Dream Catcher Ranchito Goat Cheese

GMarks-DreamCatcher-16They 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

The Sawmill District…A New Urbanism

Sawmill Market rendering

Sawmill Market rendering

Today, the former home of Frank Paxton Lumber Company is a scruffy blue-and-white warehouse down Bellamah Avenue in Albuquerque’s Sawmill District. In the early 20th century, it was part of a bustling lumber district whose neighborhood-wide operations earned the quarter its moniker. In the ensuing century, Albuquerque has grown up around Paxton Lumber—most recently in the form of the residential Sawmill Lofts and the luxurious Hotel Chaco—and the neighborhood has become an A-plus location, nestled between Downtown, Old Town and the Rio Grande River. By early 2019, that vintage lumber building will be the home of the state’s first food market in the style of San Francisco’s Ferry Building Marketplace and New York’s Gotham West Market, to name two. Continue reading

Romero Farms

ROMERO_01_kl_2017Matt is one of the most popular, colorful vendors at the market, offering samples, recipe ideas, growing tips and answers to just about any question a shopper may have. He is what you might call “a farmer’s farmer”—skilled at his craft, devoted to his labor and happy to share what he’s learned with others. Yet Matt didn’t grow up on a farm and he didn’t harbor a lifelong desire to connect to the land through growing things. He worked as a chef, instead, honing a creative sense of flavor and an instinct for what people like to eat.

“I know I’m doing the planet a favor, but that’s not why I’m doing it,” Matt says, taking a break from mowing on a recent spring morning at the farm. “I’ve always loved producing good food for people, whether it was at a restaurant and I bought and cooked it, or here on the farm, where I grow it. I still feel pride over what I do and the knowledge that I share with people. For example, someone will say ‘I don’t like radishes.’ If you don’t like them, and then you try them, then you’re a perfect test case. Every year, I see people try things they don’t like and then they taste it and they change their mind.” (Case in point: when I arrive at the farm for our interview, Matt hands me a warm breakfast burrito, stuffed with his red chile and homemade elk sausage sourced from an animal he and his daughter brought home from a hunting trip. Although I normally don’t eat elk, this was one of the best burritos I’ve ever had.) Continue reading

The Corn Man

Taos Family Foods

Taos Family Foods

Have you ever counted the kernels on a single cob of corn? Each seed is secured within a meandering row running the length of the cob. And sure, you could count each kernel, but knowing the number would not describe one cob of corn any better than simply knowing the taste of it, or feeling its rhythmic surface in your hand.

This is a tale of a few of those kernels of corn. There is no single story of corn in New Mexico. From an agricultural perspective, corn is so integral to the mythology, landscape, agricultural and aesthetic landscape of New Mexico that it could take multiple shelves of the library to tell that story in a truly comprehensive way. Instead, we are going to travel the route of one row of kernels on one cob of corn, to see where those stories lead.

The seeds of this particular story were first planted over three decades ago. Today, just minutes from Taos Plaza, on a surprisingly chilly mid-May morning, native corn seed is being planted in rows. The seed falls from a 37-year-old piece of machinery called a “planter” (affectionately named Romeo) attached to a 38-year-old John Deere named Moses, driven by a young man from Arkansas. Lifelong farmer David Frazier likes to name his machines because he looks forward to a long working relationship with them. His young dog Critter runs alongside, always with David in her sights…except perhaps when she sees a rabbit. Continue reading

The Big Chèvre – Old Windmill Dairy

DSC_2284Can baby goats stampede? I’m still not sure, but I am sure that 70-some two-month-old kids unleashed from their corral and running toward awaiting bottles is an entirely joyful sight. Their long ears flopping, their spindly legs barely finding purchase on quarter-size hoofs. This spring, my fellow baby goat feeders at The Old Windmill Dairy’s farm visit wait innocently as the wave of goats floods us, pooling around our knees, and voraciously searching for their bottles. When they can’t find one or they get shouldered aside, they settle for suckling our fingers or untying our shoelaces. Effervescent laughter ripples through the crowd. A few minutes later, their bellies absurdly bloated on their tiny frames, the babies demur. I pick one up, No. 245, and—after a failed attempt at eating my earring—she tucks her feet into the crook of my arm like a cat, settling in for a nap.

Awash in this overwhelming adorableness, it’s easy to forget: Soon, these kids will grow up and, like their milk-heavy mothers, help make some seriously good farmstead cheese. Since it opened in July 2007 as a Grade-A dairy, The Old Windmill Dairy has earned a handful of awards for its popular chèvres as well as its semi-hard cheeses. Fifteen years into his business journey, Michael Lobaugh lights up recalling when he’s earned compliments from his customers. “The joy of it is seeing the end product,” he says. Continue reading

Garden With a Tender Heart

Bullock's Oriole nest

Bullock’s Oriole nest

Pamela Geyer’s garden is a Santa Fe oasis, a tangle of flowers, bushes, trees, birdhouses, birdbaths, rain barrels, composters, watering hoses and more. Orioles, towhees, cedar waxwings and other birds flit from branch to branch, darting down to feast from dangling suet cages, protected in this safe haven from predators, wind and other threats.

Pam’s garden lies a block away from the Santa Fe River, a well-traveled migratory corridor for all kinds of wildlife, including more than 40 types of birds that visit her garden throughout the year. To provide them with food and shelter, Pam’s planted flowers in a variety of colors and shapes so they appeal to a range of birds; three different honeysuckles that bloom at different times, providing food throughout the season; and trees and bushes at varying levels, appealing to ground-feeders, mid-level and canopy birds. She’s also created a garden for hummingbirds and another for bees. Continue reading