Katie Wiste walks her milk goats to their Black Hammer pasture.
Katie Wiste walks her milk goats to their Black Hammer pasture.
For Katie Wiste of Black Hammer Township, two of the things she loves came together during a time of intensive study in Europe.
Back in 2000, as Katie was about to enter sixth grade, she won a Nubian goat through the Houston County 4-H Dairy Goat Exchange. Over the years, she's added Alpine and Saanen bloodlines to her little herd, but all are still descended from “Blossom.”
Making cheese with the help of dairy goats soon became a passion. Katie developed her herd, even experimenting with a Boer (meat breed) cross on one occasion.
“They really didn't turn out like I wanted,” she chuckled. “The kids actually jumped a five and a half foot fence. They were pretty crazy. They ran up the wall and ran over the fence.”
Turning the care of her nannies temporarily over to her mother (Sharon), Wiste majored in Italian Studies at the University of Minnesota, with a minor in food science. She spent eight months in Italy in 2010 as part of that experience.
After completing her first year of college, she also made two trips to Vermont, enrolling in some serious cheese-making courses through the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese (VIAC).
“They included a lot of basic science...,” she noted. “A lot on the principles of milk science and chemistry. It was very useful in understanding how milk works when you manipulate it for cheese making.”
Wiste earned the status of “certified cheese maker” through VIAC. Her Italian Studies degree then opened the door to a new (and old) continent.
“I used my degree to actually go to Italy and I worked on farms there,” Katie said, “learning how to make cheese (as a student in Faluja), I studied abroad for four months and stayed on another four months to work on a number of farms.
“I went through WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms).
“It was a lot more hands-on than I'd ever done. I had experimented here and worked with a small amount of milk, but watching them work with quite a lot of milk on a daily basis was very interesting. To see how they could look at the curd and see what they had to do in terms of changing the temperature and changing the recipes a little bit...
“I got to see some very traditional cheese making in Sicily, for example.
“I met this guy who made a fantastic traditional Sicilian cheese called provola. Think provolone except for the 'bite.' It gets really piquant, actually. Kind of like an aged cheddar, except a little different. Every day you would have to stretch the curd, a very intricate process... Sometimes he would put a lemon in the middle. They just do crazy stuff that we wouldn't even dream of. It was wonderful cheese.
“The guy was called Franco. He and his wife and family were hired to make the cheese on this farm. He was full of advice.”
Franco later said he had learned his trade “all over the world.” But all of the towns he named turned out to be in Sicily.
“I'm attracted to the Italian-style cheeses, and the cheeses I make are influenced by what I learned there,” Wiste said. “But I would love to learn more about Spanish cheeses and French cheeses, and even those from Eastern Europe. Those are for the most part pretty unknown.
“Some of them are really fussy to make, and that limits me. Even cheddar, which seems like a really simple cheese, is actually fairly touchy. I'm working mostly with goat's milk, so that changes things too. Most recipes are designed for cow's milk.”
Goat cheese differs from cow's cheese in some fundamental ways, Wiste said. “A lot of it is the protein and the fat, which is pretty different. There's three particular fats in goat's milk that give it the 'goaty' flavor. Goat's milk has smaller fat globules, which is why it's naturally homogenized, and that's also why it's easier for humans to digest. The casein, or protein type is also different. All goats have A2A2 milk, while most Holsteins have A1A1.
“It was a lot of fun to go to Italy and come back and try to replicate those cheeses that they taught me how to make.... A lot of people have helped me along the way.
“It gives you a totally different perspective of what's possible... I stayed in a farm in northwest Italy where they had cows and goats that were totally grass-fed, and they made fabulous cheese. It was just something that isn't thought of here... Their cows didn't get any grain. They didn't produce much milk, but it was very rich and it made great cheese.
“That's something I'm interested in doing in the future, too. In the future, I will be selling cheese. That's what I want to do.”
Katie walked to the goat barn, and placed leashes on her half-dozen milking does. Pauley, Pip, Nutmeg, Ginger, Cinnamon and Coriander knew what was coming. Nearby five kids popped into view. Three are does, two bucks.
“Last year I did spices,” Wiste said as she surveyed the youngsters. “This year I have Peony and Poppy and Lily, Parsnip and Dandelion. So all the boys are weeds and the girls are flowers,” she said with a laugh.
As the little troupe set off for the pasture, Katie speculated on her next goal. “What I really want to do, and what I've been working on for a little bit is to make a really good Alpine-style cheese,” she confided. “That's not something you find very often.”
Nutmeg and crew wagged their tails and munched happily as Wiste led the way. Later, they'll contribute to her upcoming stock and trade. And one day, goat cheese lovers may have something to cheer about as Houston County's artisan cheese industry “blossoms.”