They’re Not Kidding Around

Hawai‘i’s goat cheese producers are bringing home kudos.

a pure white, mild, creamy cheese made from goats’ milk (chèvre means goat in
French), has been the darling of many a chef for more than a dozen years. It’s
found its way onto salad plates, inside quesadillas with kalua pig and sprinkled
on top of pizzas. Production of this versatile, healthy cheese is on the rise
as demand increases among chefs and consumers. Now, goat cheese is garnering attention
for Hawai’i, as our Island chèvre producers win awards at the American Cheese
Society competitions.

Chèvre was first produced on the Big Island in
1991 by Steven and Karin Sayres, located in Kurtistown. Their brand, Puna Goat
Cheese, quickly became popular among Hawai’i Regional Cuisine chefs, but production
ceased in 2000. The Sayres sold their herd of goats to Thomas Kafsack, a former
software engineer from Germany, and his wife, Eva, a former high school German
teacher. They established Surfing Goat Dairy at Öma’opio, Maui, in 2002, after
learning about cheese making in Europe. The dairy about 200 goats grazing on 42
acres, producing 50 pounds of cheese a day. Surfing Goat Dairy offers Udderly
Delicious, its plain chèvre brand, as well as feta (a brine-soaked cheese) and
dozens of flavored varieties. This year, four of its flavored cheeses won awards
in the American Cheese Society competition.

Dream” goat cheese with herbs from Surfing Goat Dairy. Photo:
Olivier Koning

Dick and Heather Threlfall keep
a herd of a hundred goats in Ähualoa on the Big Island. The 10-acre farm, a former
macadamia orchard, also has bamboo, ti, ginger and pasture grass.

a nurse by training from Kailua, O’ahu, had a lifelong dream to make cheese. She
started with a big, gentle Jersey cow that gave lots of milk. “But it was too
big and intimidating,” says Dick Threlfall, who is no wimp around animals-he shod
horses for 37 years. They brought in some goats from the Mainland and Heather
experimented, making cheese for friends for 10 years, before the couple decided
to get serious about a goat dairy in 2001.

“Our plan was to make a cheese
that chefs wanted: a soft, mild, consistent product,” explains Threlfall. Big
Island Goat Cheese-350 pounds a week-comes plain and in five flavors as well as
in a feta. In 2003, the Threlfall’s plain, creamy-style cheese placed second in
the American Cheese Society’s competition.

Steve Sayre and his girlfriend,
“Lava” Stacey, are resurrecting Puna Goat Cheese, producing chèvre, queso fresco
(a white, fresh, Mexican-style cheese) and feta and building their herd in Kurtistown.
It will take a few years, but plans are to eventually produce a cheddar and a

On Kaua’i, the Wooten family tends a herd of 35 goats on 3 acres near
Kïlauea and produces about 120 pounds of cheese each week. At their Kunana Dairy,
they add guava, mango and liliko’i to the creamy chèvre, or marinate it with sun-dried
tomatoes and herbs. They also produce a crumbled feta.

“We’ve had goats
longer than we have had children,” says Louisa Wooten, who grew up tending angora
goats in Texas. Her sons, now 21 and 15, help with the milking chores each day.
“It’s a big commitment to do a dairy. It’s twice a day, every day, 24-seven. It
works when you have a family to help out.”

“I buy all I can from Louisa,”
says Todd Oldham, executive chef of the Princeville Resort, Kaua’i. “The cheese
has an intense but clean flavor. It’s very, very versatile and pairs well with
vegetables, especially eggplant, beets, tomatoes. I use it in cream sauces and
make ice cream with it.”

Peter Merriman, who was one of the first chefs
to use Island goat cheese (at his Merriman’s Restaurant in Kamuela on the Big
Island), explains that, in general, chèvre has a distinctive flavor that balances
well with many other flavors. “It goes well with onions, contrasts nicely with
the richness of olives and you can sweeten it for a dessert.”

Culinary attributes
aside, goat’s milk is far superior nutritionally to cow’s milk and is more easily
digested by humans, claims Wooten. While chefs and consumers enjoy the delicious
cheese from goats, farmers enjoy the goats themselves, citing their playful personalities
and responsiveness. “Goats are the smartest animals I know,” says Kafsack. “They
learn their names in two weeks, they are clean, they don’t need a lot of acreage.
You can’t get attached to cows like this.”