The milking parlor door opened, and a flood of yearling Nubian goats scurried up to a raised platform and took their place.
Each animal knew the routine. They stood at each pen, waiting while the Vanzant family of Martinsville carefully secured their necks in specially designed stanchions to keep them in place. When the goats were set, the Vanzants attached the milker to their udders and started up with a click-clack rhythm.
That milk, once collected, pasteurized and mixed with bacterial cultures, will be turned into one of eight flavors of goat cheese from Risin’ Creek Creamery. From garlic herb to Jamaican jerk to jalapeño, it will make its way to farm markets from Franklin to Brownsburg.
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“We’re truly start-to-finish a one-farm operation. We’re hayfield to goats to milk to processing cheese to market,” said Tim Vanzant, owner of Risin’ Creek Creamery. “That’s important to do it like that as a small farm, where people want things that are as unprocessed as possible.”
Small Hoosier farmers such as the Vanzants are taking a cue from the rising popularity of goat cheese and creating their own versions of the European delicacy in central Indiana.
With a creamy smoothness and unique taste, local producers are finding a market among people searching for an exotic taste made within driving distance.
“People have had these types of products from other parts of the country, just not as commonly. But outside of that, there haven’t been too many people doing this in this area,” said Josiah Klinedinst, who co-owns J2K Capraio in Walkerton. “People want to consume cheeses from their area.”
Goat milk is slightly higher in fat content than cow’s milk, which increases the amount of cheese than can be made per gallon, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
The milk is also the most commonly consumed milk in the world, though the market is relatively small in the U.S., according to the service. That is changing, though.
In the northern part of the state, J2K Capraio offers a range of farmstead handcrafted cheeses from the goats raised on their 22-acre farm. Klinedinst, who co-owns the farm with his wife, Jody, has worked with dairy goats for most of his life.
With their experience in agriculture and their passion for local food, they opened a cheese shop in the South Bend area. This is the fifth year they’ve been a licensed creamery.
They sell their own cheeses, including an Old French feta, farmhouse feta, fresh chevre seasoned with different flavors and small batches of ripened and hard cheeses.
The unique qualities of raising goats in Indiana make their goat cheese products unlike any others people could buy, Klinedinst said.
“Each person’s technique, the terroir, the land where the cheese is created, what’s growing in the area — they all affect the flavor and taste of the cheese,” he said. “A great amount of care is put into a wheel of cheese.”
Risin’ Creek Farm was founded by Vanzant’s grandfather on a low piece of land between the hills outside of Martinville. Started in the 1970s, it has passed on through the generations.
Vanzant and his wife, Sheena, now live on the farm with their son, Cole. His parents, Dana and Diann Vanzant, live nearby and come to help with planting and harvesting hay, caring for the goat herd and selling cheese at the Franklin Farmers Market.
Tim Vanzant has been raising goats for more than 30 years. It started as a 4-H project when he was 9 years old and has blossomed into a lifelong passion ever since.
His goats have won national show championships, with many reaching reserve champion status. The family has been named premier breeder at the Indiana State Fair 13 times.
Tim Vanzant has traveled from Wyoming to Massachusetts showing his Nubian goats. Their current herd runs from about 100 to 150 goats, depending on the time of year and how many baby kids have been born.
Much of their business has been breeding. But in the past two years, they’ve implemented a goat dairy operation.
“We got into this because we love goats. We wanted to make cheese to try and make a living farming because we love that lifestyle,” Tim Vanzant said.
Throughout the U.S., about 375,000 head of dairy goats were raised at the start of 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That is a growth of 3 percent from the year before.
In Indiana, the milk goat figures remained steady this year, with 11,500 head counted by the department of agriculture.
Capriole Farmstead Goat Cheese, located in Greenville, is the pioneer of Hoosier goat cheese production. Founder Judy Schad started making homemade goat cheese in her kitchen in the early 1980s.
Capriole’s aged Old Kentucky Tomme is a buttery and rich taste with mild overtones of mushrooms. The O’Banon is a light cheese wrapped in bourbon-soaked chestnut leaves.
One of its most decorated and award-winning creations is the Wabash Cannonball, a ripened, thin-skinned cheese dusted with ash that is ideal on cheeseboards and for dessert.
At Risin’ Creek, the herd is milked daily, collected and put into a filtration system in a clean-room that serves as the milk house. Regulators from the state of Indiana make routine inspections to ensure the milk house is antiseptic and spotless, which requires the Vanzants to take extra precautions every time they enter.
Outdoor shoes are switched into special footwear that stays in the milk house. Heavy doors serve as a barrier between the goat barn and milk house.
Once the milk is filtered, it is pumped into a bulk tank and stored at 38 degrees. The milk will collect for three to four days, then be pumped into a pasteurizer to be heated at 145 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.
“It’s called batch pasteurization. We heat it to the minimum amount of heat that’s legal because it does the least amount of damage to the milk, in terms of enzymes and calcium. But it still kills the bacteria,” Tim Vanzant said. “People don’t want over-processed food, so that’s the least amount of processing that we can do.”
Cheese-making cultures and enzymes are added to the pasteurized milk, and the curds are scooped out to dry. Risin’ Creek chevre — the French word for goat cheese — is made weekly before each farmers market rotation.
Cheese production starts every weekend, so that it’s ready to be packaged for the following week’s market.
“Every time we go to the market, it’s a fresh batch of cheese,” Tim Vanzant said.
The chevre and feta are the most popular styles of cheese offered by Risin’ Creek Creamery. A homemade caramel sauce has also been a hit. In the future, the Vanzants would like to offer soft-ripened cheeses as well as aged versions stored in an old food cellar built into the farm’s hillside.
Since starting the creamery in 2015, the family has doubled the amount of business that they did last year. They sell at five farmers markets throughout the week, including Franklin, Bloomington, Avon, Garfield Park and Brownsburg.
That face-to-face interaction with the customers has been key to getting people to appreciate their product.
“We sample our cheese at market. We prefer to get people who have never had goat cheese or people who have had European cheeses with a strong goat-y flavor,” Tim Vanzant said. “But our cheese is made fresh and is only four or five days from being milk, it leaves that goatiness out of it.”
Risin’ Creek Creamery
Who: Tim and Sheena Vanzant
Herd size: Depending on the time of year, 75 to 150.
Herd type: Nubians
Products: Fresh chevre in plain, bold chipotle, roasted garlic and herb, Jamiacan jerk, Tuscany, herbs de Provence, jalapeno and four peppercorn; crumbled feta; goat milk caramel sauce.
Where to find it:
- Franklin Farmers Market: 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays through Sept. 3; downtown Franklin.
- Bloomington Community Farmers Market: 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays through September, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays through November; 401 N. Morton St., Bloomington.
- Garfield Park Farmers Market: 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays through October; corner of Shelby Street and East Southern Avenue.
- Avon Farmers Market: 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through September; Avon Hendricks Regional Health Building, 8244 E. US 36
- Brownsburg: 4 to 7 p.m. Thursdays through Sept. 8; Brownsburg Town Hall, 61 N. Green St.