Friday, July 9, 2010

I'll be baaaack

I can't help but marvel at the fortuitous encounters and conversations that pepper my life these days. I mean, I just *happen* to be patching a tire on the side of the road and suffering from a desperate hankering for pork barbecue when the owner of Winfield, AL's only BBQ shack, and seemingly the town's only avid bicyclist out for a ride, stops to ask if I need anything? (Four sandwiches on the spot and three for the road later, Aaron and I were sated and on our way. Thanks again, Kyle!) And about a week ago, on my way through Lenoir, NC, when none of the town's eight campgrounds have space for me I *happen* to bump into and befriend the head of the Chamber of Commerce who invites me to dinner, offers me a comfy guest room, and puts me in touch with amazing artisanal cheese makers down the road from her home? Deborah, you may well see me back in your neck of the woods: the ladies and the cheeses at Ripshin were nothing short of stellar. In fact, I'm still daydreaming about that Camembert....

A trip to the Sandburg Farm a few years ago and follow-up visits to dairies in France -- my kind of research -- convinced Liza that her calling was of the heritage dairy goat raising variety. She set about remodeling the family farm accordingly, with state-of-the-art (but not ostentatious) equipment and started Ripshin Goat Dairy. Here's the matron herself with a retinue of affectionate milk does. (Seriously, they were perhaps the friendliest goats I've ever met, nuzzling right up to me and waiting for a scratch behind the ears.) Liza convinced her daughter Rachel to move back from Istanbul and take on the task of making the amazingly delicious cheeses. Yep, it's a family affair. After meeting the milkgoats, I had the pleasure of sitting in with Rachel and Meredith (the other cheesemaker) for a couple of hours while they worked. As I perched on a stool in the cheese room listening and grinding black pepper for future chevre log rolling (and periodic tasting...quality control, you know), I found myself falling in love with this small family operation. Not just because the chevre they make is outstanding. That's only part of it. (For those wondering about hygiene, fear not: I washed my hands, changed shoes, and donned a headscarf and apron after the goat petting -- standard procedure here at Ripshin.)

Much like the famed Joel Salatin refuses to ship Polyface meats off-farm, the gals at Ripshin are determined to keep their creamy vittles local, only selling them at nearby farmers' markets and shops. I won't, for example, be able to buy their wares at Cowgirl Creamery's DC location. (I know this because I asked very specifically. I must have more of that feta some day!) I respect this desire to build a network of skilled producers, and to keep the special foods and talents within the community. Kind of makes one want to move there, or at least visit. This desire to keep things quite literally "local" flies in the face of our culture's fast-cheap-anytime-anywhere mentality...and I like it. Rather than being exclusionary, I think of it as developing a unique regional food system. And celebrating it, much like we used to celebrate seasonal eating.

Lenoir and Happy Valley are often overshadowed by nearby tourist destinations like Blowing Rock and Lake Lure, but with producers like Ripshin Goat Dairy in the neighborhood, it may, quite soon, become a food destination. I know I'm hoping to revisit the town, and particularly the dairy. Maybe even look into an internship at some point. Goats. Cheesemaking. Thoughtful people and conversation. Yep, I'll be baaaack....

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

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