Just a few short months ago, Andrew and Blake Place of Hidden Pastures Dairy in Glenfield, NY, held their launch party. The party, hosted by Tug Hill Vineyards, offered guests a taste of things to come: goat milk gelato. Today, the couple’s gelato is available at a growing number of retail outlets and restaurants, and is now shipping online as well. And their on-farm stand opened around the July 4th holiday.
“The gelato is really the key product at this time,” Blake Place said. “Having our value added product is really the ultimate goal because as the farmer you are completely in control of the product. From start to finish or from birth of kid until sale of gelato and then repeat.”
Goats to gelato
The Places have dairy farming in their blood, as well as backgrounds in animal science. With two small children and a desire to raise them on a farm, and to pass that farm on to the next generation, they realized that operating a cow dairy in upstate New York was not going to be their best option. They needed a different focus, but didn’t want to leave behind their love of dairying. Enter the goats.
The Place’s purchased their 100-acre farm in 2015. Today its pastures are home to the growing herd, now numbering over 250 head, of which around 150 are milking. The goats graze when the weather is mild, preferring the barn when too hot or too cold, too rainy or muddy.
Today’s herd, which began with the purchase of a few show goats, is now a mixture of Saanen goats — which make up the majority — as well as Alpine, Toggenbergs, Lamancha, Nubian, and Oberhasli breeds. Now, Hidden Pastures Dairy is a full-fledged goat dairy complete with on-farm creamery.
The milk is all tested for fat and protein, as well as other quality parameters. They continue to work on breeding the herd, just as with cows, to optimally select for animal traits and milk quality.
The couple had plenty of milk before their value-added dreams of gelato became a reality. They previously used some milk in soap-making classes. But they’d like to leave that behind, and utilize all of the milk in the food stream. They are a grade A dairy, and can ship their milk to other processors.
“We currently ship milk to a creamery and we would continue doing that until our market demands would otherwise require us to use all of our own milk,” Blake said. “We have been making goat milk ice cream in our kitchen for five years and sharing with family, but we decided that gelato would be a better product for consumers over the ice cream.”
Gelato is similar to ice cream, but typically has no added cream — just the naturally occurring cream, so is lower in fat content. Goat’s milk, while nutritionally similar to that of cows, has smaller fat molecules, which makes it easier for some people to digest. With a creamy texture and sweet taste, using the herd’s milk to make gelato was a perfect fit.
“We decided that the most simple recipe would be the best of them all,” Blake said. “We tried out so many recipes.”
But not everyone is familiar with gelato; nor are they familiar with goat’s milk. The couple has done market research, complete with taste testing, to promote gelato, and feel confident that this value-added product will appeal to ice cream lovers as well as those who are seeking a less fattening or more easily digested option. But convincing some people that goat’s milk is delicious, and should be a part of their diet, is the first hurdle.
“Really for it to work it needs to be an affordable product that people are willing to try,” Blake said. “We need to get the folks who are not in favor of goat products to give our gelato a taste…because it isn’t what they would expect and they would love it!”
Andrew designed the milking parlor himself, and had it fabricated. They used salvaged parts and equipment, and built most of the infrastructure for the farm. Raising the capital to build the creamery was the biggest challenge they faced.
Their creamery plan received top honors in the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 2018 Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge, and the couple was given $10,000 for winning the “Best Local Product Startup” category. Their plan was selected as one of the 10 winning finalists from more than 500 entries in the competition. The award helped to make their creamery a reality, and they launched their gelato on May 5, 2018.
The milking system is a closed one, so the milk goes from goat to gelato with little chance of contacting air, preventing changes in taste or any possible contamination.
The couple worked with New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets advisors, as well as other professionals to help evaluate their options both for the farm and for the final product. They visited other creameries before deciding on their creamery design. They endlessly did outreach, promoting demand for their gelato, and continue to do so, even as more retail outlets are signing on to carry the product. Educating the public about the product, and the realities of farming, is one of their ongoing goals.
“When making our product, we use the best ingredients we can. Our milk is fresh, we know where it was sourced (our farm) and so there is no question in our minds that the product is top notch,” Blake said. “When a consumer picks our product up on a store shelf I want them to be able to feel good about eating it. Knowing that the farmer raised the animal and also made the product and can tell you all about it, is key.”