As recent winner of several notable dairy goat cheese awards at the 2007 American Dairy Goat Association Convention and Cheese Competition, Anne Jones, Latte Da Dairy, Flower Mound, Texas, acknowledged that she might have been in training all her life to become an overnight success in making cheese.
First she earned a veterinary degree and then a master’s degree in marketing. Then there was a stint as a mid-level executive with a
Beautiful kids indicate a promising future for the Latte Da Dairy herd.
pharmaceutical company. But what Jones wanted to do was make really good cheese. Really good goat cheese, to be precise.
The native Pennsylvanian originally moved to Texas to be a vet because she wanted to be somewhere where she could work with horses. But in her pharmaceutical industry job, she traveled 90 percent of the time. Jones enjoyed her work and the challenges. And, it didn’t hurt that it paid very well.
“But I eventually tired of the rat race and calling my husband from some airport to let him know that I was once again delayed,” she said. “We wanted a simpler life, less time in airports and more time to enjoy being together, so we found the farm.”
As things began to fall into place, the farm dream evolved to include a farmstead goat dairy.
In 2005 Jones and her husband, Johnny, a police officer with the city of Grapevine, bought a five-and-one-half acre property near Flower Mound, Texas, about 28 miles northwest of Dallas. They figured that in five or 10 years she would farm full time.
Six months later however, Jones purchased two purebred Nubian does, the foundation of the herd, learned to milk them and began making small amounts of cheese for herself and her friends. Almost overnight her new business exploded.
Jones originally learned to make cheese before buying the farm but found she couldn’t make good cheese from milk bought at grocery stores. She did
continue her corporate job for a few months after buying those first two goats and took the cheese she made, with her on her travels. Co-workers loved it and so did Jones.
“I loved the reaction I would get from people when they tasted my cheeses,” she said.
One of those reactions—”you should go into business”—turned out to be prophetic.
“I came to the realization that I really wanted to do something I’m passionate about. So I moved my timeline up a bit,” she said.
Jones left the corporate world in August 2006 and in September began
adding to her herd and building her barn and cheese-making facility.
Anna Jones milks two of her divas.
By October 2007, Jones, had been officially recognized as a legitimate goat farmer and maker of really good cheese.
In 2006 she won first prize in the amateur section for her feta at the American Dairy Goat Association’s annual cheese competition. Last year, her feta won again, this time in the highly competitive commercial section. She also picked up a blue ribbon in the commercial soft ripe cheese section and a second place with her chévre.
Jones’ interest in cheese production blossomed after a European vacation three years ago where she tried her hand at cheesemaking in Italy.
Back home in Texas she enrolled in a cheesemaking workshop run by Amelia Sweethardt of Pure Luck Farm and Dairy near Austin.
“Initially, I tried making cheeses with store bought milk, and while it tasted okay, it just wasn’t like the wonderful cheese we had experienced in Europe or what Amelia produced at Pure Luck,” Jones said. “I realized we needed to use really fresh milk.”
“We have successfully replicated the wonderful artisanal goat cheeses we’ve tasted in Europe,” she said. “We have also found pleasure and satisfaction in creating something that people taste and say ‘wow!'”
Jones defined “artisanal” cheeses as those that are “raised with care, prepared with passion and served with love, using time-honored and time-tested techniques for doing so.”
The milk for her cheese comes exclusively from her Latte Da Dairy herd, which currently consists of 11 milking goats and 10 young goats that have not yet started producing milk. All are purebreds and from bloodlines of proven performers.
The herd is guarded by a llama named Dozer, who keeps the goats safe from predators such as coyotes.
The herd of Nubian and LaMancha goats are on an extended lactation schedule that allows Jones to only breed when necessary.
Dozer, the llama, stays awake and on guard.
“You can’t keep everybody; that’s the reality of farming,” she said. “I’m not breeding everybody every year, so I will only have babies when I need to add to my herd.”
At peak, the herd produces eight to ten gallons of milk per day but in late fall averages six to seven gallons daily.
Jones is able to convert that milk to around 150 to 200 pounds of cheese each month.
Right from the start, her cheeses, made in a commercial kitchen in the farm homestead, attracted attention.
Her chévre was featured in 2006 by the award-winning LightCatcher boutique winery near Fort Worth at its annual fall food-and-wine pairing dinner.
The same year, her feta with Kalamata olives won first place in the ADGA amateur cheese division, as well as reserve champion in the overall amateur category.
By now she had started building a goat barn and creating a dairy. The pasteurizer arrived at the beginning of 2007 followed by the cooling tank, which arrived from Europe via Canada.
It was a landmark day—Friday, April 13—when the operation passed its final inspection and Latte Da officially was certified as a Grade A dairy.
Jones immediately began producing her first 100% natural commercial artisan cheeses sprinkled with spices under the Latte Da Dairy label.
“Since our cheesemaking facility is only steps away from our milking
parlor, we are able to use the freshest milk,” she said. “The result is a product with incredible creaminess and flavor.”
Now the chévre and feta varieties are sold by the H. E. Butt Grocery Co.’s Central Market outlets in Southlake, Fort Worth and Dallas. Soon, they will be adding her brie.
