Old Windmill Dairy – New Mexico
50 States of Cheese – Artisan Cheese Craft Series
Anybody setting up a cheese business has to be resilient. Setting up in New Mexico- a desert state with almost no artisan cheese industry- requires an ability to be independent, creative and persistent. The Old Windmill Dairy in McIntosh is slap bang in the middle of the state, a town where cheese making was not a top priority for fifteen hundred population . That changed with the arrival of two artisan cheese adventurers, Michael and Ed Lobaugh, who left the big city to bring a new cheese making business to the heart of the ‘Land of the Enchantment’.
Both men brought different experiences to the new venture, escaping the urban, corporate life. Michael worked in hotel management so understood the financial and operational side of running a business. Ed, in contrast, was forging a professional career in nursing yet goats were in his blood. “I spent my summers with my grandparents on their goat farm, milking them and making cheese. I have such fond memories of those times.” Ed’s love of goats played a part in the moment the new business idea was born. “Michael came home after fifteen years working the mainstream life and said ‘I’m done with corporate America, my calling is to farm.’ Of course I immediately brought up my time spent with my grandparents and working with goats. So we started searching for a farm straight away and found this spot in New Mexico.”
In 2005 the Lobaughs moved to the new farm and with the help of stakeholders from a local co-op, helped raise the capital to build out their small plant. Ed said: “We visited several artisan cheese makers in Vermont to learn the process of making aged cheeses. It was important to us to make goat cheeses available to as many people as possible so we had to offer a variety, to go beyond chèvre and feta. Our partners helped us fund the new molds and presses, extend the cave and refrigeration equipment for aged cheeses.” With a herd of just twenty Nubian goats (selected for their high butterfat and flavor), the farm was proudly opened the day after Independence Day in 2007.
With hard caliche and clay desert soils, the farm required lots of work but slowly the herd was built up to today’s number of around one hundred and forty. Ed remembers the impacts of a changing climate and meeting the dietary needs of the goats. “We are in high desert and our animals are out all year. We have extreme temperatures here, with a snow season. Last year was the worst as the last five years rainfall has been down. The decreased moisture and warmer weather threw our goats off their rutting, so pregnancies were down. Thankfully this year the rains have come and helped us build up the herd.” This year a new well was installed and Ed and Michael have started to plant microgreens to feed the herd more sustainably, producing fodder with less water. They can never relax completely and Ed never forgets the challenges of living in New Mexico. “We get microbursts here, a really strong downburst of wind. We’ve already lost a barn, it ended up in our neighbor’s garden!”
When the farm started some milk was brought in, but as the herd grew they were able to reach production levels operating purely as a farmstead. The farm is also home to three Jersey cows, allowing the business to continue production in the couple of dry months around December and January when the goats are not producing. Ed said: “We try to make around twelve hundred pounds of chèvre a week and around a hundred pounds of harder aged cheeses- we always sell out of those quickly.” They sell through local farmers’ markets and supply restaurants in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
While the soft goats’ milk cheeses formed the bulk of the business, they turned their efforts towards their harder cheeses. Ed and Michael soon perfected the aging process and soon these sales were on the increase alongside softer styles. The Sandia Sunrise is a hickory smoked Gouda, aged for around two months, and is described as soft and creamy yet firm enough to slice. Ed said: “This is extremely popular because it doesn’t have that strong goaty flavor that some people don’t like.” Their other bestseller is the McIntosh, named after the town and is described as a cross between Cheddar and Manchego. “We use Cheddar cultures and the cheddaring process but the aging process we’ve changed- that what makes the flavor different.” The process produces a grassy, nutty cheese. The cheese is aged from anywhere between three to eighteen months, the more aged versions developing citrus notes.
The cow milk cheeses offer up some complex flavors. They produce one Gouda that is brined in local beer, another is brined in sweet wine and then dipped in chocolate and another with added cumin. Jemez Springs is their version of a Brie style, made with vegetable ash. They also developed a recipe for a blended goat/cow cheese, Vallez Caldera, also made in the Brie style and also with vegetable ash. The Manzano Blue Moon cheese is a blue style goat milk cheese made in small three pound batches, winning a first place from the American Dairy Goat Association. This one small artisan cheese operation provides enough of a range to make a great cheese plate- all from desert soils in the heart of New Mexico.
Ed has seen other dairy businesses come and go and has an interesting perspective on how to succeed in this challenging environment. “We did try and form a state organization, to bring everybody together, but I think perhaps people were worried it would be unhealthy competition, rather than strength through collaboration. Maybe the sheer size of the state is the problem, each farm is two hours away from the next, that we haven’t forged that community. We’d be stronger building the cheese industry working alongside and supporting each other, as they do in other states. For example, when other cheese makers were still in business we got more business at the farmers’ market- with competition- than we do as the only cheese maker there on a Saturday morning. We must become an education source, diversify and learn from feedback meeting our customers.”
Ed and Michael are practicing what they preach. They have diversified the range and recently launched a Taos Truffle, a Brie style made using truffle oil and quickly becoming their best-selling Brie. They have also added a cow milk butter and aim to make more cow milk products by adding to their Jersey herd. They have also developed their internship program and offer cheese making classes, popular with tourists and locals alike. After a hard slog building up both the business and the brand, the Lobaughs are proud to be turning Old Windmill Dairy into a profitable venture and creating jobs in the state. To learn more about their cheese making, taste their wonderful cheeses and plan a visit to their farm go to www.theoldwindmilldairy.com.
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