Many people who keep dairy goats would love to offer their goat cheese for sale. But how easy (and legal) is this to do? Unfortunately, for most of us in the United States, not very. It may be easier to let people buy goat milk from you, but even that has its challenges and depends on what state you live in.
Folks are becoming increasingly aware of the many raw milk benefits and would love to get their hands on your delicious, nutritious, farm fresh milk. But whether or not you can legally sell the milk depends on what state you live in. In some states it is just illegal no matter what. In other states you can find raw milk right on the shelf of your local grocery store. In still other states, it is only legal through a raw milk CSA (community supported agriculture), also known as the herd share program. In these cases, you have the opportunity to “buy into” a herd of dairy animals and then pay a monthly fee to gain access to “your” animal’s raw milk. You can check with your state’s health department to learn the laws and rules in your state.
Okay, so that’s milk. But what about offering your goat cheese for sale? Well, that gets even trickier and legal options for the home cheesemaker are even more limited. To my knowledge, the only state that allows the sale of homemade cheese is Wyoming, thanks to their relatively new Food Freedom Act.
At my cheesemaking school in Colorado, I’ve had quite a few students come down from Wyoming to learn about home cheesemaking, and then go back to their state and make a decent little income off their cottage industry. One such couple is Lindsey Washkoviak and Ben Elzay from Slow Goat Farm in Lander, Wyoming.
I recently talked with Lindsey about their cheese business and here’s some of what she told me:
GJ: What kinds of dairy goats are you raising and why did you choose this breed?
LW: We raise Nigerian Dwarf and ND crosses because they have the richest, least “goaty” milk out of all goat breeds. They also have the highest butterfat and give good cheese yield. They are mini-goats so they give us a fraction of the milk of standard dairy goats. Its quality over quantity with these ladies! We also love their personalities and their size.
GJ: How long have you been making cheese?
LW: Ben and I devote our lives to the pursuit of food so it only seemed natural to try making our own cheese. We are self-taught cheese makers, originally learning from books and countless experiments for about six years now. We have also taken a local beginning cheesemaking course and a three day cheesemaking bootcamp from the Art of Cheese. We started off making cheese thanks to cow milk shares with local dairies. About the time the Food Freedom Act passed, someone offered us three goats. We figured we would try it out and started making goat cheese to sell at the local farmers market.
GJ: What is your top performing goat cheese for sale?
LW: Our bestselling cheeses are flavored chèvres and chèvre-derived products. We have experimented with hard cheeses but find it hard to price them adequately to cover the milk and time costs required to make them. We really enjoy making raw milk, mold ripened cheeses to share with the community. Most people don’t know that Wyoming is the only state in the U.S. where you can buy real raw milk mold-ripened cheeses under 60 days old.
GJ: Where do you sell your cheese?
LW: We make and sell cheese out of our unlicensed, uninspected home kitchen thanks to the Food Freedom Act, which allows us to sell directly to informed consumers. This means we can sell directly to anyone for personal consumption but cannot sell to restaurants or through stores. Right now we sell our products at the Lander Valley Farmers Markets and through our email list. We hope to start selling at additional farmers markets across Wyoming.
GJ: How has the Food Freedom Act benefitted you?
LW: The Wyoming Food Freedom Act is the only reason why our business exists. It has given us the opportunity to try making/selling cheese to our community without the initial startup and infrastructure costs that go along with being a commercial dairy. We probably wouldn’t have even gotten goats if it wasn’t for the Food Freedom Act … how different would our life be! There are many businesses like us that have popped up in Wyoming thanks to the Act. It has really allowed our local food economy to diversify.
GJ: Do you know of any problems that consumers have had with buying from unregulated cheesemakers?
LW: So far everything has worked out okay. The responsibility is placed on the consumers, the community, and the farmers markets to regulate each other.
Sounds pretty intriguing, doesn’t it? Almost makes me want to move to Wyoming! Of course, most of us DON’T live in a state where we can legally sell homemade cheese, so the other option to offer goat cheese for sale is to become a regulated micro-dairy. This is a much more involved and expensive option, but it does allow one to sell cheese to a much wider audience and is an option in all the rest of the states that don’t have a Food Freedom Act.
Another student of mine went this route. After taking almost all of my classes, Suanne Miller and her husband, Dave, sold their Boulder home, bought a herd of Nubian goats and Saanen goats, and moved to a small farm in Paonia, Colorado where they have recently opened Western Culture Farmstead & Creamery – A USDA Grade A micro-dairy.
For any of you considering this option, here are some tips from Suanne:
GJ: How long did it take to get your facility built and licensed?
SM: It took 2 ½ years from the purchase of our farm to licensing and then a few more months until we were in production.
GJ: What was the approximate cost to get it all up and running?
SM: Our equipment for the dairy and creamery was about $50K and the building construction cost ran about $70K. By the time we put in the barn, fencing, hay fields, and new septic system, our total costs were up around $250K (yikes!).
GJ: What’s been the best part of running a micro-dairy?
SM: What I love most is being able to see my concept take shape and become a reality. I also love doing farm tours with school kids and seeing their surprise at how much they love the milk and cheese. The reception from our community has been wonderful — we sell out of cheese and milk regularly. One of my biggest sellers is Dark Chocolate Almond Goat Milk. I also really love goats.
GJ: What’s been the biggest challenge?
SM: The hardest thing is not having enough money. The long days can get tough. Losing a goat is heart wrenching. Keeping up with packaging can be a challenge.
GJ: What advice would you have for a hobby goat owner who is considering getting into the cheese-selling business?
SM: My advice to hobby cheesemakers who want to sell is to connect with CSA outlets and develop a CSA market and also to register with their state’s raw milk registry (if they have one). Also to have a separate space that they could develop as a cheesemaking kitchen if they plan to market and sell it.
So, if you have the time and money, that is the legal way to offer your goat cheese for sale. Of course, there is always option #3: the black market! Now I’m not advocating breaking the law or doing anything unsafe or unsavory, but the fact of the matter is that many folks who own a dairy goat farm DO help to offset the cost of owning goats by having goat cheese for sale to their friends and neighbors “under the table.” Whether or not this is a good idea is not for me to say. But if you are making goat cheese, you sure can’t eat it all yourself!
Originally published in the September/October 2018 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.