Her other soft-ripened St. Maure style cheese, Argento Capra, is sold seasonally at the Grapevine Farmers Market.
The Latte Da chèvre sells for $8 to $10 a four-ounce package.
Demand for the Latte Da Dairy cheese is surpassing supply, with the Central Market outlets reporting they sell out every week.
Her 11 dairy goats produce enough milk to produce plain, fresh chèvre as well as chèvre with garlic, dill, pepper and what Jones calls “the works”—or “all of the above.”
Jones also is producing feta cheeses both plain and with Kalamata olives that won her first award in American Dairy Goat Association competition.
A lot of hard work goes into the end product, two dozen chévre.
The herd’s Grade A milk is tested monthly by the Texas Department of Health to assure quality.
Jones said her cheeses are truly “farmstead” cheeses, made exclusively with milk produced on her farm. She does not buy milk from other goat operations.
“In addition, we strive to replicate the amazing, unique, exquisite goat cheeses found in many of the small towns and villages of France and Italy,” she said.
Latte Da Dairy is being run on near-organic principles.
“My land is organic,” Jones said. “I do not use any pesticides, fertilizers or herbicides on the land. There are natural ways to deal with fire ants and weeds.”
The herd has all the ragweed, redbud, oak leaves, grapevine and weeds it can eat and this is supplemented with horse-grade alfalfa and the best coastal hay she can find.
“We are exploring organic certification of the dairy, but in the meantime are ‘near-organic’ as possible,” Jones said.
Her aim for organic production is in a state that is well behind the rest of the U.S. in that sector.
“I really don’t know if I will ever be able to go organic totally,” she said, noting the roadblocks include the cost and availability of organic
feed and the lack of good organic remedies for some illnesses.”
The Latte Da Dairy has four signature cheeses.
Excluding the significant start up costs, the operation broke even after six months.
Jones said she plans to eventually double the size of her operation.
“No more than that though, because then it becomes unmanageable,” she said. “I want to keep it fun, as well as making sure each goat gets the attention and care they need.”
She sees no benefit in expanding her market outside of Texas.
“My success is based upon the freshness of the product, as well as people’s desire to buy locally.”
The number of goat cheese producers in the Lone Star state is growing, but Jones said she doesn’t see competition from those other producers.
“There is so much business demand and we each have our own niche,” she said. “In fact, several existing farmstead goat cheese producers have been extremely helpful with advice and have become true friends.”
Jones’ advice for people thinking of setting up a dairy-goat operation is simple.
“Be prepared for a lot of work,” she warned. “Do your homework ahead of time about local and state codes and visit a bunch of other dairies.”
Jones’ veterinary background means her goats have first-class health care.
“Prevention is the most important thing we do to keep our girls healthy,” she said. “We avoid a lot of problems by preventing them. But if a goat gets sick, we try natural remedies first. If that doesn’t work, then we will use medications – the girl’s health and longevity is of the utmost importance.”
If one of the goats has to have medication, then her milk is not used for cheese production.
“In the rare instances where I use medications I look at the discard times and double that,” Jones said.
Dealing with parasites has been a problem for Jones this past year.
“Intestinal parasites in Texas this year have been awful,” she said. “I rotate pastures and elevate feed to help the goats avoid ingesting parasites. But if one of the goats does show symptoms of worms,
I will worm it. I have not found any of the natural remedies to be effective at this point. I would rather throw milk out than put one of my girls’ lives in jeopardy.”
The blue ribbon Kalamata Olive Feta is a good seller for the Latte Da Dairy in Texas.
Jones’ preventative practices include parasite management and mastitis prevention.
Cleanliness is critical to preventing mastitis in dairy animals. Before each of the twice-daily milkings, she carefully cleans the udders and teats because she knows her goats love to take dust baths.
“To me, that’s just so important,” she said. “I guess I’m neurotic about it because it’s not just the quality of the milk, but also the longevity of my girls. If they get mastitis, it can ruin their lives as a dairy goat. It’s the most important part of the operation.”
Jones also tests the milk weekly with a California Mastitis Test kit.
“This simple test allows me to catch changes in my girls’ udder health early on,” she said.
“In addition, our herd is on continuous Dairy Herd Improvement testing. We get monthly somatic cell counts along with protein and butterfat information,” she said. “All this tells me a lot about how the goats are doing and how I am doing as a steward of my animals.”
Jones does have one quirk. All her goats are named after divas, ranging from Talk Show O (for Oprah Winfrey) to Marie Laveau (for the legendary Louisiana Bayou voodoo practitioner).
Eight of the does are milked by machine and three by hand.
“I have three divas that didn’t seem to mind the machine, but their milk production dropped dramatically,” Jones said. “So I went back to hand milking these girls, they prefer it—true divas.”
Before returning to the pasture after each milking, each goat gets a cookie treat—an Animal Cracker, of course.
Latte Da Dairy Cheese Competition Results from 2007 ADGA
AA Commercial 2. Chevre, Anne Jones Latte Da
BA Commercial 1. Argento, Anne Jones Latte Da
B Soft Ripened
BA Commercial 1. Argento, Anne Jones Latte Da
HB Flavored Feta
HB Commercial 1. Kalamata Olive Feta, Anne Jones Latte Da