Almost four years ago I decided to start making my own cheese for our resort, Mystic River Lodge because of a lack of good cheeses in Belize and also because we use so much of it in our cooking that I was spending a lot of time in Belize City looking for cheese! Being French born and a great lover of cheese myself, I had a keen interest in goats and their milk; cows have never done very much for me, so goat it was! That decision lead to some amazing discoveries about goats: where to get them in Belize and most importantly how to make the cheese itself since I had not a clue; but I was willing to learn. I took a one week course on “101 cheese making” and I was off. The rest is all about learning as you go, mistakes and all; I can say in all honesty that there were a few but none that I could not eat!
Over a period of a few months we put together a small herd of about 15 odd goats, mostly Saanen blood lines. Over time we started breeding only the best milkers from our herd after we found out that milking capacities are passed on from mother to kid! Overall, Saanen and local breeds produce the most milk and are the hardiest goats here. We had problems with the kids at the beginning but got that sorted out with a proper vaccination routine and proper feed. On our 25+ acres of pastures we grow Mombasa and Guinea grass which the goats will graze during the day and we also feed them a grain mixture prepared ourselves from local products, such as cracked corn, citrus pellets, soybean meal and of course multivitamins! We also grow mulberry and purple elephant grass for them to eat; mulberry is their preferred food. We keep 5 goats per acre of fenced plot (no electric fence needed) and we rotate accordingly.
Our average milk production varies from 2 pints to half a gallon per goat so during milking season, we can get anywhere from 4 to 6 gallons of milk per day; it takes about 2 gallons of milk to yield one to one-and-a-half pounds of cheese, depending on the cheese being made.
While Eber, our livestock manager, and I were busy putting the herd together, our construction crew built a “cheese house”, a special place for me to make the cheeses, et voila! “La Fromagerie” at Mystic River Resort was born. We have been supplying all the cheeses and yogurt for the resort ever since, and have even recently added a “Wine & Cheese Tasting” palapa for our guests to sample some of our creations. We offer the tasting by appointment only and it truly is a lot of fun.
Some of my personal favorite cheeses are our coconut cheese, which is a soft cheese rolled in shredded coconut (We have many coconut trees here!), then fried. Yummy! I add a little bit of sweet and sour sauce on top and what a treat! I also love the cheesecake our Chef David makes and love to see the look on people’s faces when I tell them the cheesecake is made with goat’s milk. I found that there is a big misconception about goat cheese out there. Most folks think of goat cheese as a pungent soft cheese when really you can make any kind of cheese with goat’s milk. It is all about the culture you use and the aging process of the cheese that determines the final cheese. I also found it great to offer dairy to our guests who are lactose intolerant. Being lactose intolerant has to do with an inability to process cow’s milk but not goat’s milk: it’s really nice to see folks who usually do not each cheese do so and really enjoy it!
I also started going to the market every Saturday recently to sell our cheeses because we had so much milk I was having trouble eating it all! The favorite cheese at the market is our spreadable cheese with herbs and garlic. A lot of folks won’t try it because, as I am told, “they don’t like goat cheese”, again because of the belief that it is a pungent cheese. I don’t twist arms, but for those who take the plunge and try it….they love it! I found that it is my best seller after all! Our cheesecake has also done very well and on a few occasions, I have run out! I also make a fabulous cheddar style cheese which is great for shredding over just about anything: burgers, salads, pasta, etc.; a little “crotin” rolled in vegetable ash; a very dry cheese full of flavour; mozzarella; camembert and a variety of other cheeses filled with garlic, herbs, hot spices or even mushrooms! I have also tried a blue style cheese but I am not pleased with the results so will keep on trying to come up with the crumbly blue cheese.
We love our goats! They are fun, each with its own personality; some of them are downright saucy! We had them in one of our pastures recently and one of them managed to escape under the fence to eat all my dragon fruits! Our herd now numbers over 45 animals and has some of the best looking goats in Belize. Overall, the goat and cheese making businesses have been a lot of fun and I am proud of what our team has accomplished in a very short period of time. So proud in fact that we have now started a herd of sheep for meat but that’s another story! Thank you, guys! Come milk the goats with our staff every morning at 7.30 and learn a little bit more about being a goat shepherd!