Go, go, goat cheese

“We want your cheese!”

“We want your cheese!”

After taking off two milkless months for the winter, Central Valley goat herds are back to lactation.

At Nicolau Farms in Modesto, the property’s 100 nanny goats are now kidding and their milk flow is accelerating toward the “spring flush,” that bounteous time of plenty that arrives at a dairy ranch as the blossoms bloom and the bees buzz.

The 18-acre farmstead—an increasingly rare term that means milk is produced onsite, not purchased offsite—belongs to Walter Nicolau III and his wife, Liz. Nicolau is a descendent in a dairying family that has produced milk and cheese for generations. His ancestors lived in the goat-friendly hills of Portugal, and one of Nicolau Farms’ products, their aged Cabralinda, is inspired by Portuguese methods.

But the farmstead’s staple cheeses are of French and Greek lineage. The cheeses are available at the Davis Food Co-op, and the Nicolaus will return to the Davis Farmers Market after the spring frenzy of newborn kids. Some of these will be incorporated into the herd (which is growing every year and consists of French Alpine goats), while others will be sold away to buyers whose tools of trade include steel blades and hooks on the wall.

Let’s keep talking cheese.

At North Valley Farms in Cottonwood, Mark and Deneane Ashcraft run a 50-head farmstead operation of Toggenburg, Saanen and La Mancha goats. The Ashcrafts have been up to their necks in kids since February, but in April they will resume selling their chevre, feta and Swiss Tomme at the Sunday Central Farmers Market at Eighth and W streets, and local natural foods stores have their products now.

The future of California goat cheese is a bright one. Many Americans are developing a taste for that “goaty” flavor, which, sadly, finer dairiers methodically subdue. The future of every California goat itself is less certain: Produce 1 to 2 gallons of milk a day, and you’re golden. But woe to she that slips in production, for it’s away with her to a place where no milk flows.