Goat Cheese: More Than Meets the Eye - TribPapers

Goat Cheese: More Than Meets the Eye

The baby goats are well fed. Photo from Round Mountain Creamery.

Asheville – Adam Jernigan had just earned his degree in creative writing from the Master of Fine Arts Program at Warren Wilson College. The program features distinguished faculty members, including Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winners, national and state poets laureate, and Guggenheim, Fulbright, and MacArthur fellows.

Now, with all that intensity lifted, he got an evening job. “Just on a lark, I started working at a creamery, milking goats for about 15 hours a week and making cheese every once in a while. I fell in love with the goats first and then the farm.” Gradually, he took on more and more responsibilities with the farm.

“Linda Seligman and I get along swimmingly.” Seligman founded Round Mountain Creamery on 28 acres in Black Mountain, and it soon became North Carolina’s first Grade A goat dairy. Now, it’s part of the WNC Cheese Trail, a collection of regional artisanal cheesemakers hosting tours. “She was ready to retire, and I was discovering a place I loved in dairy goat farming.”

Jernigan described a day in the life of running a goat farm as, “Everything from stem to stern, any electrical issues, plumbing issues, air conditioning and milking machine issues, staffing.” The farm has 68 goats and nine employees. All farmhands are paid except three volunteers who drive the dairy’s four-wheeler around, feeding the animals grain and hay from North River Farms in Mills River, and watering them. They also have volunteers come in to bottle-feed some of the babies. Jernigan said he prefers to have the mothers feed their young, “but some of these girls don’t have a maternal bone in their bodies.”

The goats have to be milked twice a day, the milk has to be pasteurized and cultured, and cheese is packaged twice a week. Then, the goats’ health must be checked. “I make sure the shy girls are being shy and the rambunctious troublemakers are untying your shoelaces.” The phrase “goats being goats” kept cropping up. The animals seem to have an extra dose of personality and are notorious for doing weird, attention-grabbing things that are almost guaranteed to put a smile on human faces.

Jernigan said goats breed in the fall and give birth in the spring, and the last kid of the season at Round Mountain was born that Saturday. “It was a very difficult birth for the mom. The kid’s doing fine, and the mom is recovering well. I was spending time with her, doing checks. All systems are good and normal now.”

The job requires Jernigan to interact with each goat daily. He knows all their names and goat personalities, and he knows when their goat personalities are off. He also has to check in with staff to make sure they have the resources they need to do what they’re supposed to be doing. Then, there’s the admin: booking tours, handling orders, etc.

“There’s never a day that’s the same,” said Jernigan. “I need something to do all the time, and goat farming definitely satisfies, all day, all year round. There’s no taking trips or anything like that.

“There are some really exhausting, hard days when it seems like everything goes wrong. Expensive things break. People call out. One thing after another. You feel like it’s never going to end. But a bad day is when I have to dig a grave because I couldn’t keep a goat alive.”

Jernigan said they do everything on the farm, from birthing goats to packaging and delivering cheese. The cheeses bear the Round Mountain Creamery label, and they’re sold to local restaurants like Fresh Woodfired Pizza in Black Mountain and the Biltmore Estate and small grocers like the South Slope Cheese Company. They’re also sold at the WNC Farmer’s Market.

Then there’s the farm tours. Four tours are hosted every day except Tuesdays. Visitors can sign up on roundmountaincreamery.com or through Airbnb. Guests get to walk the farm, interact with the goats, see the milking parlor, and “taste all the cheeses and hopefully buy some.”

Last year, Jernigan said he had 4,500 people take the tour, and the farm produced about 5,500 pounds of goat cheese. “I saw the numbers and couldn’t believe it. No wonder I was so grumpy and tired,” he laughed before adding, “This year, hopefully, we’ll do more.”

Asked if he has a day job, Jernigan replied, “I married up, luckily. So, I can have a poorly-paying job, which is what farming is, and still have a nice place, pay the mortgage, keep the lights on, and spoil ourselves.”