Litchfield Farmers Produce Award-Winning Organic Goat Cheese

June 1, 2024

By Tim King

Among the stone walls, forests and fields on Oak Hill Road in Litchfield, Maine, a herd of 20 Nubian-Alpine goats turn browse and pasture into fresh milk, which Aaron Grim and Briis Wile turn into award-winning organic cheese.

Cosmic Goat Farm and Creamery chevre
Several of Cosmic Goat Farm and Creamery’s chevres are rolled in herbs and spices, such as their Seedy Underbelly. Photos courtesy of Cosmic Goat Farm and Creamery

As one might expect of a cheesemaker, Grim loves talking about cheese. MOFGA-certified Cosmic Goat Farm and Creamery produces a range of goat cheeses, from creamy chevre to hard aged wheels of Tomme.

“Our main product during our milking season, which typically runs from March through October, is fresh chevre,” says Grim. “We make our chevre as a five-ounce round rather than a loose spread. We roll these rounds in a variety of herbs and spices.”

Their Galactic Herb, for instance, is rolled in Mediterranean herbs. “Then there’s a savory seed mixture that we call Seedy Underbelly and also a smoky, spicy chipotle and paprika blend known as Bleating Heart,” says Grim.

Cosmic Goat Creamery’s plain fresh chevre, Stargrazer, placed second in the Maine Cheese Guild’s annual awards in the unflavored category for fresh goat cheese in 2023.

They also make a number of delicious aged cheeses — one of which, an aged natural-rind cheese called Beltane, earned an honorable mention from the Maine Cheese Guild in 2022.

Two of their aged cheeses use organic cow milk from The Milkhouse in nearby Monmouth.

“Equinox is a Gouda-style blend of half cow and half goat milk,” says Grim. “We make it in a pretty sizable wheel that weighs around 10 to 12 pounds. We usually age it at least three months, but we have a bunch right now that are close to a year old. I just know they are going to be phenomenal when we crack them open.”

Their Taurus Tomme, a farmhouse-style cheese, is made from 100% cow milk and aged two to three months.

“It’s earthy, buttery and soft,” says Grim. “We make a lot of it, mainly to supply Nomad Pizza, a family restaurant in Brunswick. Another Tomme-style cheese is an all-goat’s milk cheese that we call Solstice. We make it at the height of summer, when milk is abundant. Then we let it go at least six months until the winter solstice so it can get nice and hard, and all of piquant goat flavors and aromas come through.”

Cosmic Goat Farm and Creamery cheese plate
The creamery makes an array of certified organic cheeses, from fresh chevres to farmhouse-style aged cheeses. 

In addition to selling to restaurants, Cosmic Goat Farm and Creamery cheeses, as well as their fresh shiitake mushrooms, are available at the Wayne farmers’ market, at a number of farmstands and in many shops.

Grim and Wile are also signed up to have a booth at the Pine Gate Farmers’ Market at the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity this September. They intend to bring three flavors of drinkable goat milk yogurt and all of their different cheeses, including a cubed feta marinated in olive oil and infused with rosemary and garlic grown on the farm.

“It’s loaded with flavor,” says Grim. “It is salty, of course, and the garlic gives it a zippy savoriness, and the rosemary has almost a lemony essence. I always include it on a cheese platter, cut into tiny pieces, with a little of the oil drizzled over it. It sure adds a lot to a salad. When the feta is gone, the oil itself is delicious in dressings and pasta.”

To reach the point of making a diversity of cheeses, including their prizewinning chevre, Cosmic Goat Farm and Creamery has invested more than a decade of study, experimentation and hard work. They made their first batch of cheese in 2011. “At that time, we had gotten our first milk goat and soon found ourselves overloaded with milk,” Grim recalls. “Those early batches were not well made, though to us it was the best thing we’d ever tasted.”

After five years of studying, workshops and working in other people’s creameries, Wile and Grim were ready, in 2016, to license the creamery. They started by making and selling yogurt, basic fresh cheeses and raw milk.

“We were operating out of an 8-by-8 room in the upstairs of our house, so we were pretty limited in what we could do,” says Grim. “But the years we worked in that little creamery gave us a lot of experience, and we were able to experiment and hone our techniques and processes. Finally, in 2021, we built a legit creamery that still feels like a palace. It has allowed us to grow our business and processing capacity by leaps and bounds, and there is still room to grow.”

To raise goats productive enough to support their growing business, Wile and Grim have been carefully improving the genetics of their does. They’ve chosen to raise does that are a cross between the hardy Alpine goat breed and Nubians, which are known for their high-butterfat milk and attractive floppy ears.

“We’ve definitely seen strong hybrid vigor when the two are combined,” says Grim. “We’re suckers for those floppy Nubian ears and their high-butterfat milk, so we keep the Nubian in the mix. We bring in bucks of different breeds on different years. We almost track them by their ears. When they get too perky we bring in a Nubian buck and as they get droopier we add Alpine genes. There is, of course, a lot more to it than that. Year by year, we’re selecting the hardiest doelings from the healthiest and best-yielding does, and now we’ve gotten to a point where we have a vibrant herd that thrives in our particular management system.”

Raising goats for organic dairy production has its challenges, especially when it comes to managing parasites without using deworming chemicals.

“At first we spent a lot of time and emotional energy on working through health issues, particularly barber pole worms,” says Grim. “We learned how to do FAMACHA and bought a microscope and did fecal parasite egg counts.”

