TLC Makes Champion Cheese
By Lynne Brandon
Anderson, S.C. – Goats are used to being misunderstood but the misperceptions are changing. For one, goats don’t eat tin cans or smell bad, as a rule. And, they are friendly and like people. None are friendlier than the loveable four-legged creatures found on Split Creek Goat Farm in Anderson, South Carolina, home to 350 goats, most of which are of international descent.
Split Creek is the brainchild of Evin J. Evans and Patricia Bell, who started the business in 1985. Tucked into country back roads, the farm is dotted with log cabins, and a country store where goat dairy products are sold in a picturesque setting. Benches hewn out of logs litter the grounds for visitors and flowers abound creating a peaceful, harmonic place for animals and people to co-exist. The menagerie is not limited to goats but to chickens, a pig, cats, (one called Tripod since it is 3-legged) and dogs.
Dogs are next to highest hierarchy of importance at Split Creek where Border Collies herd the goats when needed and eight majestic white Great Pyrenees serve as guards against predators, namely coyotes. When not being milked, the goats are separated by gender and females according to milking production. Unlike many dairies, older does are not destroyed but are treated as respected seniors who have paid their dues. Instead, they are put out to pasture to enjoy the rest of their natural lives.
As for the main show, it is all about goats. And, award winning goats of all breeds: Golden Guernsey, Angora, Nubians and others fill the ranks. Color breeds like Alpine are de rigueur, and the only U.S. breed on the farm is the La Mancha. Quest, a champion Nubian, strutted her wares proudly on the day of my visit.
The atmosphere is peaceful and laid back but business is the intent. The collies round up the lactating goats twice each day for milking. Like church ladies the goats have a favorite “pew” in the milking lineup and find their positions. Goat milk is most similar to human breast milk and is known for its easy and fast digestion. Unlike cow’s milk which can take an hour to digest, goat milk digests in a mere 20 minutes. Goat milk also freezes well. South Carolina is one of only 8 states that sell raw goat milk.
Aside from the delicious milk, the goat dairy product is made into yogurt, fudge and of course, cheese. The cheese operation started as response to the growing demand by consumers and made good use of excess milk. Once considered a mysterious delicacy, goat cheese is now on most restaurant menus and is no longer considered a “special occasion” cheese.
The artisan cheeses include the gold medal feta (national competition), award winning apricot and almond cheese ball and other products. Chevre, Gouda and Cheddar are among some of the cheese varieties produced.
Farm fresh food is the goal of the farm that does not use hormones for breeding or in its milk. Herbicides and pesticides are not used on the pastures in keeping with Split Creek’s philosophy of producing an all natural product. Visitors are welcome at the farm but scheduling a time for a tour is recommended. The hard working goats don’t get vacation days and are milked 365 days a year by the dedicated staff.
When not milking, feeding or nurturing the goats, the staff enjoys educating the public about rural life and explaining the daily rote of milking, feeding and processing cheese. Goat cuddling is allowed except for baby goats which are not handled by humans until they build up their immune systems.
The loveable and oft misunderstood animals are king at Split Creek. The love they are shown is evident and the reward is a first quality product shared with neighbors and others across the U.S. Even a long, tall Texan experienced the Split Creek Farm products when a bundle of goodies made its way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The goat cheese was served for former president, George Herbert Walker Bush.
The Farm Shops are open Monday - Saturday, 9:00am - 6:00pm and Sundays, 2.00pm - 5:00pm, to sell the milk, cheese, fudge and yogurt produced by the farm. Goat meat in a variety of cuts may be purchased in the shop. Along with Split Creek’s own products, the farm shop sells many other items produced in South Carolina: eggs, honey, grits, corn meal, & rice to name a few. For more information, go to www.splitcreek.com.