Got Goats? Get Milk. Get Love.
Virginia Smith talks about her goats like they are her children. All one hundred and twenty of them.
“Lily and Willow were my first two goats,” she says, smiling as she thinks of them. Smith and her goats live in Weymouth Falls, a small village in southwestern Nova Scotia, about 25 minutes outside of Digby. It’s also where Smith runs Fromagerie Hug Your Nanny Goat Cheese, where she makes all manner of cheeses.
Smith jokes that she grew up in a family of dairy lovers. She says when her cousins come to visit, “I give them fresh cream and cheese, and they roll their eyes back in their head, and are like, ‘I can die now.’ Seeing that reaction in people and feeling it in myself makes the work worthwhile.”
Smith hasn’t always been a cheesemaker. She was born and raised in Elliott’s Cove on Random Island, a small coastal community in Newfoundland. “We were isolated but not as isolated as some islands in Newfoundland because we had a causeway, so we could drive a car and interact with civilisation,” she says. “I grew up listening to my dad telling stories about taking the horse and sleigh across the bay during the winter. The ice would be several feet thick, so they would take their work horse across the bay and pick up supplies like sugar, butter and flour, and the good stuff to keep them alive during the winter.”
When Smith was twelve, part of that good stuff came from their own backyard when her family got a goat. “We drank the milk all the time. We drank it fresh, straight from the goat. We didn’t pasteurise it.” Not much has changed for Virginia. She still drinks the milk straight from her herd. “I start with morning with coffee with goat milk and I usually have a big glass in the afternoon. It’s my power drink.”
The teenaged Smith using the excess milk and cream to make simple fresh cheeses. Decades later, Smith has come full circle, but this time she has more than just a couple goats to provide her with sustenance.
Virginia’s life as a goat herder and cheesemaker starts on an Ontario highway, where her life almost ended. She had been training as a midwife and had just finished a 36-hour shift with next to no sleep or food during that period. “I fell asleep driving and woke up just before I was hit by a transport truck,” she recalls. “I pulled over and reevaluated that I wasn’t going to stay in that crazy life.”
Smith and her then-husband decided to leave their lives in Ontario, wanting to find a different pace of life back east. “We missed the people and the environment. We missed that east coast feeling,” she says. Smith and her husband moved to Weymouth Falls, where she and her husband worked at a local university. Smith and her husband would later separate, but Smith stuck around the area, finding some space to start a little farm of her own. She started with horses and poultry, but it was when she got her first two goats that she knew she had found what she was looking for.
Fast forward a few years later and the Fromagerie Hug Your Nanny Goat Cheese was producing fresh farmers style cheeses. “It’s so fresh and delicious and tastes like fresh cream,” she says. “Then I got into making feta, which I really love because it’s has a natural saltiness to it.” Recently Smith has gotten into making Romano-style cheeses, something she didn’t intend to do at first. “I had too much milk and I started making Gouda for a while. One day by accident I pressed it too hard, and it ended up being like a Parmesan, and then I fell in love with hard dried cheeses. It got me into making Romanos.” Smith’s Romano-style cheeses are pressed, air-dried, and then dipped in wood ash and left to ripen for weeks. “So far it’s been working out really well and the flavour has been developing and getting closer and closer to what I am looking for,” she says excitedly. “A lot of people who are tasting and smelling it are interested in getting it, but I don’t have it aged enough yet. I need at least six months before I release it onto the market. But I’m really happy with the way it is.”
As for markets, for now her products are available at neighbouring retailers in Weymouth, Saulnierville, Meteghan and at the farmers markets in Yarmouth and Wolfville. Smith is looking to find a way to expand the reach of her product, mentioning that she has a few chefs in Halifax interested in using her product.
When asked why she has devoted so much of her life to cheese, Virginia takes a moment to think before responding, “There is something about cheese I find so easily fall to love in with. There is something mammalian about our love of milk. We are often pulled towards things made of milk. We all start out drinking it, if we’re lucky.”
All images via Fromagerie Hug Your Nanny Goat Cheese’s Facebook page