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On the day that I call Emily Heizer Hall, the woman behind Razzbourne Farms, she's been up since 6 A.M. That's when she went to hang up the cheese she'd started the day before, draining off excess moisture so that her chèvre becomes creamy and thick. Then she'd woken up her four-year-old son (Angus Razzbourne, for whom the farm is named), and gotten breakfast going. Next, she'd headed to the barn to milk her 15 full-time milking goats. After that, she processed the milk, did house chores and office work, hung up more cheese to drain, and took cheese that had been hanging down to be salted and packaged.
"I never in a million years thought I’d be doing this," Emily says of her goat dairy and creamery in Fairfield, Virginia. She is the sole employee of the not-yet-two-years-old business: She does the marketing, the milking, and the mucking of the barn. "I wanted to be a graphic designer, a freelancer, a stay-at-home mom."
Back in 2012, she'd bought a carton of goat milk on a whim, sure that she could make a goat cheese better than what you could get at the grocery store. But the result was horrible: "The dogs wouldn't even chew on it," she says.
Some research told her that fresh goat milk made all the difference—the carton she'd bought at the store was 10 days old, having been shipped across the country from California to her local grocery in Virginia—and since no one was producing goat milk locally, she decided to take matters into her own hands. That's when she bought the two goats (!).
"The first time I made goat cheese from fresh milk, it was night and day," she says. "It was the best goat cheese I’d ever had in my whole life." She was so struck by the quality of the homemade cheese—and inspired by her family's four-generations-long history as farmers—that she right away raised the idea of Razzbourne Farms to her husband. As soon as they began talking about it, she says, they spoke about it as though it would happen, not like it might happen.
And it did: Her former career as a self-employed marketing and branding consultant was pushed to the back burner, while still informing the decisions she was making in beginning her new creamery: "My education in marketing let me know that this could and would work if we did it the right way."
Four years into owning goats and a year and a half into starting Razzbourne Farms (thanks, in part, to a microloan from the Farm Service Agency), she can now make goat cheese "by sight and smell." Though she receives a lot of support from her husband—also a small business owner, who helped her build the small facility where she processes milk and makes cheese—she really does run Razzbourne by herself.
When she's not doing the milking and cheese-making, washing the cheese-making equipment, tidying the barn, or taking care of her own human kid, she's tending to the herd. The Razzbourne herd—mostly La Mancha goats with a few Alpine goats, both breeds known for steady milk production—is 40 strong, but since spring is kidding (birthing) season, the majority of the 40 goats Emily owns are kids. Only 15 of them can be milked regularly.
Last year, with 9 full-time milking goats, she was doing all the milking by hand; this year, she's "thankfully" milking her 15 by machine. And while her son has grown up drinking raw goat milk, almost all of the milk produced each week goes towards cheese production.
Emily makes just one kind of cheese right now—a chèvre in three forms: whipped, crumbled, and pressed—but is beginning to experiment with aging her cheeses in a deep freezer she's rigged up as a cheese cave. "Just this week, I was able to put 6 pounds of goat cheese in the cheese cave, and we’ll introduce them this summer," she says. She and her mother have been tasting them, and "we’re just tickled to death."
In Emily's eyes, the only way that she could do what she does is the support she's received from her community. The community has been the best part of being a small business owner and farmer, she says: "The people who call and ask questions about goats. The retailers who are curious even if they aren’t sure if they like goat cheese themselves. The vintners who know how the cheese can affect how the wine tastes," she says.
Her goal for Razzbourne is to reach 30 full-time milking goats; at 15, they're halfway there. And with her line of aged cheese launching this summer and the continued support from her community, she and her husband have the final push they need to "have a down payment to buy our homestead, our own farm, to move this beautiful building. It's helped not only me, but also my husband, say, 'We can’t stop now.'"
See how we're using Emily's different types of goat cheese, from stirring in seasonal fruit to baking it with herbed honey:
TRISCUIT supports makers and food business owners who take cues from simple ingredients. That's why they teamed up with Indiegogo to create the Triscuit Maker Fund, a special event supporting 55 inspiring, growing food projects, big to small, in need of funding. See all of the projects here.