Terrell Creek Farm raises goats to supports its cheese-making business.
FORDLAND – Even though it’s only about 30 miles from Springfield, Terrell Creek Farm is seemingly tucked away in another world. Simple, handwritten signs point wanderers down a rutted gravel road and into the woods, which gives ways to sun-kissed fields and Nubian goats.
They’re creatures that seem to be at play, but really wait for work.
After all, they’re milked twice a day to provide the base behind the farm’s variety of soft and hard cheeses. The farm is only one of three farms licensed to make goat cheese in the state of Missouri, its owners say, and is the only one in the Ozarks.
Since Terrell Creek began selling cheese in 2012, it’s made a mark locally. MaMa Jean’s Natural Market is the farm’s biggest retail client, and the chef at Farmers Gastropub also regularly integrates its products into dishes served at the restaurant.
However, neither the farm — or the associated cheese-making — were things owners Barry and Lesley Million ever envisioned in the past.
“Years ago, if someone said ‘You’re going to be a goat farmer full-time,’ I would’ve said you were crazy,” says Barry.
Barry Million and one of his goats.
It was just a little more than 10 years ago when the Millions’ world began to change.
Back then, they were living in Springfield, but the Queen City was a little too big city for their taste. Besides, Lesley had always fantasized about having goats. So they decided to look for a remote piece of land.
The one near Fordland fit the bill.
“And we got a couple of milk goats, and she started just hand-milking and making some cheese,” says Barry. “Everybody said, ‘That’s fantastic. You ought to go into business.’ And about six years ago, that’s what we did.”
Today, that “couple” of goats has grown into a herd of nearly 100. Their farm family is also complete with ducks, chickens, three dogs, a cat and cows, which help feed the baby goats.
“We need the goat milk to make cheese,” says Barry. “So we feed the baby goats cow milk. They seem to thrive on it, so it works well.”
Each goat has a name, bestowed based on recommendations from the American Dairy Goat Association. Every year, the organization suggests that names begin with a different letter of the alphabet. In 2017, that letter is J.
“Like, we have a JJ, we have a Jasmine, Jana,” says Barry. “It helps us keep track of how old they are.”
Many of those goats are milked twice a day. They’re trained for their job, and know what to do when they enter the “staging area,” as Barry calls it.
Four by four, they jump up onto a platform, their necks eagerly reaching through collars for buckets of treats: raw oats, sunflower seeds, and alfalfa, which is high in calcium.
“There’s a little bit of feed in the bucket, so they learn that real quick,” says Barry. “They jump right up here and stick their heads in.”
Of course, some may be excited for another reason.
“We have a TV,” says Barry. “Sometimes they like watching ‘The Today Show’ in the morning.”
It’s milking time in the staging room.
While they’re munching away, their teats are cleaned and milked. The process takes a minute or two before it’s done, and the goats happily jump down and onto their next reward: peanuts, given for a job well done.
“That’s their treat,” says Barry. “It helps get them through the door.”
But while the milking may be done, it’s only the first step in the cheese-making process — one which takes several days of work, and several months of waiting.
After the milk is pumped into two, 30-gallon galvanized tanks, it’s sent into the cheese-making room where it’s pasteurized.
“It’s kind of like a laboratory in there,” says Barry. “We have to change shoes and put on hair nets.”
On a recent day — as on most days — Lesley is hard at work turning that milk into cheese. “We don’t take (time) off,” she says with a laugh. “The goats are milked twice a day, everyday. This time of year, we’re making cheese four days a week.”
The day’s work fills the room: Buckets of Tomme, a French farmhouse-style cheese, cover a table.
“It’s a basic cheese that was made in kitchens in France,” says Lesley. “This Tomme, it only takes a day to make it, but it goes on to age for at least two months.”
One of the books Lesley Million consults when making cheese.
It’s only one variety of cheese that Terrell Creek produces; only one which Lesley learned to make by a lot of trial and error.
“I started out with just some books,” says Lesley. “I had some pretty good cheese-making recipe books, and then from there, just experimented with different things that I wanted to try.”
“You can start with recipes, but there’s a lot of science involved,” adds Barry.
And, like the farming, the cheese-making carries a long learning curve. “I mean, we’ve had failures,” says Lesley. “We’ve had batches we’ve had to feed to the chickens and the dogs.”
Today, the couple focuses on six different types: a tangy Chèvre; Crottin de (Ozarks), made in the traditional style of French Crottin de Chavignol; Feta, a Greek favorite; marinated Feta; The Dude, creamy and Brie-like; and Jackie Blue, a crumbly Blue cheese.
After Tomme is pressed, it goes into buckets of brine. It’s later aged for months before being sold.
While each of the cheeses require a unique method, Lesley says that most begin with the same steps.
After getting the milk to the proper temperature, “the first actual step in cheese-making is going to be adding the culture,” says Lesley of enzymes, many of which are purchased by a select few places worldwide.
“There are only two or three places in the world (that make cultures),” she notes, also mentioning that the cultures work to coagulate the milk. “The culture actually tells the lactic acid what type of cheese to turn in to.”
After that, the steps vary greatly based on the type of cheese. For the Tomme she’s working on, each section of cheese is weighted down so that the whey presses from the curd.
That process illustrate’s the farm’s collaboration with another local business — Circle B Ranch — with which they trade whey for pork products.
“We make a cheese that has bacon in it, so they trade us bacon,” says Barry, who notes whey’s high protein content. “It’s great for their hogs, and it gets us free pork products.”
Want to visit the farm?
Terrell Creek Farm regularly hosts Cheese Nights on the Farm, complete with appetizers, cheese and live music. The Millions also periodically offer cheese-making classes. For more information on the events, click here to connect on Facebook.
Cheese from Terrell Creek may be purchased at a variety of stores and farmers markets in the Ozarks, as well as online. For a complete list, click here.