Monday, August 23, 2010

Lazy Lady Farm

I have been having a lot of trouble writing this post about Laini, her farm and her general awesomeness. The problem is that I've wanted to meet her for so long and visit her farm that I wrote a few early drafts with my "celebrity goggles" on. Kind of what happened when I met Allison Hooper at ACS last year.

Laini's Lazy Lady Farm of 40 milkers is certified organic and is off the grid. The kids have a nice little wooded area where they can romp and play and get all the nutrients that help to keep their immune systems happy. Her power is all solar and wind generated. Does any of this make the cheese taste better, or is it something else altogether?

Laini started out as a shepherd in the early days, selling lambs for meat and doing a rug business using sheep's' wool for felting. Shearing a sheep ran between $3-6 each and unfortunately the price of processing a lamb became very expensive as well. When Laini started out it was about $8 per lamb, more recently the price is $70+ per lamb.With such high prices Laini would have to charge a ridiculously high price in order to make any type of profit or even just recoup the expenses paid out to raise the lamb, or she could choose to set her price too low and go out of business all together.

Neither one sounded good so she switched to goats. Lazy Lady Farm started with 1 Nubian goat and a few sheep, but she soon got rid of raising sheep, and made the change to the heartier Alpine goat which has a shorter gestation period and a larger milk yield.

Laini's farm is settled on one of the most beautiful and picturesque parts of Vermont. She has two cows and is also uses cow's milk from a nearby neighbor who supplies milk to Organic Valley as well.

Being off the grid doesn't slow down work on the farm although it does make doing chores a bit more taxing physically. When we got there they were adding a door to the new cave that's being built 15 feet underground. Having an underground cave helps maintain the temperature and humidity and generates a natural airflow. In the winter time the cave is at about 40 degrees and 55 in the summer. Having that constant temperature is crucial when aging cheeses. Not all cheeses want to be aged at 55 degrees though. Luckily, Laini has a number of cheeses that are available on a seasonal rotation.

Happy little boy goat with a fantastic beard. Hipster boys around the country should hang their heads in shame when they gaze upon his goaty greatness.

Hello ladies! Lazy Lady employees enjoying a shady spot on the farm

When Laini first started making cheese she did so using four 5 gallon pots and that tiny stove. Each batch of cheese was started at a slightly different time and she would have all of the batches going at once. Things have improved. In 2003 she got a loan from the Vermont Community Loan Fund which enabled Lazy Lady Farm to build a bigger cheese plant (originally cheese was made in the kitchen) and there's room now for a bigger kettle (50 gallon) to make the cheesemaking process more efficient.

Laini talks about her goaty pursuits and cheesemaking endeavors.

Laini's cheeses have won numerous awards, she has kicked butt at ACS conferences, and is one of the most respected cheesemakers I know. She, like many others in the industry learned her craft by spending time abroad.

One of the things I enjoyed most when talking with Laini was her business sense. As a society we are in love with the romanticism of farming and making artisan products. The reality is that this is ridiculously hard work, and not every farmer is going to succeed and make a tidy profit. Laini is the only cheesemaker I've visited who talked about the financial aspects of the job. Sure, goats are adorable, but the bottom line is a farmer needs to make money in order to sustain their land, animals, and lifestyle. Being poor is not romantic. You have to have a good head for business to be a successful cheesemaker.

One of the biggest challenges in a cheesemakers' world is getting paid. If the retailer or distributor doesn't pay, they are jeopardizing Lainis' ability to stay in business. There are a lot of cheesemakers who will continue working with someone who isn't timely in their payments, but Laini isn't one of them. She pulls no punches and isn't afraid to name names of people who have tried to take advantage of her.

It is her blend of breeding and cheesemaking talent, creativity, passion, environmental concerns, no bullshit taken or given approach and practicality that makes Lazy Lady Farm and the woman behind it truly remarkable.

Laini runs a goat breeding program. If you're interested in acquiring a goat or two please check out her website here.