The FAffa MAlan CHArt (FAMACHA) is a way of measuring anemia in goats and sheep by looking at the color of their mucous membranes, especially their eyelids. Anemia is an early symptom of barber pole worm infestation. Bloodsucking barber pole worms are probably the biggest threat to goats and sheep but using a microscope to examine fecal matter helps farmers identify what other parasite species, if any, have taken up residence in their herd or flock.

But the FAMACHA system was designed to decrease the use of chemical dewormers, not to eliminate their use. Organic farmers need a different management approach to successfully control barber pole worms and other internal parasites. Grim and Wile have developed a management system that accomplishes that through selecting for parasite resistance in their breeding program and through pasture management.
“Now we hardly even think about parasite issues,” says Grim. “Genetics are huge and when we have a new generation every year we are presented with lots of options and different directions to take the herd.”

Understanding parasite life cycles is critical for the health of their herd, and this understanding informs their approach to pasture management.

An infected animal can infest a pasture. Parasite eggs in manure gestate and hatch. Then the parasite crawls up a blade of grass and waits for a grazing goat to ingest them — starting the cycle over.

Wile and Grim’s rotational grazing system is designed to keep in front of the rhythms of the barber pole worms’ life cycle.

“We rotate the goats every few days and try not to return them to land they’ve already grazed on for at least a month,” says Grim. “This rest period almost completely eliminates issues with parasites. Using that system, though, means you need a lot of pasture and therefore a lot of fencing.”

The farm has about 15 acres of pasture, in several different locations, that are surrounded by fence. Not putting the goats on pasture is not an option. Organic certification requires that dairy animals be on pasture during the growing season which, for Cosmic Goat Farm and Creamery, is from May until October. Fencing for a rotationally grazed goat herd on 15 acres is a big project.

“Goats are a nightmare to fence,” says Grim. “If they can find a way to go through it, over it, under it, get stuck in it or break it, they will. So, it costs a lot to fence goats. It kills me to drive by cow dairies that are keeping these thousand-pound beasts contained with one or two little electric wires.”

They have installed fence panels, also known as cattle panels, around the perimeter of their entire pasture. “It is expensive stuff but, as the old-timers say, ‘A fence that won’t hold water won’t hold goats.’ Inside the perimeter fence made from panels, we subdivide the pasture into one half to one acre paddocks using five strands of electric wire.”

Milking and cheesemaking start for the season in late March, five or six weeks before the goat herd can be put out on all that carefully fenced and tasty green pasture. The 20-some does start freshening, or having their babies, in early March, with all of them hopefully done by the month’s end. The herd averages two kids per doe, and those kids, in their first weeks, are busy nursing while their mamas are busy eating organic hay.

“We let the kids nurse all they want for the first month,” says Grim. “Typically, that means we need to milk out the extra for the first couple weeks so the moms’ udders aren’t too full and painful.”

During those first weeks of kidding, life gets to be very full for everybody. For example, last March, 27 kids were born in five days.

“We’ve developed a system that works well for us,” says Grim. “It can feel a little out of control for a few days, but we, and the animals, fall into a rhythm pretty quickly.”

Cosmic Goat Farm Nubian Alpine crosses
The Nubian-Alpine crosses at Cosmic Goat Farm and Creamery are rotationally grazed on 15 acres. Pasture management is critical to the herd’s health and the farm’s organic practices.

The biggest stresses are difficult births, such as a kid being in the wrong position in the birth canal, or a mom rejecting her kid after delivery. “Responding to a lot of it in the right way is just a matter of learning when to intervene and when not to,” says Grim. “We’ve had moms with difficult births where we should have intervened sooner, and mothers and kids who were not bonding that we forced where we should have just left them alone for a while. Again, I think genetics is part of it, too, where over time, we’ve selected for healthy, nurturing moms with easy births.”

Things begin to slow down on the farm as March draws to a close.

“Then the kids get bigger and tend to nurse out all the milk,” says Grim. “At around four weeks we start separating the kids at night, feeding them hay, and milking the does in the morning. We usually wean them at around eight weeks, depending on how they’re growing. The males are usually plenty grown by then and able to be fully nourished on hay or pasture. We might let the doelings nurse a bit longer, especially if we plan to keep them as future milkers. That way they have an early boost to their growth. We like to have the kids fully weaned when we put the milkers out on pasture in May. If we never weaned them, we’d have huge kids but no milk!”

Many of the bucks, as well as the does that won’t be kept for the Cosmic Goat Farm milking herd, will be sold to a nearby Muslim community.

“We’ve been able to connect with the local Somali Bantu community through Liberation Farms, a couple miles from here,” says Grim. “They raise a lot of goats for meat there, which they slaughter and process onsite according to Halal standards. So, we’ve been able to supply them with a lot of young animals to raise for meat.”

Cosmic Goat Farm also sells young animals for pets and backyard milking goats.

From finding homes for those young goats, to assisting with the birth of newborn kids and creating delicious cheeses, Wiles and Grim are grateful to the people and organizations that have guided and mentored them over the years.

“I can’t tell you how much we both appreciate how MOFGA and the Maine Cheese Guild have supported us in our growth,” says Grim. “We went through the Journeyperson Program and have benefited from so many aspects of MOFGA’s educational programs, and the Cheese Guild has so many experienced, supportive, helpful cheesemakers who continue to assist us.”

About the author: Tim King is a produce and sheep farmer, a journalist and cofounder of a bilingual community newspaper. He lives near Long Prairie, Minnesota.

This article was originally published in the summer 2024 issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener. Browse the archives for free content on organic agriculture and sustainable living practices. Subscribe to the publication by becoming a member!

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