By Nikki Hillman
Every Sunday, when I was younger, my family would take the car for a drive. There was usually a rough idea of where we were going to explore; sometimes it was a new neighborhood with half-finished homes for us to wander through or sometimes it was just a drive through the farm areas of Maple Ridge, Langley or Abbotsford. Now that my children are old enough to be on their own, we’ve also started to take Sunday drives but I like to have a destination, and for this trip I chose Milner Valley Cheese. I’d read about them online and I was intrigued by the idea of goat’s milk gelato. I was also surprised to find out that while goat’s milk contains lactose it doesn’t contain a certain type of protein found in cow’s milk. This protein can be what lactose intolerant people are allergic to and so they can digest the goat’s milk much easier.
After a beautiful drive we turned onto Smith Crescent and were greeted with the serenity of farmland and rolling hills. As we pulled up to the family’s farm house, we could see goats wandering about an open field, watched over by an old donkey and an alpaca, which we were later told are great defenders of the property. We were met by Glenn Smith (he’s the fifth generation to farm the land) who was gracious enough to take some time to chat and show us around the farm.
The Milner Farm has a very long history in Langley. The original 220 acres of land was purchased by Smith’s Great-Grandfather in the 1880’s, from the Hudson Bay Company. In the past, the farm raised chickens and dairy cows but Glenn and his wife Marianne wanted to try something different. As Glenn led us around the outbuildings, he explained how they balance the work on the farm with their two adult sons.
First, we were shown the maternity barn with the female goats and their kids. Glenn believes in keeping the females and bucks (males) separate because the bucks are a dirtier animal but here is where the Smith’s get very scientific with their farm. They try to produce a product which is less “gamey” tasting than the goats cheese you buy in your local grocery store. Glenn believes that the environment he supplies for his goat herd directly impacts the milk or meat produced by the goats. The well ventilated air the goats breathe, the grass and feed they eat, and their clean living environment all contribute to the very blood that courses through the goats, thereby producing a different taste.
Next, Glenn led us over to the milking house. If you’ve seen the milking systems for cows, imagine a mini version. Here they milk 70 goats, twice a week, producing 1500 litres of goat’s milk. Peaking through the windows of the curing room, I could see shelves and shelves full of yellow waxed cheese rounds, reminding me of the curing rooms in Holland.
Glenn then handed us over to Marianne who explained the reason behind the goat farm. A little over five years ago, while they were trying to decide which direction to take the farm, Marianne had an epiphany. While waiting in line at her local grocery store, she noticed an issue of Oprah magazine. Leafing through, she found an article dedicated to the top farmstead cheese areas in the United States. This was the catalyst that started Marianne down the path of cheese making, specifically, goat’s cheese. She’s taken many cheese making courses and the production of the cheese at the farm is all done by her during eleven hour shifts! She concentrates on Colby, Jack and Caerphilly and sources her flavorings like peppercorn and sundried tomatoes from Holland. Although she’s been making the cheese for quite awhile, she still sees her work as, “a learning curve with so much more to learn.” She adds, “I just hope people appreciate what goes into it.”
We followed Marianne into their farm gate shop, built off the back of the farm house. Here you can purchase a cone of gelato, which is rich and creamy with just a small hint of the goat cheese taste you expect, and of course there’s colby, jack, feta, chevre and caerphilly goat cheeses for sale. If you’re lucky you may be able to pick up some eggs as well; the family sells 17 dozens of eggs every week but these are generally snapped up by the locals and neighbours. When I asked Glenn what he hoped his legacy would be he replied that he “want(s) to preserve a heritage which is unique, and to provide a local product on a small scale because we love what we do.”
As I watched my husband gleefully fill a basket with assorted kinds of goat cheese, I could see the Smith’s were accomplishing exactly what they’ve set out to.