GREENCASTLE >> Brad Parker will tell you that making goat cheese, or chèvre, is not a recipe as if one were baking a cake or making bread, but a dance between the raw material, temperature and time.
As he describes it, making the cheese is a matter of the proper temperature and the correct breed of bacteria, of being patient while everything works and applying a particular range of temperatures to bring the whole thing to completion, not too soon, not too late.
Parker lives in the open farmland beyond Greencastle, on Pipe Dreams Dairy, which seems much farther from Interstate 81 than it really is.
But the story of Parker's several varieties of creamy goat cheese goes all the way back to the early 1980s.
Born and raised in Yellow Springs, Ohio, Parker was spending a summer in France between bouts of college study. He had hired himself out as a shepherd, of all things, at a farm in the Limousin region of France before settling down in south-central Pennsylvania after a stint in the Peace Corps.
He said cheese is one of mankind's earliest domestic foods from one of its earliest domestic animals.
"Nobody is sure whether the goat or the dog was the first domesticated animal, but humans were keeping goats in ancient Mesopotamia and Persia, which we now know as Iran and Iraq and those areas."
He said the birth of cheese may have come from the practice of nomadic people transporting milk in the stomachs of some herd animals. A particular substance — called rennet — found in the stomachs of young members of some species is a key factor in creating cheeses and other edible products.
Kosher cheeses are made using a version of rennet made from vegetables.
In Parker's cheese room, the raw goat milk is pasteurized to comply with U.S. laws. Cheesemakers in countries outside this nation are not required to go through the pasteurization, relying on the natural processes to guard against harmful bacteria.
The product is mixed with a freeze-dried bacteria imported from France — more of a powder than anything else — which is mixed with the pasteurized milk. The milk rests in two plastic vats of about three feet by two feet and nearly a foot deep and ... rests.
Or so it seems.
At the microscopic levels, however, the bacteria and milk are transforming into something thick and creamy, more like yogurt than cheese. After the right number of hours, the cream is treated through a variety of processes to become various types of goat cheese. Still creamy, the substance has a sharper flavor. Some is left to solidify more, other varieties have various flavors of salt kneaded into them for various tastes, or even salted on the outside.
Parker's license allows him to sell only to shops and restaurants, who work their own individual magic with his cheeses.
Pipe Dream's star is Parker's "Buche" (pronounced the way "bush" would be if the speaker had had a glass or two too much wine,) a French word meaning "log." His keynote Buche is a cylinder perhaps two inches wide lightly dusted with vegetable ash. The then-black log is aged in a room kept at 50 degrees until it forms a whitish mold, which gives the cheese a distinctive look and flavor, and a nice contrast to the chalk-white interior with a creamy, bright flavor.
Sadly, journalism has not figured out a way to give readers taste-testing capabilities.
Parker and his wife, Jennifer Greenlee don't waste anything on Pipe Dream Farm. Scratching posts for the goats — who knew they loved to scratch? — are provided by discarded and worn-out street-sweeping brushes mounted vertically around the pens for the 50 or so Saanen goats Pipe Dream is milking at any given time. Boxes for the supplies shipped to him for his operation are recycled for express refrigerated shipping of his shipping cheeses to markets in major cities.
After each milking, Parker takes the remaining whey, the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained, and feeds it to the half dozen hogs he keeps. Yes, it's a treat for the hogs, but whey-fed pork is much sought-after among gourmet chefs, so the treat comes at a price for piggy.
As does any milk, goat milk contains butterfat, thought the fat globules in the goat product are much smaller and digestible than the butter fat in cow's milk, Parker said.
Read reviews of Pipe Dreams Buche
Video: Brad Parker talks about his goat farm and making goat cheese