I’m always interested in learning how cheesemakers got into the industry; sometimes cheesemaking is a career change, other times it’s an extension of an existing dairy business. For Rachael VanLaanen and Scott Brinton, cheese is one piece of a larger puzzle: it’s helping their small family farm thrive and sustain itself.
Rachael and Scott started out growing market vegetables on their five acres. “We realized that we couldn’t afford the amount of land it would take to make that work financially, in the long term,” says Rachael. They already had a few goats, and she knew from befriending Dee Harley of Harley Farms while living in Northern California that making cheese had the potential to be a lucrative way to add value to a resource (goats) they already had. Milking goats also made sense environmentally. “I’m very focused on what I’m doing ecologically to the land, and goat’s browsing is really beneficial to the land in this area of Western Washington. We’re on a piece of land that’s really made for goats.” Goats are much more partial to the dense thickets and shrubs that characterize the area’s marine landscape.
Rachael had already accumulated an impressive cheesemaking education before going pro herself. She spent a year and a half as an assistant cheesemaker at Mt. Townsend Creamery in Port Townsend (not far from her current farm). “I really enjoy cheesemaking,” she says. “I definitely feel like this is something I want to do long term.” After several years of careful planning and with the help of local investors, she started making cheese officially in May of this year (Scott does farm and pasture management and Rachael takes care of the goats and makes the cheese). The cheese comes from the milk of the farm’s current herd of seven Alpine goats, a small group that Rachael hopes will eventually grow to a maximum of about twenty.
Having worked for many years as a school garden and food based educator, Rachael is committed to developing Mystery Bay Farm as a center for education as well as cheesemaking. “People really want to engage with farms,” she says. “Not everyone has a context for where their food comes from. When you say this food or cheese is a ‘sustainable product’ they might not understand what that means. They can visit our farm and see what that really looks like.”
Right now, Rachael is currently making fresh chevre (both plain and flavored), ricotta and a surface ripened crottin. An aged tomme is in the development stages. Mystery Bay Farm products can be found at the Pt. Townsend Farmer’s Market on Saturdays during the season.
For more information and photos of the creamery’s startup see Wil Edwards’ Culture Magazine Blog - Birth of a Dairy.
Mystery Bay Farm
72 Beveridge Lane
Nordland, WA 98358