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St Tola, where the girls are pampered: pedicures and treats. Sunblock next?
The only kid!
We got a big noisy welcome when we arrived at the St Tola Goats near Inagh in Co. Clare. Three hundred ladies plus all turned in our direction as we entered their spacious quarters. Farm Manager Petru Gal told us that 200 are milking at the moment and indeed that figure can reach up to 300.
Brian, who has been with St Tola for the past eleven years, having originally signed up to help out with the summer milking, just a short holiday job, was our guide on the visit and he told us that the kidding is staggered with a cut off point around the equinox.
Our host Brian, standing by an old cheese press
There was just one kid in the large open and airy sheds, where the goats are divided into pens. There is a certain rivalry between the residents of the different pens! And that needs to be watched at milking time, 8.00am and 6.00pm. It is done mechanically, fairly similar to the way cows are milked, right down to the little treat to get the animals installed in the gates.
The three main breeds here, all mixed at this stage, are Saanen, Toggenburg and British Alpine. If you want quantity of milk then you go with Saanen. But when making cheese you need more fat, more solids in the milk, and Brian says the input of the Toggenburg males ensures higher solids. British Alpine are also in the mix. A goat by the way is in gestation for five months and the normal outcome is twins. While we were going through the shed, Petru showed us one of their three long-eared Nubian goats.
Goats don’t like the wet, don’t like being outside in the rain. Brian explained that in the local conditions, which are fairly peaty (“there is high rainfall in Inagh), they can pick up parasites and can develop foot problems. As it is, their feet need to be pared twice a year, not the easiest of jobs! They do enjoy being out and about in the sun but, as it turned out, last summer was too hot for them and the problem, believe or not, was sunburn!
The major food while they are indoors is haylage. Haylage is cut like hay, but only allowed to semi-wilt and not dry completely. St Tola don’t use silage as that can leave unpleasant traces in the milk. Overall, they do like a varied diet, mostly the farm’s own hay, plus treats such as dried peas, even cut willow branches.
St Tola have a shop on the farm but that only opens for bus tours. If you call, you may buy cheese at the office. This year you can buy their hard cheese. This is only made when there is a surplus as there was last year - there was no hard cheese for a few years before that. It is tasting very well at present but stocks are beginning to run down!
Welcome to St Tola
They make cheese three times a week. They do pasteurised but Brian says the raw milk cheese is much better, the demand for it led by high-end restaurants who appreciate its more complex flavours.
He took us through the cheese-making process, the cultures, the rennet, the separation of curds and whey, draining the curds in bags, the moulding (with 1% salt added). Then for the some of the logs, the ash (a food grade charcoal) is added; this encourages the other moulds and locks in moisture. The plain non-ash logs are sold fresh. Two weeks after start of production, the mature plain logs are available. The fresh is much easier from the cheesemaker's point of view as the mature takes a lot of work and time.
A champion cheeseboard!
Then time for a tasting. Brian tells us that soft cheese accounts for 90 per cent of the production. As indicated above, the 2018 hard cheese is still available and “improving all the time”. We went through them all from the small Crottin right up to the superb Ash Log which is now available in Supervalu. The hard cheese should also be in Supervalu and that means that stocks will be doing down even more quickly.
And there was one more to taste, the St Tola Greek Style, lovely and crumbly, salty and tangy, and ideal for salads. Time then to say a big thank you to Brian for his time and courtesy and slán too to the young ladies of St Tola. Keep on producing that superb milk girls!
Note on upcoming St Tola Tour: Apr 24 2019
St Tola Goat Farm
Public Tour 10.30am sharp. €8/adults €5/children €20 family ticket