They make a little wailing sound. They wobble and sloth around, blink their foggy eyes, and settle down again next to the warmth of one another. My friends and I each pick one up, wrapped in old bath towels. Mine, with long white and grey ears and a silky black coat, moans and headbutts me. He does it again. And then my nose is in his mouth. He gums at it—he won’t have teeth for a few weeks—and I feel his soft and slippery tongue on my nose. He lets go. He moans and does a little wail as he settles down. I don’t know what he is wailing about, so I jokingly tell him, “I know, I’m upset too.” He is getting accustomed to life on the outside, having just been born a few hours earlier, and I am experiencing an absolute dream come true. I am holding a baby goat. I almost want to write “I. Am. Holding. A. Baby. Goat.” so that you know exactly how important this is to me. I declare to my friends, and the goats owner, Liz Mulholland, owner and operator of Valley View Farm, that we have fallen in love. It’s that easy.
These baby boys we held were born that morning. They have eaten their first meal, dazed in and out of consciousness, and are even still a bit damp. Their coats still have remnants of the birthing process on them; their hooves are white and gelatinous. They are getting used to their bodies. I am reminded a bit of young teenagers, awkward arms and legs disproportionate to their bodies, with limbs so long and uncontrollable that they seem prohibitive to movement. I watched one kid launch himself into a contortionist backbend; he pushed his body with his hind legs into a corner of the box in which he and his brothers were resting, arms lost under his body and head bent back unnaturally against the wall. As hard as it seems to believe, these boys may take their first steps today.
They are three of the thirty-one new kids born this season at Valley View Farm. There are more to come too. The very pregnant ladies remaining were resting in the sunlit barn, one or two of which may have begun to labor within hours. These are lovely Nubian goats, quite large in size, soft haired, long eared and polite. Their milk is mild in flavor and especially good for making cheese.
Valley View Farm is the only cheese producer in Essex County; they make terribly delicious farmstead goat milk cheeses, artisanal cow’s milk cheeses, and produce maple syrup from trees on the property. Located in Topsfield, MA, they truly are a mom and pop labor of love. Run by Liz, her husband Peter, and her mother Mary, the owner of the property, they have only one intern, my friend and coworker Sabina. They are currently considering adding a cheesemaker, Luca, from Italy to make cow’s milk Italian style cheeses. Their operation is manageable and small enough to make beautiful cheeses in a quantity sufficient to meet immediate local demand.
Valley View produces seven signature cheeses. Besides a fresh whole goat’s milk feta and a chevre, the Highlander is reminiscent of a Valencay and their New Meadow similar to a goat’s milk Camembert. For their mixed milk and pure cow’s milk cheeses, Valley View gets Jersey milk from Appleton Farms and Holstein milk from Artichoke Dairy, both nearby in Essex County. Made with Jersey milk, the high butter fat helps make the Essex cheese similar to a Camembert/Double Crème cross. I polished off a round of Essex last year with a friend–it was creamy, nutty and runny, everything I look for in a brie style cheese. To make Harmony, a mix of Jersey and goat’s milk is used in the same technique as the Essex. Lastly, the Holstein milk is used to make a cow’s milk feta when goat’s milk is in short supply. Luca is experimenting with making some fresh Mozzarella, Primo Sale, and Scamorza, among others. I took home a Primo Sale, nearly finishing the entire container of Ricotta Salata-type cheese on my afternoon train to New York.
I came to Valley View with Chive, a zero waste, sustainable event design and catering outfit located in Beverly, MA. Sabina and I work with Chive from time to time, serving sweet nibbles and working out menus. They are known for their commitment to local farms, and this is how we have come to meet Liz. I originally met Chive through the restaurant I help run in Gloucester, MA, also committed to local sourcing and seasonable ingredients, where we use Valley View’s cheese. It is a match made in culinary networking heaven.
I have been interested in visiting the farm since last year, and kidding season is the perfect time to visit a goat dairy for the first time. The slightly older kids in the barn are sure footed, running and jumping off of crates and stools, long legs splayed out in mid-air glee. We feed them mother’s milk from sanitized reused Corona bottles with nipples on them. Like human babies, the kids look you in the eye as you feed them. They are tan, black, white and dark brown, soft to the touch, and eager to play. These goats have sharp baby teeth, and weren’t allowed anywhere near my nose. When the milk bottles are empty, they suck on your fingers searching for more.
Upon meeting Liz, I turned into a teenager with a crush and could barely utter a starstruck word–she’s living my dream! She is surrounded by a beautiful farm full of tapped maple trees, vegetable gardens soon to be teeming with springtime growth, and the sweetest herd of dairy goats. Her home, an 1830s farmhouse, has been in her family for years. The land is beautiful and hilly, the view far reaching. The farm will keep all the does born, and maybe a billy or two, but the rest of the boys born will be sold off as pets, meat, or as studs.
Chive is currently planning a dinner where we will highlight some of Liz’s cheeses. We will serve an assorted cheese plate starring the Harmony and Essex cheeses, which we will serve with Marcona almonds, membrillo (a quince paste jam), a winter fruit chutney, and fresh local baguette. I also plan on crumbling the Primo Sale, the ricotta-like goat cheese, with local honey and dried fruits on puff pastry. While Valley View Farm is not open to the public except for special events, their products are available in shops in the North Shore Massachusetts region and in many a local restaurant. You can also sign up to be on their mailing list via their website. Look for a small goat farm near you where you could both support a local artisan and experience the total elation of having a newborn goat gaze into your eyes, rear up, and headbutt you in the face. If you’re lucky.
To buy Valley View cheeses, see the listing of purveyors on their website.
Valley View Farm