The beginning of Suzanne and Steve Messmer’s journey into cheese making started as a favor. A family that lived nearby them in the town of Interlaken, NY owned Lively Run Goat Dairy and wanted to take a trip abroad. They asked the Messmers if they would be willing to tend to their goat herds while they were gone.
At the time, Suzanne and Steve were budding farmers themselves and had recently purchased their own plot of farmland. They had been looking into raising their own herd of goats, since they did not have enough room for cows and their children at the time were very young.
“You know, smaller animals, smaller kids,” Suzanne said.
The Messmers not only was willing to take care of the animals, but also wanted to learn more. Suzanne explained, “we offered to even make the cheese and run the business. And they gracefully agreed.”
So the original owners gave Suzanne and her family a six-week training course on how to run the dairy operation and business and then they were off.
After the neighbors completed their year overseas, they decided to sell the operation to the Messmers.
“Perhaps they liked the taste of freedom,” Suzanne joked.
Within three years, the Messmers got their farmland ready for the goats. They converted their barn into a goat-friendly home, set up a processing facility and a store to sell their wares. By 1999, Lively Run Goat Dairy was settled into its new home and new mission. The family decided that Lively Run was going to bring the Finger Lakes region healthy, delicious, and sustainable cheese products.
They accomplish this by using milk from not only their small herd of goats, but from other farms as well. During the week, they collect milk from their herd and from a few local farms. This collection is then made into various types of pasteurized goat cheese and raw milk cow cheese.
Soon after they started making and selling their own cheese, other farmers took notice. They too wanted to be able to produce cheese and have their own products to sell, but most didn’t have the room or experience to start their own operations.
“That’s where we step in. We say, hey, we could process that for you,” Suzanne said.
Lively Run took this opportunity to start a custom processing operation. They now work with these farms to create their own specialty cheeses. This includes an organic line for Engelbert Farms, one of the first farms to be certified organic in the nation. The farms in turn can sell these products through their own channels, driving up sales and tourism for themselves.
Now 20 years into making their own cheese, the Messmers have expanded their operations. They upgraded their facilities so they could be certified as an organic cheesemaker, leading to a more diversified product line for themselves and for their custom orders. Their youngest son, Pete, has recently been made head cheesemaker, taking over duties from Suzanne.
Along with the expanded processing area, Lively Run also expanded what it sells in its store with their fresh cheese displayed along with juices, baked goods, and other locally made products. The store doubles as a tasting room during tours.
On the grounds, there is a newly built pavilion that can hold events and are used during farm tours. Visitors can sit in the shade and enjoy fresh cheese while they watch educational videos and demonstrations about the farm, goats, and cheese making.
“I can go in there and make ricotta right in front of them,” Suzanne explained.
The renovations aren’t the only thing keeping the farm modern. Lively Run has embraced the next generation throughout the business. The staff is mostly millennials and they have had interns come in to learn the business side of the dairy.
They also have an active presence online, with postings being done on Facebook and Instagram on an almost daily basis. Their website is popular as well, with an online store showcasing all of their own products. Included on the website is a blog that features stories about the farm’s history, recipes, and articles on how to pair your newly purchased cheese with different local beer and spirits.
Behind all these newer renovations and ideas, changing owners and changing cheesemakers, there are still the ideals that the Messmers hold dear. The cheese is still made by hand, using local milk. Everything is packaged, labeled, and shipped from the farm. The farm drives up local tourism with their tours and sales. At the end of the day, Lively Run Goat Dairy will always be working to make cheese that is fresh, healthy, and sustainable.