Something happened. It was special, beautiful, inspiring, and even a little bit heartbreaking. We gave it a silly sounding name, yet the experience was everything but.
That silly name and transcendent affair was Goat Camp. We gathered a handful of our Caputo’s team and some of our beloved restaurateur friends and headed south to the open spaces of Utah where the landscape is tinted red and passion for food culture is surprisingly easy to find. From Caineville to Boulder, our little group had the experience of a lifetime. Mesa Farm, Hell’s Backbone Farm and Restaurant, and Ruth Lewandowski Wines were our destinations and now our lingering inspirations.
Stop 1: Mesa Farm, owned by Randy Ramsley, home to the happiest goats and cutest kids in Utah
In a humble farm market store, over nibbles of Randy’s cheeses and fresh coffee, I, and many others, rediscovered why we do what we do. Matt has always said it best – we don’t work in specialty food because we want to be millionaires; we do it because we have a love for food, with its cultural and historical implications, and we have to protect that. Randy’s cheeses are as excellent as they are because Randy is committed to creating them from the very best beginnings. His herd – which is now at 38 lovely little goat ladies- graze freely on the banks of the Fremont river. During the winter, their diets are supplemented with a much higher quality feed than industry standard; in fact, it’s organically grown specifically for Randy’s herd by his neighbors. That doesn’t come cheap. Even more surprising than their feeding practices was learning that Randy only milks during the natural cycle. As winter comes and the babes begin grazing themselves, Randy does not give the goats any kind of hormone to lengthen the milking. When they dry up, he closes up shop until the next spring. This is so uncommon and nearly unheard of in modern day cheese production, even for most artisan cheese production.
Since Randy doesn’t cut corners (or costs): we receive the kind of quality cheeses people write poems and love stories about. Whether it’s one of our cave-aged cheeses, chevre, or feta, the taste is unlike any other cheeses we carry. There’s true Utah terroir buried deep within the paste of each cheese because that’s where it came from. From the natural grasses and plants nourished by the Fremont river to the buckets of milk separated into curds and whey, something truly magical happens. Add expert cave aging to the mix from the loving, deft hands of our own affineuse, Antonia Horne, and suddenly, it’s like nothing else matters and no cheese ever existed before this one.
With all this beautiful imagery and romanticism, I almost forgot Randy was facing closure of his farm before our partnership. It wasn’t until Caputo’s and our customers began purchasing and raving about the cheeses that things started looking up. This year, Mesa cheeses got a nice little makeover with beautiful logo art. It’s so gorgeous that it attracted more help and interns to his farm, which is helping create the means to continue operations and cheesemaking. Randy called Caputo’s, chefs, and customers the “forefront of this industry.” He used the term “conscious sustainability” to convey this sort of community oriented promotion of good food. It helped me recognize that we’re all in this together and that our support of one another is invaluable.
That was the moment when I experienced my most recent cheese epiphany.
I love Caputo’s, and I love what I do here. Much of that is sharing food and stories and history at our classes. I love seeing people’s faces when they try something for the first time and fall in love, their eyes might glaze over as the subconscious takes over and I can see euphoria take hold. But to be honest, what I love more is seeing people begin to understand how important food culture is to our existence and our experience. We talk about cheeses that are going extinct and why it’s happening. For example, the oldest cheese recipe known to man lives in our cases, but today, it’s going extinct. Our grandchildren won’t have the chance to try it. In our lifetime, after over THREE THOUSAND years of production, this cheese is headed for extinction. This is why it matters and this is why Randy’s work can’t go unnoticed. If one of the oldest cheeses in the world is in danger, what does that mean for cheese made in our own state? What does that mean for all food here in Utah? We’re on the brink of losing history, culture, and the side of food that makes people come together with the people they love to share a meal. This isn’t about food as fuel, this is about food as love and the war being waged against that in the name of economic efficiency, cutting quality for the prize of lower costs. Hence the heartbreak.
Heartbreak aside, hope exists. Hope exists at Mesa Farm and hope exists at Caputo’s. Tony picked up a torch for the cause when he opened the doors of Caputo’s twenty years ago. Randy and Matt did the same with a new resurgence of passion and dedication to protect who we are because of what we create and consume. Every restaurant that makes the decision to feature a Mesa cheese on their menu is a win for Utah food and another hand in the fight. Hope exists when each of us commits to supporting Mesa Farm by sharing it with our friends at dinner parties and at picnics. Even when it feels small, it always matters.
So in that farm market, surrounded by co-workers and friends, I rediscovered my passion and I watched everyone else rediscover theirs. Matt and Randy engaged in the kind of conversation that make you want to dry your tears and save the world. It was just like watching the cheese epiphanies in a class at Caputo’s, except I was having the epiphany and was incapable of hiding my newfound excitement. Everyone else seemed to have a similar experience. Dry eyes were scarce that morning, and I know not a single one of us was ashamed to show it. Passion runs deep with a group of people like us, and I am so, so proud to be a part of it.
Part 1 of 4. Go to Part 2: Hell’s Backbone.