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Yerba Santa Goat Dairy

Yerba Santa Dairy’s Bodega goat cheese

California’s North Coast is home to a variety of goat dairies that produce some wonderful cheeses that have the benefit of being lower in fat than traditional cheese and a delight that even lactose-intolerant individuals can enjoy. Recently we visited two of the goat dairies in the north coast to see where our cheese comes from.

The North Coast is actually home to quite a few goat diaries including Cypress Grove in Arcata, Pennyroyal Farm in Anderson Valley and Yerba Santa Dairy in Lake County.

Yerba Santa’s goat cheese can be found at Lake County’s Certified Farmers Markets as well as in several other places including a farmers market as far away as San Francisco. The experience of visiting owners Javier and Elodie Salmon started specifically coming across Javier picking fresh herbs from their garden to include in some of their Queso Cremas, a creamy spreadable goat cheese made from 100% goat’s milk and yogurt cultures which is a wonderful treat that is an alternative to sour cream. You can get yours with or without the herbs and it’s wise to try both variants.

Javier Salmon picks fresh herbs for his goat cheese at Yerba Santa goat cheese dairy.

Javier Salmon picks fresh herbs for his goat cheese at Yerba Santa Goat Dairy.

As we spoke Javier cleansed and ground the herbs while student travelers packed up the wonderful cheeses. Javier is the second of three generations in this business having learned the trade from his father in Peru.

Like all sorts of dairies, one that specializes in goat’s milk sees long days and both Javier and Elodie are the core of the operation. Elodie had just finished milking the goats and was scrubbing down the milking station, talking about the process of turning the milk into the cheese that is so popular at the markets.

For their cheeses the ingredients lists are very, very short. They have Queso fresco, which is similar to feta cheese; Queso Crema, similar to sour cream and then Queso Cabrero, a raw milk product aged 60-90 days. For the special treat, you can get the Queso Cabrero dipped in Javier’s own home-made wine. Lastly, the youngest Salmon cheese maker, Jaime, puts a sweet side to their products with his Natilla, a Peruvian dessert sauce made with goat’s milk that has a wonderful caramel-like taste to it. Sea salt and yogurt cultures plus goat’s milk is the extent of the ingredients in Queso Fresco.

Pennyroyal Farm & Winery in Anderson Valley is another place to find goats along with some very nice wines so that was the next destination and it didn’t disappoint. The new, solar-powered venue uses the goats, chickens, sheep and even a llama as part of an ecosystem to help grow the wine grapes in a sustainable fashion. We enjoyed a really nice rose along with a plate of their wonderful goat cheese. As well as an incredible dish that featured polenta, bacon, asparagus and wild greens topped with a farm-fresh fried egg.

Polenta, bacon and asparagus along with a farm-fresh egg at Pennyroyal Farm.

That dish alone is worth the trip to Anderson Valley. The bacon is incredible as is the creamy polenta and perfectly cooked asparagus and that egg on top is just the Coupe de Ville of the whole thing.

While at Pennyroyal they kept referring to their lay-chee and I assumed that nobody in the place could speak Spanish well enough to pronounce leche. Nope, that’s another word for cheese in Boontling and that one is a soft ch’vre-like cheese from goat milk. Boontling is a unique language found in Anderson Valley and while few people speak it fluently, the influence of this unique tongue can be found all over.

Getting away is such a treat for a variety of reasons but one of the most fun aspects of a journey to a new place is the unique flavors and experiences of that place. With the delicious goat cheeses you can find along the North Coast along with wines, beers and other delights, your taste buds are going to thrill in your next trip.