Pure Luck Farm and Dairy produces some of the finest goat cheese this side of the Mississippi; each year for over a decade, the American Cheese Society has presented Pure Luck owner Amelia Sweethardt with a ribbon or two to take back home to her 5-acre property in Dripping Springs.
While you can find Pure Luck’s award-winning artisan cheese here in Austin at Whole Foods, Antonelli’s Cheese Shop and dozens of local restaurants, rarer is the opportunity to check out Pure Luck Farm and Dairy itself. The grounds are closed to the public, Sweethardt wanted CultureMap readers can take a peek. May you find her farm tour udderly delightful!
Amelia Sweethardt's mom, Sara Bolton, established Pure Luck in 1979. When she passed away in 2005, Amelia stepped up to run the farm.
“When my mom first began,” Amelia tells me, “we had 12 goats. Now we have 72 goats. We don’t know them all by name, but one might walk by and we’ll say, ‘Ah, there’s Miss No. 68.’ We know them by look.”
Amelia tells me the farm business has more moving parts than a Swiss watch — you’ve got to master everything from accounting to daily labor. “The trick is to hire people you trust and teach them everything you know. It sounds simple, but not everyone is willing to do it.”
Amelia, her husband Ben Guyton and their son June live about 40 paces from Pure Luck’s dairy in a house they had trucked in from Austin. Around a year ago, the couple painted and remodeled the small two bedroom house.
When you first walk in, you see wall-to-wall family snapshots (the couple has a background in photography). Take a right, and you’re in the kitchen. On the day I visit, Ben’s busy slow-roasting pork shoulder with garlic and herbs. Amelia tells me that Ben’s the family cook. You can follow his culinary exploits at his blog, Hammer on Rye. Recent projects include homemade pear cider and bleu cheese cookies.
“We were one of the first farms in Texas to be certified organic,” Amelia says proudly. “Income from the sale of herbs is vital to us. We raise a variety of basils, sage, marjoram… things like that.”
Amelia’s a woman in constant motion. As she talks, she reaches down and pinches off some Thai basil for my guest and I to sample. She points out a weed — amaranth — and explains that it’s an edible grain. She uproots a vine wrapped around a prized and newly planted peach tree. “That guy’s finished!” she laughs.
Amelia takes us out to meet the goats, and we find this handsome fellow. “Most of our goats are female. We have two dairy breeds: Nubian and Alpine. But, to keep the farm going, we have a handful of male goats, too.”
The males goats are big — nearly the size of a pony. Amelia warns me about getting too close: “If you touch them, your hand will smell for three days!” She explains that it’s breeding season, so the goats are pumping out a lot of pheromones.
The female goats aren’t as heavily perfumed. They’re right nearby, across the fence and closer to the dairy, which is a multi-room concrete building on the north side of Amelia’s property. The goats are usually out roaming Pure Luck’s acreage but, twice a day, they have to be milked.
Juan Cruz, who appears in this photo, has been working with Amelia for around a decade. Amelia describes him as the backbone of the farm. He milks the goats at around 5 a.m.; the second milking is around 5 p.m.
“We have to have a full and complete milking. If you don’t get every drop of milk, you start losing butterfat,” Amelia says. “We do the first part with a machine and finish up with our hands.”
My friend and I try our hand at milking and we wind up with a few small cups of milk. The milk is warm, creamy and has none of the pungency typically associated with goat milk. Amelia tells us, “The longer the milk stays at room temperature, the more bacteria in the milk multiply, and that’s what can give it a strong flavor.”
Pure Luck staff pours milk into a giant cooling and stirring contraption immediately after it leaves the animals. Tapping on its stainless steel tank, Amelia says, “It doesn’t get better than what’s inside here.”
After the milk is poured into the chilling machine, it’s pasteurized. Rennet and other agents are added to turn the milk into cheese (this involves culturing specific and desirable bacteria inside the milk in a controlled way). The process is quick, relatively speaking: Pure Luck’s most mature cheese is aged only two months.
Amelia takes us back to her house and treats us to some of Pure Luck’s Sainte Maure, Hopelessly Bleu and cracked-pepper chevre, which she serves alongside homemade blackberry jam and pear cider.
“Right now, we make most of Pure Luck’s cheeses in the French style,” says Amelia. “Meaning that the cheeses are neat, a little brittle and on the acidic side.” She retrieves a book from another room to show us a new type of cheese she’s been working on: a Spanish cheese. She explains, “Spanish cheeses are a little on the looser side. Maybe a little creamier? I’m not exactly sure what ours is going to taste like yet.”
In October, Amelia will head to Spain attend a cheese festival in the Pyrenees and meet local cheese gurus like Enric Canut. You’ll be able to taste the fruits of that trip sometime in 2013!
In the most charming and unexpected way, Pure Luck Farm and Dairy reminds me of a high school. The place is teeming with intelligent, unruly creatures that need to be cared for, and Amelia and her clan do a spectacular job of attending to every single one: the goats, the dogs that protect the goats from coyotes, the cats, the pigs, an Amazonian parrot, and dozens of chickens. Speaking of which…
Here's a label for a Pure Luck treat that’s only available to Amelia’s family: farm fresh eggs. As Amelia describes it, “The label is in no way legit for selling eggs — it’s just funny. Jon Flaming created Pure Luck’s current labels, and Ben ripped him off and designed this one!”