They are named by virtue of their characteristics: Freckles is dappled with freckles, Clove is the color of her namesake spice, and yes, Shakira “sings.”
Most are a breed of goat called “Nubian,” although there are a few Swiss Saanen and Alpines in the mix as well. Mary Ann Andrews, rancher, cheesemaker and owner of Dream Catcher Ranchito, experimented with a few different breeds before she committed to the Nubian. Brought to the States by European settlers, these hardy goats originated from the Middle East and North Africa, making them beautifully suited to the high-desert landscape in which they now thrive. Although on average Nubians produce a smaller volume of milk, the milk they do produce has the highest butterfat content––“equivalent to a Jersey Cow!” according to Mary Ann. The butterfat contributes to a better tasting milk. And high butterfat content and that signature great flavor combine to create the creamy, delicious, “un-goaty” goat cheese for which Dream Catcher Ranchito, located southwest of Santa Fe, is now known.
Twice each day, Freckles, Clove and the rest of their herd sisters are led by a familiar handler to their milking, after which they receive a treat they enjoy as much for its flavor as we do its whimsical allusion: a handful of animal crackers, of course. These are happy goats. That’s Mary Ann’s motto: Happy goats make the best milk. And from the best milk comes the best cheese.
Looking around these 10 acres of paddocks—for goats, alpacas, the two huge white Great Pyrenees who guard their flocks and free-range chickens—as well as the barn, the house and the commercial kitchen that comprise the Ranchito, it’s hard to believe that a little over 10 years ago, Mary Ann knew nothing of goats. She’d spent her career as a financial planner in Kentucky. And while she’s originally a city girl from Wisconsin, that state’s great reputation for all things cheese is the only hint––and a distant one at that––that Mary Ann’s passion would become making goat cheese in the Southwest. “Retirement,” she explains, “opens up the possibility of other things.” She was drawn to Santa Fe because the mountains “make her heart sing,” and surely the view of the Sangre de Cristo range from the Ranchito keeps her nearly always in song. She had no previous experience with ranching or animal husbandry, but had always loved animals. Continue reading