010

Down on the (Goat) Farm


In a series of moves that took her further into the rural landscape of West Michigan, Cathy Halinski moved to South Haven from Chicago but in a few years decided she didn’t want to live anymore in a subdivision. The next step for Halinski and her husband Tom, was a 125 year old farm house set on 40 acres on a country road southwest of Fennville.


The house needed work and when Halinski came home one day, a carpenter told her a goat had run into the house through an open door. Halinski wasn’t sure whether to believe him or not but then the goat came back into the room.

“My husband got me another goat to keep that one company,” says Halinski. “I like to say that the goats found me.”

Goats no longer roam the house, instead they’re kept in a series of pens in the back, their milk used to make the goat’s milk cheeses that Halinski sells at her Evergreen Lane Farm and Creamery as well as at the South Haven Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings. It is also used in such restaurants as Salt of the Earth in Fennville and the New Holland Brewing Company in Holland.

“11 of my goats are out working,” Halinski tells me as we walk through fields of goat food or as we call it -- Queen Anne’s Lace and purple thistle. Working, in goat speak, mean chewing on apple leaves, raspberry bushes and an assortment of wild flowers. Other goats sleep in the sun or come over for head petting and with, probably, a hope of food.

For those who don’t know much about goats, and I count myself as one of that group, it’s interesting to learn that goats are for the most part sweet natured, like human attention and have personalities – rather like dogs and not at all like cows or sheep.

After adopting her goats, Halinski studied cheese making from the University of Vermont.

“I had been making cheese on an amateur basis for years,” she says noting that she decided to open a cheeserie in 2008. Currently she has almost 40 LaMancha goats which she describes as dairy animals that produce high quality milk. She also makes her Poets Tomme, a semi-hard, washed rind cheese made from raw cow's milk, getting the milk from a dairy north of Holland.

The cheese is made in a small building near the goat pens and inside, it has the tangy smell of ripening cheese. The dress code requires boots, lab coat and hair net. Depending upon the cheese, aging can take up to several months and is done so in the curing room which is kept at about 50 to 55 degrees and at a 90% humidity.

“Goats’ milk cheese never develops the yellow color of cows’ milk cheese,” says Halinski, showing me racks of her Poet Tomme, a cows’ milk cheese that turns more golden in color as it ages. Goats’ milk cheese, whether it’s the fresh chèvre which ages about four days to the Pyramid Pointe whose rind is blackened with ash, is always white.

Farm to table is one of the prevailing trends in food today and so I follow the cheese, so to speak, to Salt of the Earth. In the busy kitchen with its brick walls and tile floors, I meet with Matt Pietsch, the executive chef. Pietsch, though only 27, has quite a food pedigree. After giving leaving engineering school and eschewing dreams of being a roadie because he was into sound, he turned to cooking. He worked at the well known Opus One in Detroit and helped opened Michael Symon’s Roast, a very popular Detroit restaurant where the focus is on big cuts of meat. Because of this background, Pietsch, who grew up in Muskegon and wanted to get back to this side of the state, doesn’t just order Berkshire pork from a local farm already packaged up, he has it delivered and cuts the meat himself.

In other words, Pietsch is a food purist and he loves the idea of using local.

“We met the goats, we know the lady and the cheese is made down the road,” he says when asked why he chose to use Evergreen Lane cheeses.  And here are several recipes he developed using her cheeses.



Matt Pietsch’s Wild Mushroom and Goat Cheese Pizza


1 recipe for favorite pizza dough

Fresh mushrooms such as chanterelles, oyster, shiitake or cremini, cleaned and sliced

Fresh chèvre

Pinch freshly minced garlic

Pinch finely chopped shallot

Arugula

Chives

Roll out pizza dough.

Sear mushrooms in butter over high heat until caramelized.

Top pizza with mushrooms and dabs of chèvre. Add pinch of minced garlic and shallots. Bake in hot oven until dough is golden. Remove from heat and top with chopped arugula and chives.

Matt Pietsch’s Goat Cheese Salad

Assortment of baby greens

One fourth cup blueberries 

1 quartered breakfast radish or regular radish

Two slices of Pyramid Pointe

Place greens on a salad plate. Place radish along the side of the lettuce. Add blueberries to the top and then cheese.

Honey Yogurt Vinaigrette

½ cup Greek style yogurt, plain

Honey to taste

Mix together and serve on salad.

Matt Pietsch’s Goat Cheese and Fruit Dessert

One pear, roasted and then quartered

Fresh plum, quartered and stone removed

One fresh plum 

A slice of brioche, toasted

LaMancha Moon Camembert

Honey

Sauté brioche in butter. Place on plate. Arrange pear, plum and plum quarters around the plate. Top warm brioche with slices of camembert.

Add a little honey to the plate and granulated honey if available.

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