Nestled in the hills above Dexter Lake southeast of Eugene, Oregon lies a goat farm with a national reputation that's recently started testing the waters of the artisan cheese world. Cheesemaker and Pennsylvania native Andhi Reyna is a midwife by training who migrated to Oregon a decade ago to practice her craft. One thing led to another (more about that below) and she recently gave up her midwifery practice entirely to make cheese full time. "I'd always been working toward the idea of having goats and living off the land, being independent in that way," she says.
Enter the Mt. Zion goat herd. The fact that the herd has a name should tell you something: this is not an ordinary bunch of goats. Andhi's mother-in-law Shari Reyna has spent 30+ years developing the herd's bloodlines and selling breeding and show stock across the nation. But over time, the family came to realize that goat breeding wasn't the profit center that it used to be. "We saw that the farm just wasn't going to be able to sustain itself in the long term," says Andhi. And so, like many small family farms before them, they looked at alternative ways to sustain the operation. The choice was obvious - channel the dairy potential of this exceptional herd into a milk and cheesemaking operation.
After several years spent constructing the milking and cheesemaking facility, Fern's Edge Goat Dairy was finally "born" with Andhi the midwife - and now mother - of a farmstead cheesemaking operation. (She's also the mother of two actual children, Isaac and Dar). Starting last year, Andhi has made mostly fresh chevres, both plain and flavored with goodies like pesto, dried chantrelles and dill. Her fresh pesto chevre was an award winner at this year's American Dairy Goat Association Competition. Next year she'll expand into making other types of cheese such as soft-ripened and aged cheeses. "It's a step by step process building a cheese business," she says, "but that's what I really want to do - make raw milk aged cheeses." Fern's Edge will also start selling raw goat's milk sometime next year (legal in Oregon, though selling raw cow's milk is not) once the required bottling equipment is in place.
Andhi Reyna is strongly committed to sustainable practices, so while she's making cheese, she's also attuned to the welfare of the land and her animals. "We're biodynamically diverse," she says. "It's hard, though, for a dairy or animal farm to actually become certified Biodynamic because of the requirements." (It's a much more complex process than organic certification). "But we are well known locally, and people in the area know this place and what's going on with the land." In an era where "sustainable" has become the buzzword of choice, this kind of resolute dedication to wholisitc practices sets Fern's Edge apart from other similar operations.
Fern's Edge Dairy is poised to make a big splash on the Oregon cheese scene. I think their fresh chevre is some of the best I've had in the entire Northwest - and I don't say that lightly - it's bright, slightly tart and gloriously creamy. For now, Andhi Reyna's cheeses are mostly available in the Eugene area, though Portland area aficionados should check for it at Portland area Market of Choice stores (Burlingame or West Linn) where it's available occasionally. I have no doubt that we'll be hearing a lot more about Andhi and her cheese over the next few years as Fern's Edge grows and I, for one, am looking forward to it!