Stihl Dealer Days

Rural Missouri Magazine

The art of chevre
Ken and Jenn Muno’s passion for goat cheese
is evident in every Goatsbeard Farm product

by Jason Jenkins
Jenn Muno, left, visits with regulars John and Deb Bolton at the Columbia Farmers Market in early April. Although Goatsbeard Farm cheeses are sold in grocery stores in Columbia, St. Louis and Kansas City, selling at the market remains a large portion of the business.

Despite a chilly breeze, patrons at the Columbia Farmers Market are out in full force this first Saturday in April. As the sun climbs higher into a cloudless sky, it seems to be willing spring and the growing season to commence. Its rays warm the shoulders of those who amble from vendor to vendor as they shop on this blustery morning.

Among the vendors selling wares is Jenn Muno. Freshly cut daffodils and a plaid tablecloth adorn the table beneath her pop-up canopy. A bright yellow banner hangs above the heads of those who pass by. “Fresh Cheese,” it announces.

“The cheese famine is over!” exclaims Rune Sharp of Columbia as she reaches the front of the line. “How have you been?”

Jenn laughs, and the two catch up on the events of the market’s off-season as the cheesemonger fills Rune’s order. Their exchange lasts only a minute or two. “Thanks. See you next week,” says the market regular.

The 50-head dairy goat herd at Goatsbeard Farm near Harrisburg grazes in the pasture. Since 2001, owners Ken and Jenn Muno have produced a variety of goat cheeses at their 80-acre farm.

“Even though it can be exhausting, I really love selling our cheese at the market,” Jenn says. “Making personal contact with the customers who enjoy your products is really rewarding.”

Since 2001, Jenn and her husband, Ken, have produced farmstead artisan goat cheeses at Goatsbeard Farm, their 80-acre farm located about 30 minutes northwest of Columbia near Harrisburg in Boone County.

Although cow’s milk cheese is more common in American diets, goat cheese is enjoyed around the world by cultures from the Middle East to the Mediterranean. It is believed that the first cheeses may actually have been created from goat’s milk.

The Munos make more than a dozen varieties of fresh, soft-ripened and aged chevre (the French word for goat cheese), all of which are made with either pasteurized or raw milk exclusively from their own herd of 50 dairy goats. Having control of all aspects of the process — from the care of the goats to the handcrafting of the cheese — allows them to ensure the highest levels of quality.

Guy Schlapper pours fresh milk into the farm’s bulk tank.

Ironically, neither Jenn nor Ken has a farming background. The pair instead shares a love of good food. Originally from Michigan, they met in 1993 while working at Zingerman’s, a well-known delicatessen in Ann Arbor, where they sold cheese.

As they learned more about farmstead cheesemaking, Ken decided to get firsthand experience. He secured apprenticeships with goat dairies in both Massachusetts and California. After they graduated from college and married, the couple decided that a farm would be in their future.

The couple settled in mid-Missouri in 1995, following Jenn’s parents to the state after her father took a job at the University of Missouri.

“There really wasn’t a ‘Eureka!’ moment,” says Ken of the decision to start a goat dairy. “We were interested in having a small farm, a place we could work the land. The biggest challenge was the cheese.”

Goatsbeard, which is named for a lemon-yellow wildflower that grows in Missouri, is a seasonal grass-based dairy. Instead of producing milk year-round, the goats follow their natural breeding cycles. This includes a two-month window each January and February when they are allowed to dry off and stop producing milk.

Goatsbeard Farm owner Ken Muno cuts the curd in a batch of raw milk cheese, allowing the curds and whey to separate.

The system offers several advantages. It comes at a time when there’s little to graze in the pastures and allows the Munos to avoid the period of highest-cost milk production. The break also allows the goats to rest and increases their longevity.

“We just retired a 13-year-old, and we have a few 11-year-olds still,” Jenn says, noting that a commercial dairy cow may only stay in a herd two years. “As long as she’s productive, we’ll let her keep on trucking.”

Once the goats begin to kid in late February and early March, the milking season begins. The goats are milked twice daily, once in the morning and again in the evening. The amount of milk produced by each goat varies depending on her breed, her age and the time of year, but averages about one gallon per goat a day.

The herd currently consists of a mixture of several breeds of dairy goat, including Nubian, Alpine and LaMancha. Each year, they keep 10 doe kids to add to the herd. They all receive names from the same letter of the alphabet, which this year was “I.”

The Munos employ a rotational grazing system where the pastures are subdivided into smaller sections. The goats are moved from section to section, ensuring that they have fresh pasture daily that is not overgrazed.

Goatsbeard employee Guy Schlapper milks a goat in the farm’s parlor. The goats are milked once in the morning and again in the evening. The amount of milk produced by each goat varies depending on her breed, her age and the time of year.

Using Ken’s environmental science background, the Howard Electric Cooperative members have worked to create an operation that treads lightly on the land. They heat the dairy, water for the pasteurizer and even their home with an outdoor wood stove. Whey, a byproduct of the cheesemaking process, is not washed down the drain. Instead, it is collected and spread as fertilizer on the pastures.

Goatsbeard Farm’s first offerings were fresh, soft cheeses that require no aging. As Ken’s cheesemaking skills have matured, the couple has moved to more and more complex cheeses where aging techniques become vital to the final product’s flavor.

Today, Ken makes about a dozen varieties. In addition to plain fresh cheese rounds, they offer flavored rounds such as pepper and herb, as well as a marinated round with olive oil and sun-dried tomatoes. Goatsbeard also makes spreadable cheese in tubs, both plain and flavored including herb, garlic and chipotle.

Many cheeses have names that reflect their Show-Me State origins, such as Franklin Island Feta, Prairie Bloom, Missouri Moon, Moniteau Blue, Osage Orange and Taum Sauk.

While the farmers market is the primary outlet for Goatsbeard Farm’s cheeses, they are available at grocery stores in St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia. Many local restaurants also buy the farm’s cheeses.

Ken checks on the progress of two soft-ripened cheeses, Prairie Bloom and Missouri Moon, in the aging room.

Jenn credits the local-foods movement with helping them to grow their business. “People are more aware and concerned about where their food is made and who made it,” she says.

“It’s fantastic. It’s better than the stuff from France,” says Rune Sharp, who purchased Prairie Bloom rounds this particular Saturday morning at the market. She explains she actually has family that lives in France and that she’s shipped Goatsbeard’s cheeses to them.

“We sent it to them in Paris, and they put it on the Christmas dinner table but didn’t tell anybody where it was from,” she says. “Everybody was saying how wonderful it was, and they were guessing where it was from. They were guessing all over France. They said it was just terrific.”

John and Deb Bolton of Columbia agree. “At least once a week, we have a cheese meal, and we always use Goatsbeard,” Deb says. “We love them.”

John adds that their favorites are the Walloon and the Moniteau Blue, “but we’ll take whatever is in season and available.”

While many stereotypes exist about the taste of goat cheese, Jenn says that one sample of her cheese will convince even the most finicky.

“Our plain cheese is mild and creamy and almost a bit lemony,” she says. “There’s no ‘goatiness’ to to it.

“There’s a world of difference between our fresh cheese and the stuff you’ll usually find on the grocery store shelf. Ours is the freshest goat cheese you’re going to find.”

To learn more about Goatsbeard Farm cheeses, visit www.goatsbeardfarm.com or call 573-875-0706.

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