When Will and Lynne Reid purchased Amazing Acres Goat Dairy in Elverson, they thought it best to keep the name of the company the same. It was a choice made due to the reputation and recognition of Amazing Acres, but more importantly because of the continuation of the artisan style production and tried and true cheese recipes shown to them by former owners Debbie Mikulak and Fred Bloom.
“It took a long time for us to find this (opportunity), this is our nest egg, our dream, and so far it seems like a good lifestyle,” said Will.
The Reid’s are food enthusiasts, and dedicated to a lifestyle of sourcing their own food and doing so in a sustainable way. When the couple first met in 1997, Will's enthusiasm for cooking was a wonderful compliment to Lynne's love for gardening. At their home in Havertown, they tended a vegetable garden that measured 40 feet by 40 feet- a garden that has harvested as much as 400 pounds of tomatoes in a season. Together through the work in the garden they cultivated a love for being outside and growing food.
“In Havertown we helped people build gardens, and helped them see the value of producing one's own food,” Will explained while sitting on the back porch that overlooks his new, albeit smaller, garden at Amazing Acres. “We value the quality of ingredients. We desire for high quality food to put in our bodies, to grow our bodies, and to cook with - it is very important to us.”
Making cheese first came into the picture when Will and Lynne enrolled in a night school cheese-tasting course. During the course they learned the basics of making cheese, and even made a few simple cheeses of their own. It was a small start to something which now encompasses Will and Lynne’s everyday lives.
“We wanted to take on (an opportunity such as professional cheesmaking) for about ten years, and thought that Amazing Acres was the perfect situation,” said Will, “We chose (to do so) with goats for logistical reasons – they are healthy, personable animals.”
Making a career transition to artisan cheesemaking was a welcome challenge and change for the couple. Will, a former advertising manager and consultant, admits that this new career is hard work, but he believes that it is well worth it. Lynne, who is very involved but still works chiefly externally as a graphic designer, also looks forward to what the future of Amazing Acres holds. Plus, they are looking forward to a future of hosting open houses and dinners on the farm with fans of Amazing Acres.
“I love to cook, and to cook with my own food. In the future we want to incorporate our own fruits, vegetables and herbs into our cheeses,” said Will.
The Reid’s offer to buy the land and the business was tentatively accepted last May, and the sale (made possible through an Economic Development Council loan for first time farmers) was made final in August. Part of the deal included instruction in Amazing Acres artisan cheesemaking by Debbie Mikulak. For the first several weeks of his training (which began in May) Will had to travel from Havertown to Elverson every day. After three months under Mikulak’s instruction, Reid had a firm grasp on the day-to-day operations and was succeeding with crafting test batches of the Amazing Acres cheeses.
In their Cheese Room, where Will says he spends most of his time, he showed some of the tools of the goat cheese making trade: a 35-gallon pasteurizer (which is a double boiler which stirs and evenly heats the milk) and a bulk tank (which holds the unpasteurized goat milk before cycling it into the pasteurizer). The system has charts to track each and every batch that goes through the pasteurization process, and Reid keeps detailed records in order to assure the quality of Amazing Acres products.
“Deb taught more than recipes,” he said, “she taught cleanliness!”
Reid is currently focusing the cheesemaking efforts on three cheeses - Baby Bloomer, (a fresh bloomy rind cheese), Sea Smoke (a variation on a Crottin using vegetable ash), and a variety of Chèvres (which the Reid’s flavor with complementary ingredients such as cranberries or pesto). The creation process, in its simplest form is: 1) pasteurize the milk, 2) bag the curd, and 3) place the cheese into molds. The cheeses are then wrapped and aged in refrigerators an adjacent room.
Will said that he has been experimenting with some new recipes, including a brie cheese which has been well received by those who have tasted it. The rollout of the new recipes will take time, however, as Pennsylvania law requires that any new recipes be approved by the state.
Along with making cheeses came an immersion in the local cheese market as well as the business end of things.
“Reaching out to the community and being active in the community is very interesting to us,” Will said. “Debbie took me around to the customers and made the introductions. Everyone I have met has been very supportive. There is not a lot of competition because everyone makes different cheeses, so I can make fresh goat cheeses without stepping on anybody's toes.”
The Reids have joined up with the Chester County Artisan Cheesemakers (of which there are 1/2 dozen), and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA). The Reids had previously attended PASA events in order to learn more about the cheesemakers, goats and goat cheeses while first considering purchasing Amazing Acres.
On the retail side of things, Will and Lynne were pleased to discover that there was a pent-up demand for their cheeses when they became “production ready”. Among the retail customers continuing to purchase the Amazing Acres cheeses are Weaver's Farm, Kimberton Whole Foods, Tallulah's Table in Kennett Square, the 320 Market Cafe in Swarthmore, and Dibruno Brothers in Philadelphia and Ardmore.
“Local sourced foods are valued in the local market,” said Will, “people recognize that the cost is worth it and it shows in the market.”
While they are currently buying high quality raw goats milk from Misty Meadows for their cheesemaking, Lynne Reid is expecting to bring aboard the first Amazing Acres resident goats in November. She says that they will be starting with just two or four, but can expand to a maximum of 30 (which is as many as their barn can house). She explains that a goat will produce about one gallon of milk per day, which typically results in one pound of cheese. The milk they bring in costs roughly $6 per gallon, but their goats would produce raw milk at a cost of approximately $ 1.50 - $2 a gallon. Currently the production level is typically 50 gallons a week.
While they expect their use of non-resident raw milk will slow down in the Spring of 2012, the Reids do plan on using Misty Meadows as a supplemental source once own goats are producing.
“They are good people and we trust them and the quality of their milk. Knowing where it comes from and how it is made is vital,” Will said.
Although the retails sales are doing well, the ‘new’ Amazing Acres cheese has yet to debut at local farmers markets – however, Will said that their cheeses will definitely be available as such when the markets reopen next year.
“There is potential for a lot of cheese - but we are not going to turn into a production line - we are keeping the operation (at an artisan level),” he said. “There are right ways and wrong ways to do it - you must choose to support the right way to do it.”
In addition, the fans of Amazing Acres can expect to experience forthcoming open houses, beer and wine events, and beer and cheese events.
“We feel comfortable being out at events,” said Will, “up next the Dibruno Brothers are having a Cheese Demonstration featuring our cheeses in November at the downtown Philadelphia location and the Italian Market location.”