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Ugly Goat Milk Company farm tour: healthy boobies, raw milk and plenty of cavorting

There's a whole lot of spring "cavorting" going on at Ugly Goat Milk Company's farm. And that means plenty of milk, butter, cheese and good times for both the animals and humans. [jump] Karin and Rob Lawler, owners of The Truffle, arranged a Memorial Day weekend "Get-a-Whey" trip from the cheese shop in Denver to the Ugly Goat Milk Company's farm in Parker via posh tour bus, and fifty guests were treated to a meet-and-greet with farm owner Mike Amen, his ranch foreman -- and "sanity manager" -- Frank Ugolini, and all the cows, goats, sheep, geese, ducks and chickens living on the forty-acre dairy farm.

And, of course, there were samples of fresh goat and cow's milk, fresh butter and cheese, and a gourmet lunch perfect for a day out in the country.

I crawled my reluctant ass out of bed at 7:30 a.m. in order to make the bus pickup at the cheese shop at 8:45 a.m. I was thinking that in farm time, this was probably about midday.

The Lawlers know how to tour in style: The bus was posh with huge, comfy seats, very effective air conditioning, a bathroom and drop-down screens that played The Cheese Nun , a fairly new documentary about a Benedictine nun learning to make artisan cheese by hand, and the hour trip out to Parker seemed much shorter with that (I now understand why parents love SUVs with DVD players in them).

The Ugly Goat Milk Company farm is at 1701 Hidden Acres Place in Parker, and it has a shareholder arrangement by which a $40 buy-in gets you access to raw goat and cow's milk, butter and cheeses like chevre, feta, ricottas, mozzarella and -- in the future -- cheddar. The farm also produces fresh eggs, which we urbanite foodies value somewhere between gold and platinum.

The farm is gorgeous -- rolling hills, green grass, friendly, fluffy animals, and a barn so clean I searched all day for barn-elves. Mike talked for a bit about how he got started in the dairy-farming business -- apparently he found two goats on Craigslist, then a cow named "Truffle" who needed a good home, and started his farm on a five-acre plot in Elizabeth, before relocating four months ago to the more spacious farm in Parker.

Since then he's either acquired or facilitated the birthing of a modest Noah's Ark of plump, happy critters, including a couple of sweet, placid Jersey milk cows named Violette and Honey; a handful of newly shorn rescue sheep that eat animal crackers; Nubian, Alpine, Sable and Saanen goats; a few misanthropic geese and laid-back ducks, chickens, complete with baby chicks for everyone to fawn over; and a female barn cat named Roxy with advanced people skills. Mike's animals are admittedly pampered. They are grass/grain-fed with the best quality of both, and with the exception of the geese -- hissing and displeased at the influx of humans -- they are gentle and seem to enjoy attention from the humans.

Truffle the cow came from an industrial dairy farm with assembly-line milking; she was thin and ailing with acidosis when she arrived, but has since become sleek and plump, and very healthy. Mike and Frank take the health and well-being of their animals seriously: They maintain a well-scrubbed milking area, and make sure the animals are clean and their udders get washed, checked and maintained.

"We like healthy boobies," Mike said.

Truffle is currently preggers. They put the animals on a rotating schedule of pregnancy followed by a resting period, and this keeps the amounts of milk they produce ongoing and regular, and prevents the animals from being over-taxed. I asked where Truffle's babydaddy was, and Mike said he uses stud bulls from other farms to "cavort" with the females.

Pregnant Truffle, pregnant goats -- they just had thirty babies this month -- and even Roxy the cat is currently enceinte.

"She had a couple of gentlemen callers," said Mike, in the form of two tomcats who were plying her with their attentions. This is definitely a farm filled with "cavorting."

After the tour Mike and Frank let everyone sample their dairy wares. The cow's milk was rich, ivory and really did taste grassy and good. The goat's milk was creamy and had just the right amount of barny flavor at the finish. The handmade butter was smooth, lightly salted and a beautiful butter-cup yellow color.

The cheeses alone were well-worth the trip. The farm produces several flavors of chevre along with the plain logs, and the Mixed Spice was my personal favorite -- light, tangy cheese rolled with lavender buds, rosemary and three kinds of pepper. The feta was decently acidic but not overly so, with a well-balanced saltiness, and the ricotta was so fresh that it made the store-bought stuff pale in comparison. Mike also brought out the very first wheel of fresh, raw cow's milk cheddar. It had only aged for three weeks -- he wanted to make sure it was available for the tour -- and even in its young state it was tangy, mild and lightly crumbly. I can't wait until there's more of it.

We Denverites are also lucky in that all of the Ugly Goat products are for sale at The Truffle; the farmer has a solid, working relationship with the Lawlers.

As a super-special treat, Mike let us sample the handmade goat's milk fudge -- silky, milk-chocolately baby-bricks that would make exquisite holiday fare.

Lunch was a well-planned and -executed buffet-style meal at tables set up in the barn -- that's a testament to how clean this barn was -- and Rob Lawler displayed some mad culinary skills creating dishes like a sweet, citrus carrot salad; a grapefruit, orange, red onion and feta cheese salad; an Asian salad with spice and peanuts; white anchovies with marinated red peppers; herbed goat chevre on crostini; grilled fresh vegetables; a cheese tray and a platter of grilled meats including lamb heart kabobs.

After lunch we all had free time to explore the farm, talk with Mike and Frank, and buy all the fresh eggs we could carry back to Denver for both braggin' rights and breakfasts. I split my time between asking Frank questions and petting Roxy the cat, who would climb down from her comfortable hay bale every so often to solicit attention from the invading horde of humans.

Frank and I spoke about how these animals were all free-range, how he and Mike were all about rescue animals, and how shooting predator coyotes was a farm-survival necessity for them, but probably would be sport for me. A group of us on the tour mused about how there really is an movement among consumers to have some sort of connection with food producers, and how it's a comfort and a bonus to have smaller farms like Ugly Goat that open their doors to people who want to learn about dairy farms, and buy products direct.

On the still-posh ride back to The Truffle, I thought about how I've never started anything that prolific with anything I've gotten off of Craigslist, and listened closely when Karin mentioned that they're planning a hands-on cheese-making workshop at Ugly Goat in for late July, and workshop attendees will get to spend a full day learning to make feta, ricotta, mozzarella and chevre.

If the upcoming workshop is anything like the tour, this will be yet another fine way to spend a day out in the country, getting a taste of what we city-folk are missing.

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Jenn Wohletz
Contact: Jenn Wohletz