Twenty six year old Erin Bligh is most definitely an old soul. She’s the sort of lady who prioritizes the following, though not necessarily in this order: her goat dairy; beach living over city life; homesteading all things food; vintage riding pants and wool sweaters; found or salvaged furniture and quilted Ball jars. She’s most definitely our kind of lady.
Erin runs Dancing Goat Dairy, a small, goat dairy that specializes in artisanal, farmstead cheese, confections and soaps, near her home on Plum Island, a barrier island just north of Cape Ann, Massachusetts. Plum Island is a busy summer vacation destination that is home to a small population of winter residents, and her family has a home on the island. Before making a life out there, Erin learned all about goat rearing — from milking, feeding and goat midwifery — and cheese making during her time working at Consider Bardwell Farm in rural Vermont. She now spends her days running the farm and experimenting with flavors complimentary to all things goat milk and cheese, like chocolate, spices and orange-rubbed rinds.
Erin graciously answered some of my nosy questions about her new business. And don’t forget to scroll to the very end for my Jam & Cheese Crepes recipe, a dish that makes goat cheese shine.
1 // Why do you make food? What makes you get up early or stay up late to do what is generally considered to be some of the hardest work out there?
I have an innate desire to create and share with the people around me. Making food gives me the unique opportunity to share my art in a way that not only nourishes the soul but the body too. When I bring my friends and family together for a handcrafted meal, often times with guests contributing something that was grown, raised or created by their own hands, it’s the best gift I could ask for in this life. With regards to the hard work, I am lucky enough to have found a job that I am so passionate about that it stops feeling like “work” and starts just being life. The fact that the two hours I spend twice a day milking the goats is some of my most relaxing and therapeutic time makes it a heck of a lot easier to do when it feels like its too early or too dark or too cold.
2 // What’s been the greatest struggle in becoming a professional maker and goat farmer?
The greatest struggle for me is a struggle that is shared by many entrepreneurs: keeping all aspects of a business leak-tight so that the whole ship can float. This means wearing many different hats. I started with a fairly strong knowledge of cheese making and goat husbandry. Along the way I have had to learn quite a bit about everything from marketing and accounting, to town zoning laws, to framing and pouring concrete. I have also learned more than I ever wanted to know about loans and insurance. In this new social climate where more and more people seem interested in locally produced, sustainably crafted, artisan foods, it might have just been easier to work for someone else. But I felt like I had a unique vision for how I wanted to make and share my products with my community. To do that, I would have to build something from the ground up. I feel incredibly blessed that I have the type of support system that allows me to both dream big and make that dream a reality.
3 // What dish makes your goat products shine?
I’m a big fan of overly elaborate breakfasts, second breakfasts and breakfast for dinner. I’ve recently been using my garlic & herb chèvre in a variation on an eggs and hash. The cheese itself has this great, slightly tangy, lemony flavor. I’ve been serving it with a bed of sweet potato hash on homemade, toasted pumpernickel bread, topped with a friend’s homemade tomato chutney, a poached egg, homegrown kale and the chèvre. The richness from the egg yolk and bread, sweetness from the hash, and the acidity of the tomato chutney and cheese make the dish perfectly balanced.
4 // What do you eat when no one is looking?
Chocolate, endlessly. I’m a sucker for all of the Mast Brother’s dark chocolate bars, but especially the Papua New Guinea; it’s got this amazing smoky flavor. Normally, the only chocolate confection I make with my goat milk is a dark chocolate fudge but this winter I had a blast experimenting with making goat cheese truffles using the Mast Brother’s chocolate. I ended up making a little sampler box to give to friends for St. Valentines that had sea salt, espresso, ginger fig, and chili pepper flavors. My kitchen was a mess and I probably ate way to many in the name of “quality control” but everyone was thrilled.
5 // What’s the best homemade food gift you’ve ever received?
Awhile back I reconnected with an old friend from elementary school, and we bonded over both of us falling in love with farming. She is currently working at Kupa’a Farms, an organic farm in Maui. She returned home to see her New England family and visited my goat dairy operation. I sent her home with tons of goat products. A few weeks later, she sent me this amazing care package with a bunch of homemade Maui products from her friends out there on surrounding farms, including a Lilikoi spread, a sweetened passion fruit purée. It blew my mind! I go crazy for unions of opposites, it’s a major player in all of my food pairings, and this spread just had this fantastic tangy, sourness that was cut with just the right touch of sweetness. I ate it on homemade toast for days and days.
Dancing Goats Dairy is a small, goat dairy on the North Shore that specializes in artisanal, farmstead cheese, confections and soaps. They are currently in the process of building a new cheese room and will be offering their cheeses and other products for sale in October 2014 at local farmers markets, retail establishments, and at their farm in Newbury, Massachusetts. Find out more about their products, their farm and updates on their cheese room construction on their website.