FOOD

Life by the Horns

Fraga Farm takes great gratification in goats

By Christine Hyatt

Fraga Farm owner Lise Bueschen-Monahan and her goats. ##Photo by Christine Hyatt

The farmstead cheesemaking life consists of a balancing act of challenges, long days, seasonal rhythms, never-ending chores on the farm and in the creamery, and, of course, life outside of work. Despite the struggle, people who choose cheese as a lifestyle do so for the love of the animals, respect for the earth and the freedom of owning their own business.

At Fraga Farm, an organic goat dairy located in Gales Creek — northwest of Forest Grove — cheesemaker Steve Monahan and herd manager Elisabeth (Lise) Bueschen-Monahan are living proof that when the right people, place and project connect, the result can be delicious.

The couple moved to Oregon with the intention of farming, but not necessarily goats. 

“It seemed like a noble endeavor and Lise’s family has farmed for centuries,” Steve said. “We were attracted to the sensibility of farming: providing a service to the community while engaged with tasks that make sense.”

Lise has always had a soft spot for livestock along with a family history of sheep herding. The focus shifted while the couple researched sheep breeds and a naughty little goat literally gamboled into the farm office while they visited.

“We were amazed at the intelligence and personality of goats and, after some research, we realized that the lactation (milking season) was much longer, and that goats enjoy the pine trees and brambles that were on our property,” Steve said. “They seemed like a good fit.”

The Monahans had the good fortune to build on their own smaller herd by acquiring an established one plus a brand from Oregon cheese veterans Jan and Larry Neilson, who remained involved as mentors during the first years.

Fraga Farm Foster Lake Camembert is perfect for a summer picnic with a festive flute of Oregon sparkling wine. ##Photo by Christine Hyatt

Pioneers in Oregon goat cheese, the Neilsons founded Fraga Farm in Sweet Home on the banks of the Santiam River and were the first Oregon Tilth-certified goat herd in the state. From their milk, Jan developed a range of dynamic cheeses. As retirement loomed, the Neilsons realized they needed a transition plan for the dairy and found willing partners in the Monahans.

The Monahans transferred the animals and cheesemaking to their property in Gales Creek, a former cow dairy and Christmas tree farm with a historic red barn on site. The proximity to Portland and the additional space to allow rotational grazing for the Alpine and Nubian goats really sealed the deal.

“We recognized that Fraga Farm is not a physical place but a state of mind, a way of living with land and goats,” Lise noted. “It’s a way of nurturing grass that nurtures goats, which produce milk that is transformed into cheese that is not only good to eat, but also good all around.”

The couple set about restoring the barn, adding a creamery in 2015 while reinvigorating the property. The goats helped by thinning out overgrown areas planted thick with noble fir — in the late fall, the upper boughs, unreachable by the goats, are crafted into organic wreaths for holiday décor, diversifying the farms’ offerings.

Fraga’s goats are unique in a number of ways. First, Lise opts to keep the babies and mothers together until they are ready to be weaned. After the first morning milking, which is used for cheesemaking, the babies are reunited with their moms for a day of nursing and nurturing. Most dairies choose to maximize milk for cheese, using supplements for the kids. The Monahans realize the value in this gentle approach, which results in happier, healthier animals.

Many goats in the herd also sport a robust set of horns. A few years ago, a French farm volunteer from Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms explained the thermoregulatory nature of the horns. In France, the horns remain intact, acting as sort of a radiator for the animals, that do not sweat. Since this discussion, the Fraga goats retain their horns and are not disbudded, a common practice among many goat farmers.

In the creamery, Steve crafts a variety of certified organic cheeses based on Jan’s original recipes. Their line includes fresh and flavored chèvre; an award-winning raw milk feta; Goatzarella, a goat’s milk version of mozzarella; and the aged Rio Santiam and Farmhouse cheeses — particularly delicious right now is Foster Lake Camembert, perfect for a summer picnic with a festive flute of Oregon sparkling wine.

Fraga Farm cheese is available at selected specialty retailers and many farmers’ markets, including: Hillsdale, Hollywood, Moreland, Manzanita, PSU and at People’s Food Co-op. For a personal visit to the farm, check the website (www.fragafarm.com) for Open Farm Days on selected Sundays throughout the year.

“The farm tours are very important to us,” Lise said “because they allow us to share with our customers not only why our cheese is so good — the gravity-fed milk system, the diverse browse diet that the goats have and the happy and purposeful lives that they lead — but also something less factual: the joy of being a working part of our landscape and all the beauty that comes with it.”

Web Design & Web Development by LVSYS