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To Be Like Miguel

Monday, 10 February 2020 14:24

By Rachael Lucas

Do you ever meet someone and decide you want to be just like him when you grow up?  I had one such encounter during my visit to Costa Rica this month. 

Rachael Lucas and Miguel PicmonkeyRachael and Miguel in photo by Ron Burr

One cloudy, buggy day, my folks and I ventured up to Cachí, a sleepy village in the Orosi Valley, where we entered an extraordinary (and dog laden!) piece of property known as Dos Cabritas del Rio Oro (Two little goats of the Gold River).  The man, the creator, of this enchanted locale is known by the ticos as Miguel.  Miguel is a retired American physician who hand built his home, farmstead creamery, and all that the place entails, from scratch, via a most innovative vision. While I was in awe of the estate, I was even more captivated by his cheese operation.  Miguel does it right—from the animal husbandry and cheesemaking process, to meticulous affinage and flavor grading.  All of this is a result of his steadfast quest to turn passion into a sustainable reality.

Miguel has four peppy does (female goats) hailing from Saanen and La Mancha breeds, both of which are notorious milkers. They are only milked once daily, which yields more solids for cheese production.  This means the milk is higher in fat, protein, and minerals than it would be if he milked them twice daily.  

His ladies don’t reproduce all at once, which affords them an opportunity to rest and just be pets.  As there isn’t pronounced seasonality (besides a rainy season) in Costa Rica, and the sunlight is rather direct year-round, the goats do not take natural cues as to when to dry off.  Thus, Miguel makes the decision for them.  Rosita, his most recent milking doe, produced for him for two years.  This is a sign of a well-kept goat: one who gladly produces and offers her milk with no stress.  He finally ceased the production himself in order to give her (and him) some respite.

The does are currently dried off, but soon each girl will have her best hoof forward for the next frisky visit from their buck, Elvis.  Elvis resides on another goat farm, Finca Goodlife.  He is one lucky fella to have such a widespread harem. An advantage to having the buck reside in another locale is that his pheromones are nowhere near the milk.  This means you won’t find any farmy, bucky, or undertail nuances in any of Miguel’s queso.

Pasteurization is not a consideration for this artisan’s cheese.  He utilizes the milk’s inherent microbiome to work with high quality, adjunct cultures and rennet; this imparts the most flavor volatility and characteristic texture possible.  He has no use for calcium chloride, which is commonly added to milk, especially the pasteurized sort, for a firmer curd formation.  Miguel has a praise-worthy understanding of the value of clean (and I mean clean—practically odorless) farming, milking, and cheesemaking practices, which eliminates any danger that you would find in using raw milk. 

He has created a perfect aging space that holds three wine fridges with regulated humidity and temperature.  There is, of course, a cave specifically for blue cheese.  Inside these caves you will find a plethora of cheeses of various styles and rind formations.  In fact, Miguel disclosed that he has had twenty-eight cheeses aging in these caves at a given time.  He takes copious notes on the entire make and aging process of each cheese.  He then documents his tasting notes and decides whether to tweak something (there are countless ways to alter any cheese recipe) or not.  He keeps track of absolutely everything.  I was told that he makes about a dozen cheese recipes with regularity, and I had the honor of tasting some of them.

It was an organoleptic masterpiece, this cheese spread.  Included were Miguel-made pickles, dried fruits, bubbles, and crackers.  I relished in the fact that each cheese had its own distinct character; no two were alike.  Although I appreciated each one for its particulars--and because the flavors were clean--there were a few that had me reeling for days after.

Miguels dos cabritas Picmonkey Dos de las cuatro cabritas

One such cheese is the Manchego style.  Much of the Manchego that we import in the States from Spain are highly industrial and not great representations of how true Manchego should be.  As far as I am concerned, Miguel has perfected this recipe.  I forgot that it was made with goat’s milk, rather than ewe’s milk.  It possesses the perfect degree of piquancy, is texturally everything that one could hope for in a well-aged Manchego, and it has that toasted nuttiness that provokes us to revere this Spanish classic.  Well done.

Another noteworthy cheese is a fresh chevre that is infused with garlic and rolled in black pepper.  Not only was I excited to taste fresh, raw milk cheese (it must be aged for at least sixty days in order to pass as unpasteurized in the U.S.), but this queso is personality-plus.  It was a sensorial explosion, and I frolic in that allium sting.  This cheese is so punchy that, even though it was the freshest cheese of the lot, we tasted it last.   

My favorite cheese that I tasted is his Beaufort-style.  Beaufort is a raw cow’s milk, alpine cheese from Savoie, France.  I have been known to call it the Everlasting Gobstopper of cheese.  The flavors roll around in your mouth, morph, and linger.  And linger.  This capric Beaufort is nothing short of exceptional.  There was not a nook in my mouth that went unaffected by the mouthfeel of this cheese.  It whirlwinded my retronasal passage and folded over and over on my tongue.  It has been weeks since I tasted it, and I have thought about it every day.

Miguel’s retirement is not exactly how many of us envision ours to be.  Juxtapose his estate construction projects, maintaining an organic, farmstead creamery and living a true farm-to-table existence is very hard work…and rather dreamy.  This man lives out this existence with finesse.  He seems to have figured out how to squeeze as much satisfaction out of his joyous toil as possible.  The man is creative, innovative.  He is meticulous in his work.  And he makes great cheese.  I want to be like Miguel.   

 

 

Rachael Lucas with cheese wheels MUG

 

Editor’s note:   Rachael Lucas is an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional (CCP).  She also has the distinction of being one of forty-six people in the country with the ACS C.C.S.E. (Certified Cheese Sensory Evaluator) accreditation.  You can most often find her cheesemongering in the Seattle area.  When she's not working with cheese, she's eating it, talking about it, reading about it, writing about it, and dreaming about it.  She can be reached with inquiries about fromage and food excitement in the Seattle area at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Last modified on Tuesday, 11 February 2020 10:25

 

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