The Evolution of a Fort Worth Cheese Artisan
Tending to ninety kids, Deborah Rogers leads a busy life. Deborah’s kids, not the two legged kind, but goats, yield the milk she crafts into fine, French farmstead style chevre. Deborah’s diligence and passion for her craft are the secret ingredients in the distinctive goat cheese she produces at her 45-acre farm tucked away in the middle of Fort
A budding career with the Eileen Ford modeling agency led Deborah to Paris, where she learned the rudimentary style of traditional French cheese making from a friend’s mother. Returning to the states, Deborah searched for the same chevre she had grown to love in Europe, but couldn’t find anything comparable. At the same time, she found herself owner of her grandparent’s farm and began pondering what to produce from the land that held so many dear memories for her. Goats and cheese began to pepper her thoughts.
On a drive through Texas hill country, Deborah noticed numerous goat dairy signs lining the road. The connection became solid. “I’ll buy two goats and make my own cheese.” Her first goats, Freckles and Bea, joined her at the farm and launched her on her journey to unlock the secrets of the authentic chevre that she remembered from her trip to Paris.
In 6 years her herd has grown to ninety goats, with forty milkers. Deborah tends the farm and makes the cheese by herself. Seven days a week she wakes up with the sun, milks forty goats, and makes cheese. The seasons are punctuated by the lives of her kids. Kidding season, when goats bear their young, begins in February. Wet, or milking season continues through November and during dry season, Deborah tends to other aspects of the farm.
Deborah’s kids get their names after careful consideration of their personality. Ninety goat names seem like a lot to remember and you wonder how Deborah does it. But on close observation, you notice that each goat is an individual—be it the earless Cassie, or the bouffant sporting Robinson Crusoe. Mr. Weebles indeed wobbles a bit, but the other good spirited goats give him a shoulder to lean on until he finds his footing again. They know how to take care of each other at Deborah’s Farmstead.
Deborah pastures her goats year round. The herd feeds entirely on grass and boughs, making her one of a few completely pasture-based American goat dairies. She believes that “cheese, like wine, ought to be a product of the land.”
It’s the milk from foraging goats that distinguishes Deborah’s cheese. A goat’s diet imparts delicate nuances to the flavor of its milk and these flavors intensify in the cheese. Deborah’s cheeses possess almost a lemony tang from something the goats have discovered and eaten in her pasture. Even the pecans from fall bounty are part of her herd’s diet. According to Deborah, chevre produced from goats raised on open pasture has a vintage quality. Couple that with her traditional French farmstead techniques and you have cheese that tastes of the land from which it came.
After Deborah had crafted a cheese that she felt was close to the French farmstead chevre, she took it to her friend, Chef Bernard Trench. A Frenchman and owner of Saint-Emilion Restaurant in Fort Worth, Trench sampled her cheese and immediately asked for a dozen a week for his restaurant. Word of mouth quickly spread the news about the local, authentic chevre from Deborah’s Farmstead.
Passionate about small farm sustainability, Deborah uses creativity and innovation to give back to the land. One day on the way back to the farm, after spending a fortune on hay, she pulled up next to a huge trailer hauling tree trimmings to the dump and realized what was sitting next to her could be goat food. She formed an alliance with the tree trimming company to deliver their cuttings to her farm because goats, like deer, are better off eating leaves, rather than grass. Now, the suitably named goats happily strip off and eat the leaves turning them into milk. Deborah turns the milk into cheese and the farm comes full circle with this simple act of reducing waste.
Deborah’s Farmstead offers five fresh and three aged varieties of chevre. Two of her best sellers are her herb chevre, a blend of rosemary, lavender, chives, and thyme and the Chipotle chevre, a delicacy favored by men who claim it goes well with beer.
Deborah’s favorite is ash-covered chevre. Ash is a food grade charcoal, and is traditional in French cheese making. The charcoal reacts with the whey that is left in the cheese, sweetening it in a subtle way. Deborah forms the cheese in a truncated pyramid shape—the inside a pristine white, the edge an elegant grey. You can find Deborah’s Farmstead cheese in Fort Worth at the Cowtown Farmers Market every Saturday from March through October. Her plans include expanding to Dallas and Grapevine Farmers Markets. She likes the face-to- face interactions with people that Farmers Markets bring to selling, as well as the added benefit of keeping her carbon footprint low by not relying on someone to ship her product. Other plans in the works for this market season include selling fresh eggs from her chickens.
A host of chickens, four Great Pyrenees, three horses, two peacocks, a parrot, geese and of course goats are among the critters that greet you as you navigate the narrow road to Deborah’s Farmstead. They live in the happiest place in the world. Deborah works 12 hours a day, 7 days a week and she loves her farm and the manual labor of her craft. If you think you can’t taste love, just try a little taste of Deborah’s cheese.
MELISSA ALTHEN is the Research & Development Manager for confectionery company Parker Products. She earned a BS in Food Science and Technology at Mississippi State University and has been researching and writing about food for over 15 years. An active member of Slow Food, Melissa is passionate about keeping food real and reconnecting people with the food they eat.
No comments yet.