This was incredible. I went into the experience with high expectations and they were blown away.
We arrived at 5:00 in the afternoon when the sunlight was just beginning to take a golden hue as the sun made its way towards the ocean. I had visited the farm before, and as usual the place demanded from me a serene moment of reflection upon arrival. We looked at some of the baby goats in the baby goat pen and admired the impressive flower garden. Some familiar faces arrived and together we entered the garden to graze on some fantastic cheeses and sip refreshing lemonade. We mingled a bit as the tour was prepared for us.
I wandered over to the elegant spread of simple fresh goat cheeses for a taste. On the table were three cheeses, a lavender cheese, a flower cheese adorned with a brightly colored set of flower petals, and a chive cheese. Seeing the same colors of flowers growing all around us, I asked the gentleman serving lemonade if the flowers used in the cheese were sourced from the farm.
“Oh, yeah. The lavender came from this plant.” He gestured to a plant literally within reach, just over his right shoulder. “The colorful petals are for decoration, but they’re edible, too,” he explained. They also came from that very same beautiful garden.
The murmur of conversation died down as Deborah “Dee” Harley stepped into the crowd and introduced herself. She welcomed us, thanked us for coming, and began to field our group’s seemingly endless supply of tricky goat questions. Eventually, she urged us to bring our questions along and led us to a goat pen.
We walked between several different baby goat pens as we learned about what the goats were doing as they grow. Soon, we were walking amongst the adult goats, some of whom had just given birth the day before. We were given a due warning about our clothing.
“They will like to nibble on your clothes. They’re just playing,” explained Dee.
As we walked along, a sharp tug on my shirt tail prompted me to turn around. Sure enough, there was a goat right behind me, “playing” with my shirt.
Then we got to the cutest baby goat pen of them all.
“These goats were born yesterday,” announced Dee.
She picked one of the four little guys up and thrust him into the unexpecting arms of a visitor. She casually proceeded to distribute the rest of the goats to the rest of us. People were hesitant at first, as even the week-old goats seemed a little bit too energetic to hold. Yet these animals, being so young, were perfect angels in the arms of the farm guests, sweet and endearing as could be. We had our “aw” moments with the goats before moving on.
I watched Dee wrangle the babies back in and get all the adult goats sorted out as she urged our tour group to move forward. In that instant I realized Dee had the difficult task of herding multiple generations of goats, and a big group of humans, all at the same time. I admired her competency as we continued through the goat “maternity ward” and out into the back, where we met Rosie the burro.
“On any farm certain animals have a presence. Rosie is definitely one of those animals.” When asked if Rosie had any specific purpose on the farm, Dee replied that Rosie mainly just “gets what she wants. Although,” Dee pointed out, “she does have a group of baby goats that she is very protective over.”
We washed our hands and entered the milking parlor. Dee explained that this was the same room she hand milked her first six goats back when her farm started. Each piece of the room was added with a purpose, until they ended up with what they have today: a row of milking machines, a ramp and a platform for ergonomic access to the milking goats, and an efficient system for milking all the animals.
She was particularly proud of her milk collecting vessel, a glass tank that is apparently hard to find on modern dairy farms. Seeing the milk fill the tank, she said, is one of the simple things that make her job worthwhile.
We continued into the cheese shop where we learned more about the multitude of products made there on site at the farm. The dairy products include chocolate truffles, soaps and even a goat milk paint they used to paint some of the interior of the shop. Also produced on site is a honey (used in the honey and lavender infused cheese) and a number of other products.
And then we entered the cheese making room. We saw how the milk is piped in from the milking room and processed. The milk is pasteurized and curdled overnight, and the next day curds are separated from the whey. The process from milk to cheese is amazingly fast, a matter of just a few days. Dee reminded us that they produce fresh, not aged, goat cheese. This cheese is meant to be enjoyed immediately after being made.
And, in that spirit, she presented us with four different cheeses to taste. We tasted the ricotta, chevre, fromage blanc and feta cheeses while learning about the different processes involved in making each. These four styles of cheese are the four Harley Farms produces, focusing on simplicity and quality. The strategy seems to work, as the small farm holds many awards for its cheeses – some international. Dee describes a “warm, fuzzy” feeling she gets from knowing that her cheese beat a French goat cheese in an international competition.
Thoroughly enchanted by the tour, we went upstairs to the dining room as the sun was setting to the west. The sunlight filtering through the garden surrounded us with a beauty beyond description.
We arranged ourselves around a magnificent wooden table, fashioned from a cut of a giant tree that had fallen into the creek years ago. Each piece of furniture in that building had a personal touch and a tie to the community, as well as the building itself. It was a part of the original (cow) dairy farm that opened on that site in 1910. Giving that building, which had been in disuse when Dee found it, new life and purpose was very important to Dee.
Then began our meal.
It started with an amazing mushroom and sausage soup with Harley Farms feta on top. The soup was smoky and rich, and upon the very first taste I knew we were in for an exceptional culinary experience.
The second course was a goat ricotta-stuffed ravioli plate with a garlic-infused fromage blanc in the center, dowsed with fried sage leaves and melted brown butter. This sounded, looked, and smelled amazing, but biting into this dish was extraordinary. The slight crunch of the fried sage leaves pulled the textures together, and the flavors of the fresh cheeses and pasta were stunning.
And then then main course arrived. I felt humbled as I was presented with a leg of rabbit on a bed of potatoes with a scotch egg and a side of fresh kale. The chef himself presented the course with a description of the food and its sources. The egg and rabbit were from the farm itself, while the kale was from a local producer. I had never enjoyed a scotch egg, nor had some of my fellow dining guests. We speculated over how one would go about getting a soft boiled egg into a ball of sausage and then frying the whole thing. Everything was done perfectly, and every bite was rich. We were all quite satisfied with our meal.
Ten minutes later, dessert arrived with coffee. We were amazed once again as goat cheese cake, goat chocolate truffles and berries were served. The cheese cake was loose and fluffy with tangy notes. It was very rich, unique (admittedly the first goat cheese cake I’ve tried), and absolutely delicious. The chocolate truffle melted in my mouth.
I am no food critic, nor am I hard to impress when it comes to food. That being said, this meal was truly unmatched by any dining experience I’ve ever had. It wasn’t overly ambitious or fancy, but it delivered its simple message with expert execution.
Reflecting on the entire experience, every single piece was elegantly placed and executed with the same simple standard of quality that makes this little dairy farm so exceptional. The atmosphere is vibrant and vital, and the farm exudes an energy of its own. These elements and the coastal air, explained Dee, give her cheese the unique flavor it is famous for.
HMB Coastside Tours Guide and Blogger