A Goaty Getaway
Ten years ago, most people would have scratched their heads in befuddlement if you asked them about agritourism. Back then, the European tradition of tourists paying to stay at a working farm, ranch, or winery was just making its way to the U.S. Times have changed, however, and today culinary tourism is the fastest-growing sector of the domestic travel industry, of which farm stays are a major component.
In the Aspen area, we have a few agritourism options to choose from, with the newest coming from cheesemaker Wendy Mitchell of the award-winning Avalanche Cheese Company (Mitchell also owns the wonderful new Aspen restaurant/farm shop, Meat & Cheese, profiled in our Winter ’15 issue). While the creamery is located in Basalt, Mitchell and her husband Todd own a 130-acre farm in Paonia, where the dairy is based. Until last year, the couple and their two children divided their time between their home in Aspen and a historic cabin they renovated on the farm. But Mitchell—a born entrepreneur if ever there was one—wanted to give agritourism a go, and so the cabin has become a year-round rental property that can accommodate up to four.
Part of Mitchell’s goal was to enable visitors to learn more about life on her high-altitude dairy, and give them the opportunity to assist with farm chores. Every spring, Avalanche’s herd of 200 goats begin kidding, which means that in the span of about two months, 400 baby goats are born, making this the busiest—but most rewarding—time to visit. With the guidance of the farm staff, guests can take an introductory milking lesson, and spend time holding and hanging with the kids and does. It’s also an opportunity to observe birthing, feed the animals, collect eggs, and take a supervised farm tour.
I grew up raising dairy goats on a small ranch in California, yet the thrill of seeing (and desire to cuddle) newborn kids never goes away. A year ago, I headed to Paonia to spend a night at the cabin and help with kidding. I got lucky on my visit—there was a baby boom, with 12 kids born in under 12 hours, which kept the staff (and me) busy. I worked alongside farm facilities manager Corey Obert, cleaning off newborns (a number of does had multiple births, so assisting them with this task kept the babies from getting chilled in the nippy February air); checking them into the “maternity ward,” where they’re named, tagged, weighed, and logged-in; and bottle-feeding.
This year, the dairy has implemented a new system to eliminate the laborious (if adorable) process of round-the-clock bottle-feeding. The babies are instead left with their mothers and allowed to nurse until they’re weaned at 60 days. While this is as nature intended, few goat dairies adhere to this practice because the milk is usually needed for cheese production—which produces much-needed revenue following the dormant winter season. Avalanche’s switch from bottle feeding to “natural” nursing is the result of a trial run from last season; the farm management team found that leaving the kids and does together reduced their stress levels, increased their overall health, and at the end of the year, there was no negative effect on the total quantity of milk produced.
The bedroom features an antique Queen bed, while the snug sleeping loft has two twin beds and two queen futons. The open living and dining area feature a small but well-equipped kitchen (your rental includes a welcome basket stocked with Avalanche cheese, salumi, and crackers, as well as a carton of farm eggs and local fruit, if available), charcoal grill, electric range, oven, refrigerator and Nespresso coffee maker. Outside, there’s a fire pit and bikes for cruising to the milking parlor and barns or into town. Situated at the far edge of the property, the cabin is peaceful and roughly a quarter-mile away from the other farm structures, so your only distractions will be the mountain views and those irresistible baby goats.
There are worse ways to spend a couple of days, no?
While you’re in Paonia, be sure to check out Revolution Brewing, a brewery/tasting room located in a former church; the hops are sourced from nearby farms. For delicious baked treats and locally-sourced (in season) Mediterranean fare, there’s Flying Fork Café, and Big B’s, a family-owned farm stand sells their signature cider as well as local honey, wine, seasonal produce, and jam. The tiny café section offers fresh, healthy fare sourced from the Western Slope, prepared to order.
Nectarine, Prosciutto & Arugula Salad with Lamborn Bloomers
I adapted this recipe from one I used in my book, Cheese for Dummies. It’s full of lush flavors — creamy, tangy cheese, the sweet perfume of nectarines, and salty ham. Lamborn Bloomers is a lovely Robiola-style cheese created by Wendy Mitchell, although the salad is also delicious with fresh chevre or a blue cheese; you can also try grilling the halved fruit, first. If local nectarines aren’t in season or available in your area, you can use good-quality dried peaches, nectarines, plums, or figs, or try cherries. In winter, I like to use tangerines or blood orange segments.
Recipe by Laurel Miller, adapted and reprinted with permission from Cheese for Dummies (by Laurel Miller and Thalassa Skinner, Wiley, ©2012)
- 4 slices good-quality baguette, ¼-inch thick and cut on a long bias, brushed lightly with extra virgin olive oil
- 4 ounces (¼ pound) Avalanche Cheese Company Lamborn Bloomers
- 2 teaspoons finely minced shallot
- 2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil, or to taste
- 2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
- 5 cups baby arugula
- 2–3 medium nectarines, ripe but not mushy (they should be able to slice cleanly into ¼-inch slices)
- 4 ounces Prosciutto di Parma, sliced paper thin (about eight slices). Tear each slice into halves or thirds, so you have medium-size pieces that will drape nicely on the salad.
- ¼ cup Marcona almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 350° and toast baguette slices until golden. Set aside.
For the Vinaigrette: Place the shallot and vinegar together in a small bowl and let macerate for at least 10 minutes and up to one hour to mellow the flavor of the shallot. Add the remaining ingredients, whisking to combine. Adjust seasoning, if necessary. If not using immediately, add mint just prior to serving, whisking in to combine.
Spread each toast with a generous amount of Lamborn Bloomers.
For the Salad: In a large bowl, toss the arugula with a small amount of vinaigrette, just enough to lightly coat the leaves. Add nectarine slices and gently toss one more time to coat nectarines without bruising them. Arrange mound of arugula on each of four salad plates, adding several nectarine segments tucked into sides. Drape the prosciutto slices onto the salad, and place a cheese toast on each plate. Serve immediately.