If you had any exposure to social media in February of this year, you probably heard talk of a volunteer project to cuddle baby goats in sweaters. Maybe you were even one of the lucky few who got to add a “Goat Cuddler” line to your resume. Caromont Farm was the purveyor of that squeal-inducing opportunity.
Gail Hobbs-Page’s farm and cheesemaking operation is actually much more than an excuse to snuggle with besweatered baby goats. Hobbs-Page started making cheese in 2005 when Dave Matthews (yes, that Dave Matthews) was seeking a goat farmer to make cheese on his Charlottesville, Va., farm. That venture only lasted for a year, but Hobbs-Page got to keep the goats upon the cutting of the farm’s dairy operations, and she continued making cheese—this time with her husband, Daniel Page.
Caromont Farm, just outside of Estmont, Va., and 23 miles south of Charlottesville, features a mishmash of structures, adding to the laid-back charm of the robust and evolving operation. At the far end sits the farmhouse, and throughout the rest of the farm there is a dairy parlor, a cheese-aging room, a hoop barn to shelter the goats, and a trailer where interns often stay.
Hobbs-Page came to cheesemaking after 26 years as a restaurant chef, looking for a change of pace. Although she grew up on a peanut and tobacco farm, professionally making and selling cheese was a new challenge. “We had never packaged anything,” she told the Washington Post. “We had never shipped anything. We also knew very little about affinage, about rind development or culturing times.”
But that has hardly slowed her down. Caromont’s new sales manager, Lisa Bogan, says of Hobbs-Page, “Gail is relentless… She just goes and goes. You have to have that to be a farmer.” Since its inception, Caromont has grown and matured—it now produces about 30,000 pounds and five varieties of cheese per year. In fact, in 2014, Hobbs-Page’s flagship cheese, Estmontonian, won second place in the American Cheese Society competition, an honor that brought in more publicity than the farm was prepared for. “It was a bit of a nightmare,” Hobbs-Page confesses, “but you learn from that.”
The small cheese scene in Virginia is developing at a steady clip, hot on the heels of a maturing wine industry. Caromont itself is also still growing and refining its mission. In addition to expanding the actual cheesemaking operation, Hobbs-Page hopes to buy land to use as a therapy farm, buoyed by the reception of the goat cuddling opportunity in February.
Caromont has come a long way since its Dave Matthews days. You’ll come for the baby goats and stay for the amazing cheese.
Feature Photo Credit: Jay Westcott via The Washington Post